Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Black Is Happy To Be Back

Imagine your worst nightmare being nationally televised.

Imagine you’re Larry Black.

???????

Last July, the rookie defensive tackle out of Wyoming High School and Indiana University suffered a fractured leg and dislocated ankle in the sixth practice of training camp. The injury and Black’s devastated reaction – including the phone call where he broke the news to his parents – were all captured last year on the first episode of Hard Knocks.

“At the time I didn’t know what was going to happen – it just sucked,” Larry told me. “I saw stuff flash before me that I never would have thought.”

His teammates have differing opinions on whether Black’s anguish should have been included on the NFL’s ultimate reality TV show.

“It’s tough on any player to have a major injury like that and for it to be shown the way that it was – that’s one of the things that you would like to keep in the locker room,” said Clint Boling. “But that was just part of the experience of Hard Knocks.”

“I think it’s good for everybody watching to see how this world works and how fragile it can be,” said Margus Hunt.

Nine months after having his personal trauma televised, Black says it all worked out for the best.

“It is part of the game and it actually turned out great for me,” said Black. “I have a lot of supporters and I got a lot of feedback from people. I realized out how much they actually cared. Things have a way of working out and somehow it worked out to my benefit.”

Larry Black (305x440)

After spending last season on injured reserve, Black was given a clean bill of health in mid-February. He’s been able to fully participate in the team’s offseason workout program which began two weeks ago.

“Oh man, it feels great just to be part of the team,” Larry told me. “When you’re on IR, you’re part of the team but you feel distant because you’re not working the same hours. You come in for rehab and you watch a little film, but you’re still not putting in the same amount of time. It just feels good to be back around the guys again doing the same stuff at the same level.”

“He’s back with us and he looks great,” said Wallace Gilberry. “I’m excited and I think everybody else is too to see him get in here and get in the rotation and see how he can contribute.”

Black was an undrafted free agent last year and faces stiff competition in trying to make the team as a defensive lineman. But in addition to showing his injury, Hard Knocks also allowed us to hear the coaching staff complimenting his play and saying that he had a legitimate shot at an NFL career.

“I thought that I was playing good ball when I got hurt and I need to pick up where I left off,” said Black. “My ankle is 100% and it’s a blessing that I recovered the way that I did after that injury. I’m just looking forward to getting better and better as a player each and every day.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Annen Sprinting Toward NFL Shot

Who is the fastest tight end in this year’s NFL draft?

Would you believe UC’s Blake Annen?

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

The 6’4″, 247 pounder is not even among the 29 TE prospects listed in the USA Today’s NFL Draft guide, but after running the 40-yard dash in 4.41 seconds at UC’s pro day, the former Bearcat is definitely attracting interest from NFL teams.

“There’s a difference sometimes between playing speed and timed speed,” an NFL scout told me. “As a receiving tight end, the question will be, ‘Can he play to that timed speed?’ He hasn’t always done that on tape. But now you know he’s capable of it so that’s intriguing.”

“That obviously opened everybody’s eyes,” said UC head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s a little undersized but there are not a lot of tight ends out there like him. He’s physical, he can block, and you can also flex him out and play him as a receiver. He did great in almost everything that he did as his pro day so his stock went up. I’m excited for him.”

Annen showed good speed on a 49-yard grab against Northwestern State last year and a 41-yard touchdown catch vs UConn. Still, despite seeing nearly every game he played at UC, I’ll admit to being a bit stunned when I saw his 40-yard dash time.

But teammate and fellow NFL hopeful Brendon Kay says he was not surprised.

“Not at all because I was training with him for two months so I would have been surprised if he didn’t,” said Kay.

OK, so he’s fast. But 4.41? That’s faster than the 4.43 posted by top wide receiver prospect Sammy Watkins of Clemson at the NFL Scouting Combine. I asked Annen how he did it.

“I’ve heard that question a lot,” Blake said with a laugh. “Part of it was training and being around nutritionists more and learning different ways to take care of your body.”

Annen finished last season with 16 catches for 183 yards and 2 touchdowns (you can listen to his first TD catch here). But his stats suffered when the Bearcats changed their offense following a loss at USF in the fifth game of the season. For the rest of the year, UC emphasized a 4-wide receiver attack with limited use of the tight end.

“I think it was a great decision by the coaching staff and we won nine games which is nothing to complain about,” said Annen. “Obviously you want to contribute as much as you can, and that means finding ways to be a team player. If that means catching 100 balls then I do. If that means making 100 blocks, then I make 100 blocks. When you win nine games you can’t complain about it.”

“He was a team player and he was a professional about it,” said Kay. “My hat’s off to him. I’m close to Blake – we’ve spent a lot of time training together – and we’ve been tight for the last five years. It was definitely tough for him when we made that change and he didn’t get many opportunities. I still think he made the most of the opportunities that he had. He can do it all – he can run, he can catch, and he can block. He has a bright future.”

Annen recently had a private workout with the Philadelphia Eagles and last week, took part in the Bengals’ annual workout for draft-eligible players from area colleges and high schools. If he is not selected in the late rounds of the draft, Blake stands a good chance of winding up in an NFL training camp as an undrafted free agent.

“That’s the goal and all I need is a shot,” Annen told me. “Obviously if that comes on draft day I would be ecstatic, but just being able to have an opportunity is more than a lot of people can say. If you do get that opportunity, it all comes down to what you do with it.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bengals Move On Without Johnson And Zimmer

Last year the Bengals knew that they would probably lose Michael Johnson to free agency at the end of the season. For several years, they’ve known there was a decent chance that Mike Zimmer would leave for a head coaching opportunity.

Johnson and Zimmer (356x269)

But when the players returned to Paul Brown Stadium last week to begin offseason workouts, they faced the stark reality that Johnson and Zimmer are gone.

“It was pretty sad,” said Carlos Dunlap. “Mike (Johnson) was my guy. We had a great thing going, but he got a great opportunity down in Tampa and couldn’t pass it up. It’s part of the business.

“And losing Zim is most definitely going to be different. It’s probably going to be quieter.  Obviously Zim got a head coaching job which he’s worked hard for and was well-deserving of, but now (Coach Guenther) gets a great opportunity to step up and try to fill the role of the guy he coached with.”

In Johnson, Cincinnati is losing a defensive end who was productive and durable. ProFootballFocus.com ranked him 4th among NFL defense ends in 4-3 schemes last year. Fortunately, the loss comes at a position group where the Bengals have Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt, Devon Still, and Brandon Thompson waiting in the wings and Geno Atkins and Robert Geathers returning from injury.

“We’re going to miss Mike a lot, but it is part of the business,” said Geathers. “We figured it was probably going to happen after he got the (franchise) tag. We attack it by committee anyway. We have a good group of guys and really good depth so I’m pretty sure there’s going to be even more competition.”

“Geno Atkins is the best defensive lineman in the league and to get him back healthy will make our rotation second to none,” said Dunlap.

In Zimmer, Cincinnati is losing a coordinator that guided the Bengals’ defense to top 10 finishes in yards and points allowed in four of the past five seasons. But the players say they’re confident that former linebackers coach Paul Guenther is ready to take over.

“It’s definitely going to be weird,” said Still. “Zim was our defense and taught us basically everything that we know. But Paul studied under Zim and he’s a helluva coach himself. I’m looking forward to seeing what it’s like to be coached by him this year.”

“Experience is the only difference,” said Dunlap. “I feel like Paulie G. has been with Zim for so long that he knows his X’s and O’s. He just hasn’t been a defensive coordinator and being ‘the guy’ is different from being one of the guys.”

“He’s very confident and knows what he’s talking about,” said Gilberry. “They definitely passed the torch to the right guy.”

The changes in personnel haven’t changed the bottom line: To get back to the playoffs and finally get over the hump in the postseason.

“It’s a new year and you have to do it all over again,” said Geathers. “It doesn’t matter what we did last year or how it ended. It’s a new season and nobody cares what we did last season. Nobody cares that we were undefeated at home or none of that stuff. We have to start all over and get back to where we want go.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Cobi Hamilton Says He’s On Right Track

It’s not unusual for NFL players to work out at their former colleges in the offseason, but in Cobi Hamilton’s case, there’s a bit of a twist. When the wide receiver returned to Arkansas after his first year with the Bengals, he worked out with the Razorbacks’ track team, not the football team.

Hamilton vs Dallas (440x315)

“With the new football coaches at Arkansas, I guess I’m more comfortable with the track coaches because I ran track for two years and those coaches are still there,” said Hamilton. “I drop in on the football coaches every now and then, but there are a lot of new faces so it’s kind of weird. So I work out and lift weights with the track team because there’s a comfort level.

“Some of the same guys that I ran with my freshman and sophomore years are seniors now, or may be going into the pros. Two or three of those guys are really fast, so I work out with them and it benefits me a lot. It’s not the same as football conditioning, but it keeps your legs in shape.”

Hamilton was listed at 6’2”, 205 pounds last year and says that he’s probably dropped some weight as a result of the track workouts.

“I stay in contact with the fellas during the offseason, so I knew what his plan was,” said wide receivers coach James Urban. “We talked about how important this offseason was going to be for him.

“He had to get himself in a little better shape which he’s done. He looks great now and really embraced it in the offseason.”

The Bengals drafted Hamilton in the sixth round last year after a prolific senior season at Arkansas in which Cobi finished with 90 catches for 1,335 yards. After making seven receptions in the preseason last year including a 4-yard TD catch against Dallas (watch it here), Hamilton spent the regular season on Cincinnati’s practice squad

“Cobi made as big of strides from the beginning of training camp to the end of the season as anyone I’ve ever been around,” said Urban. “It was learning the system…learning how to practice…learning how to compete daily…just learning how to be a pro. There are some guys that come ready-made for it and some guys that take a little while. We’re excited about him.”

“It took a lot of reps, but things started coming a little bit easier for me towards the end of the season and I started to make more plays,” said Hamilton.

Hamilton in rain (440x297)

With the loss of Andrew Hawkins to Cleveland in free agency, Hamilton will be looking to break into the wide receiver rotation this season under new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.

“Hue pulled me aside last year when he was the running backs coach and encouraged me to get better,” said Hamilton. “He was always whispering in my ear, ‘Do you know how good you can be?’”

Cobi received similar encouragement from his position coach.

“He just wasn’t quite making the plays that I saw him make at Arkansas during training camp and the early part of the year,” said Urban. “So I kept saying, ‘What do we have to do to get you to make the plays that I know you can make. I know you can make them.’”

Now the former 200-meter runner at Arkansas says that he’s on the right track to contribute at wide receiver in Cincinnati.

“Now I know what it takes to be an NFL player,” Cobi told me. “I’m excited for this season and I’m ready to get going.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Gunner Comes Out Firing In Bearcats Spring Game

The Bearcats annual spring game began with an 8-yard pass from Gunner Kiel to Mekale McKay. Followed by a 7-yard strike to Max Morrison. Then a 47-yard bomb to Chris Moore. And then another 15-yard bullet to Moore.

Four plays, four passes, and four completions for 77 yards. Not a bad way for Gunner Kiel to make his unofficial Bearcats debut in front of roughly 5,400 fans at Paul Brown Stadium.

“A lot of people kind of bash me and hadn’t really seen me play,” said Kiel. “I haven’t played in three years. So to come out here and silence the critics is definitely one thing that I wanted to do.”

Image

The bashing resulted from Kiel’s struggle to choose a college as one of the nation’s most heavily-recruited high school quarterbacks. Gunner changed his mind after verbal commitments to Indiana and LSU and eventually enrolled at Notre Dame. After a redshirt season with the Fighting Irish, he transferred to Cincinnati last spring.

“I know what I did some people say was dumb – and I agree with them 100% — but that doesn’t change the person that I am,” said Kiel. “I’m a good person and I’m going to do what’s right. I’m going to be a good teammate and I’m going to come out here and work my hardest.”

His hard work appears to be paying off.

Kiel played only the first half of Saturday’s scrimmage and directed the first team offense to three touchdowns and one field goal on six drives against the first team defense. He finished 17-for-22 for 300 yards, with one touchdown run and one interception.

“That’s amazing and this probably wasn’t even his best practice,” said wide receiver Shaq Washington.

“Gunner’s got a quick release, he understands football, and he’s usually going to throw it to the right guy,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “The problem that he’s had this spring is that he’s had ‘happy feet’ because we have had three starting offensive lineman out.”

That was a factor last Sunday in a scrimmage that was dominated by the defense. Kiel was 9-for-20 for 44 yards and Tuberville did not pull any punches afterward.

“Offensively, we looked as bad as I’ve ever seen.” he told reporters.

“To hear your head coach make comments like that sets a fire under your butt,” said Kiel.

So the sophomore quarterback was determined to end spring practice on a positive note.

“I treated it just like a game,” said Kiel. “Last night I watched tape, I went over our plays, I went over the protections and coverages, and I treated it just like a regular game. I woke up early and had breakfast, and came out with a chip on my shoulder to get better and play hard.”

“There were a lot of questions marks at quarterback after last week,” said Tuberville. “The big thing about college is being consistent. We haven’t been very consistent this spring. The defense won most of the time during the spring, but today the defense didn’t win. The offense came out with a different frame of mind and played a lot better.

“I can sleep a little bit better now. Last week we were just awful on offense, but today we threw it and caught it well.”

Image

Tuberville will not name a starting quarterback until fall camp, saying that Jarred Evans will compete for the job and possibly Munchie Legaux as he continues to rehab from the gruesome knee injury he suffered last year vs. Illinois.

But Kiel appears to be the man to beat.

“Obviously Gunner looked really, really good today,” said Tuberville.

“I got the ‘ones’ reps, but I am not the number one quarterback right now,” said Kiel. “That doesn’t mean anything. You still have to come out each day and work hard and compete and do your best. At the end of the day, the coaches are going to make their decision and I understand that, but I’m going to do whatever I can to get the team’s respect, and learn as much as I possibly can because I know that I have to learn more and accomplish more. The sky is the limit and we’ll see what happens.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Bearcats Have One Of Nation’s Best Recruiters In Prunty

Cincinnati’s associate head coach Robert Prunty has been named the Recruiter of the Year in his conference in each of the last four seasons by Scout.com.

Image

“Robert Prunty is one of the best recruiters in the country,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “If you look at our (signing day) list this year, he probably had something to do with half of them. He has that gift.

“He’s outgoing – he’s never met a stranger. That’s what it’s all about. You have to be able to turn it on in any environment and he does a great job in the home and with parents. He understands the need for recruiting 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t do something in recruiting.”

But the key to Prunty’s recruiting pitch isn’t his mouth, it’s his ears.

“Listening,” Robert answered when I asked what makes him a good recruiter. “I was reading an article about a month ago about psychiatrists and how much money they were making, and one of them said, ‘Basically I just sit there and listen to people’s problems.’ I think when you’re dealing with teenagers and young men; they just want somebody to listen to them. They’re so used to people telling them everything that I form a bond by simply listening to them.

“My mother had 10 kids and my father died when I was 10 years old. I’ll never forget when I was about 15, my mother said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to listen to what you have to say.’ So that came from my mother.”

Prunty’s ability to bond with young people was honed during his eight years as head coach at Hargrave Military Academy where many of his players originally signed with Division 1 schools before needing a year of prep school to improve their grades.

The job required Robert to be more than a football coach.

“Educator…father…preacher…mentor…psychiatrist,” said Prunty. “Remember, everybody that came there had a problem because they didn’t qualify. So they were all sad and depressed and we had to try to build them back up.”

Image

At Hargrave, Prunty coached 27 players that made it to the NFL including Pro Bowlers Ahmad Brooks, Brandon Flowers, and Jay Ratliff.

“At one point, they did an article where the players who had played at Hargrave were making close to $400 million dollars,” said Prunty.

Tuberville got to know Robert while recruiting players at Hargrave and offered him an opportunity at the college level when he became the head coach at Texas Tech in 2010.

“There were a lot of big-shot coaches that had a chance to hire him, but he was from a prep school and they didn’t give him a chance,” said Tuberville.

“For Coach Tuberville to give me a job when I was at Hargrave – I’m just thankful to God,” said Prunty. “My brother and sister go to factories 12 hours a day and I get to coach football. I grew up in an industrial area where people worked hard, so I’m driven by the fact that I get to coach football and I love it.”

Prunty’s loyalty to Tuberville is a key reason why he has turned down some lucrative opportunities.

“I just had an offer last week from an NFL team as a defensive assistant and I had about five offers before that, but Coach Tuberville gave me a shot when nobody else would and I like Cincinnati,” Robert told me. “I like the people here, my wife likes it here, my kids go to a great school, and that has a lot to do with it. I’m just thankful.”

“He’s been offered all over the country but he’s been loyal and he wants to stay,” said Tuberville.

In addition to his recruiting ability, Prunty is the Bearcats co-defensive coordinator and coaches the defensive line.

“Coach Prunty is a helluva guy,” said junior Silverberry Mouhon. “He demands so much of us because he brings energy every day at practice. You never see a day where he’s down or moping.”

“He’s tough on them,” said Tuberville. “He’s hard-nosed, he’s disciplined – he’s one of those guys that understands how to get it out of guys that maybe did not know how to give 100% effort.

“He was a good coach when we got him, but he’s a much better coach now because works at it like he does in recruiting. He wants to learn, he wants to get better, he doesn’t stay the same, he studies, he goes to other colleges, he goes to high schools, he spends a lot of time with the Bengals, and he’s as good of a coach as he is a recruiter. I’m just excited about him being on our staff and being a good friend.”

“Everybody has respect for him – from the defensive line to the offense,” said Mouhon. “He works hard for us and that makes you want to work that much harder for him because he gives us his all.”

“Growing up with no father and my momma raising 10 kids, all I know is hard work,” said Prunty. “That’s all I know. There’s no substitute.”

That work ethic helps explain his four year streak of being named Recruiter of the Year in the Big 12 (twice), Big East, and AAC.

What does that recognition mean to Prunty?

“It means that I have to try to win it again this year,” he said.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Edwards Looks To Build On Excellent Start

Did you know that the UC football team had a freshman All-American last year?

Image

Safety Zach Edwards, who started the last 11 games at safety, received honorable mention recognition among the nation’s top freshman from CollegeFootballNews.com.

“He’s got a knack for finding the ball,” said cornerbacks coach Steve Clinkscale. “He made some freshman mistakes, but he was able to come up with some big plays when we needed it. For a true freshman to do that at safety and be in charge of the defense and make all of the alignments and the checks – I think that’s pretty impressive.”

“He played well – he didn’t play great because it was his first year and he was trying to figure out what to do,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “Each week it’s tough on an inexperienced kid because we change the game plan, we change techniques, and his head was swimming most of the year. He got better as the season went on, but this year he’ll be much better.”

Edwards was an all-conference wide receiver/defensive back at Middletown High School and came to Cincinnati as a “grayshirt,” meaning that he sat out the 2012 season before enrolling at UC in January of 2013.

“When you play football so much and then you have to sit out, it’s pretty depressing, but I kept faith in God and kept going knowing that everything would work out for the best,” Zach told me. “Eventually it did.”

Enrolling for the second semester allowed Zach to take part in spring football last year, but an injury limited his participation.

“I pulled my hamstring in about the third practice and had to sit out a lot,” said Edwards.

But that didn’t stop him from making a favorable impression.

“He had one practice at safety and I told the coaches, ‘Hey, this is our safety next year,'” said Clinkscale. “The one thing that he had at practice that was a little bit different from our other guys is that burst to the ball. His athleticism was the biggest difference that made him stand out.”

By the third game of the season, Edwards was in the starting lineup. He finished the season third on the team in tackles, tied for second with two interceptions, and earned AAC Defensive Player of the Week honors in early November after having 11 tackles and recovering a fumble in a win over Memphis.

“Being a safety, you have to be physical and that was my whole mindset,” Zach told me. “Be physical and try to beat whoever you’re going against. I knew if I could do that, I could prove myself to these coaches and to the players.”

After losing senior starters Deven Drane and Arryn Chenault, Edwards will be one of the Bearcats most experienced players in the secondary this year despite only being a sophomore.

“The big thing now is to keep it competitive for him,” said Clinkscale. “I tell these guys all that time that there are no starters anymore. You have to win that job again. We are going to recruit guys that might be better than you and we have guys here that are going to do a better job. He understands that he has to give us more every day, and we expect more of him now than we did as a freshman.”

“The guys around me are pushing me every day, and I’m pushing them to better than we were last year,” said Edwards. “My maturity level has to step up and I have to become a leader.”

There’s definitely room for improvement, but after earning freshman All-America recognition, Zach’s Cincinnati career is obviously off to a strong start.

“You can tell that he’s a lot more comfortable this spring,” said Tuberville. “This is his second spring. He started school in January of last year, so he’s been with us for a year and gotten better and got some accolades, but he can play a lot better than he did last year.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Gunner Kiel Looks To Make Name For Himself At Cincinnati

With a father, uncle, and two older brothers who played quarterback in college, it’s easy to imagine young Gunner Kiel spending countless hours tossing a football through a tire hanging from a tree in the backyard of his home in Columbus, Indiana.

“We did not have a tire, but we did actually have a full goal post,” said Kiel with a laugh.

In other words, football is a pretty big deal in the Kiel family.

“I was kind of born into a bunch of quarterbacks,” Gunner told me. “I always looked up to my older brothers, so whenever I saw them playing quarterback I wanted to do what they did. We have a big yard so we always threw the ball to each other. Between us, we had a quarterback and two wide receivers and then we would switch positions.”

Image

Gunner became the starting quarterback at Columbus (IN) East High School as a 10th grader and threw 36 TD passes and only 6 INT in his first season. That summer he attended a football camp at the University of Tennessee where UC quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw was on the staff at the time.

“He was one of the best I’ve seen in terms of raw tools to work with,” said Hinshaw. “His arm strength and his release – things that I look for – I was very excited to recruit this kid. He did very well in high school and earned the accolades and the high recruiting ranking because he continued to blossom all the way through his senior year. I saw a lot of good things at a young age and so did everybody else. It wasn’t hard to see.”

After throwing for 7,362 yards and 89 touchdowns in three high school seasons, Kiel was ranked as the top high school quarterback prospect in the country by several recruiting services and elected to attend Notre Dame where he redshirted for a team that played in the BCS Championship game two years ago. But faced with the prospect of serving as a backup to Everett Golson for three more seasons, Kiel elected to transfer and contacted Coach Hinshaw about the possibility of playing at Cincinnati.

“It was the relationship that we had built and knowing that I could trust him with anything,” said Kiel. “What was great about Coach Hinshaw is that we wouldn’t just talk about football. We would talk about class, or golfing, or other hobbies. Coach Hinshaw did a great job of just being a friend and a good role model to look up to.”

“We did everything that we could do to recruit him at Tennessee,” said Hinshaw. “When he made his decision to go elsewhere I told him, ‘Look. If you change your mind, you’ve always got a home.’ We had a really good relationship with Gunner and his family.”

Image

Kiel transferred to Cincinnati last April and practiced with the Bearcats last season. The 6’4, 210 pound sophomore has three years of eligibility remaining and is the early frontrunner to take over at quarterback this fall.

“He’s one of these driven kids,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He wants to play, he wants to do well, and he’s going to do everything possible on and off the field – even when the lights are not on and the coach is not out here – to make himself better.

“He’s around a guy that he knew in Coach Hinshaw and I think the offense fits him real well. It’s working out pretty good for him, but he’s going to be pushed by the guys behind him. There’s going to be a lot of competition there.”

“I’m having fun and trying to learn as much as possible,” Gunner told me. “I’m working my butt off to get the guys’ respect and having fun in the process. So far things are going great. I know that I have a lot of work on, but at the same time, it’s a fun game.”

Bearcats fans can see Kiel in action for the first time on April 5th at noon in a scrimmage that is free and open to the public at Paul Brown Stadium.

“He’s got a lot of talent mentally and physically, but he’s got to work on both,” said Tuberville. “The good thing about it is that the good Lord gave him height, strength, and the ability to have a lot of football sense. Time will tell – probably in the next year – how far his football talents go. It only goes as far as what you have between your ears.”

Perhaps Kiel was destined to wind up in Cincinnati all along considering that his parents chose his first name after hearing that former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason named his son Gunnar.

Gunner says that he’s happy with his decision to transfer to UC.

“It’s a family environment here and we’re all super-close,” said Kiel. “There are no cliques and we all hang out and get along. We have great team chemistry. We have a lot to work on and get better at, but we’re all dedicated and we all want the same thing. To be around these guys and to be around people who want you to succeed in life is second to none. I’ve got that at Cincinnati and I’m glad to call it home.”

“Obviously because of his size and his arm strength, he was a high recruit, but I’ve seen a lot of those guys come in and they don’t have the football knowledge or the football sense to play quarterback,” said Coach Tuberville. “He’s got that. So I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Inability To Finish Ends Bearcats Season

At every NCAA Tournament game there’s a person who rapidly types out a description of the play-by-play.  It’s similar to how a court stenographer produces an official transcript of the proceedings.

Image 

In Cincinnati’s season-ending loss to Harvard, that person typed the words “missed layup” 16 times for the Bearcats.

Call it the Sour Sixteen.

Image 

Harvard didn’t need Ivy League smarts to design its game plan:  Do whatever necessary to prevent Sean Kilpatrick from dominating and take your chances with everybody else.

“Every time we tried to free (Sean) they doubled him,” explained head coach Mick Cronin.  “Any time he came off a pick on the ball they doubled him.  Any time he came off of a pick off the ball, they left the guy setting the screen and doubled him even off the ball.

“When we struggled to score inside the way we did today, when a team decides – any team decides – hey, we’re going to play them this way, we have got to score inside.  Because the only other option would be SK running around taking bad shot after bad shot because they’re just not going to leave him open.”

When Kilpatrick had the ball and drew a second defender, he frequently fed it inside to Justin Jackson.  But instead of powering toward the rim to try to score or get fouled, Justin flipped up off-balance shots with a high degree of difficulty.  He finished 5-for-15 including nine missed shots from within a few feet of the hoop.

“I missed a lot of opportunities around the rim,” said Jackson.  “I usually don’t do that – going one-handed flipping the ball.”

“We worked really hard on trying to make sure we finished with strength,” said Cronin.  “But, like Justin alluded to it, we had way too many one hand shots.  Way too many one hand shots.  We just were sloppy and didn’t get the ball in the basket.”

That problem is being addressed.  Next year’s roster additions include Jamaree Strickland (6’10, 270 lbs), Coreontae DeBerry (6’10, 270 lbs), Quadri Moore (6’8″, 230 lbs) and Gary Clark (6’7, 215 lbs).  They are not freakishly athletic shot blockers who are projects on the offensive end.  Strickland, DeBerry, and Moore are broad-shouldered post players who are comfortable in the paint, and Clark is a versatile big man who is capable of scoring inside.  It’s hard to imagine seeing 16 missed layups on a play-by-play sheet. 

Image 

What will be harder to replace is the leadership provided by the senior trio of Kilpatrick, Jackson, and Titus Rubles.

“When you see our seniors and you look at Titus Rubles – he couldn’t play any harder than he does,” Coach Cronin told me.  “He’s maximizing his potential at this level.  The same thing with Justin Jackson.  He could not have had a better senior year.  Sean Kilpatrick is a first-team All-American, he’s scored over 2000 points, and you couldn’t ask any more from him.  That’s the biggest thing I learned from my father in coaching.  You try to demand a kid’s best effort and when he gives that to you, you appreciate it.  Don’t ask for more.”

Of course, we all wanted more in the NCAA Tournament:  More games, more bragging rights, more memories.  But when you honestly evaluate the season, 27 wins, a share of the AAC regular season title, and a 4th straight trip to March Madness was pretty remarkable.

“I think this team has given everything that they possibly could have given us as their coach and as their fan base,” said Cronin.  “Whenever that happens it’s very rewarding because that’s what you’re shooting for as a coach.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Kilpatrick Aims For Bigger Prize

In 1941, Ted Williams batted .406 with 37 HR, 120 RBI, and the 7th best OPS in MLB history (1.2875).  It’s been 73 years and no major league player has batted .400 since.

That year he was not the American League MVP.  Some guy named DiMaggio had a pretty good season too, including a 56-game hitting streak.  Furthermore, the Yankees finished 17 games ahead of the Red Sox in the American League standings.

When I attended the AAC awards event on Wednesday in Memphis, I never really considered the possibility that Sean Kilpatrick would not be named Player of the Year.

Image

Mick Cronin won Coach of the Year and Justin Jackson was named Defensive Player of the Year, but the mood at our table was subdued because Shabazz Napier of UConn received the league’s top individual honor instead of Kilpatrick.

“Shabazz is a great player and had a great year,” said Cronin.  “I just thought with us winning the conference it should have been a no-brainer.

“I’d trade Coach of the Year for him to win Player of the Year in a heartbeat.”

“Shabazz Napier is my guy so I’m not really mad, but I feel like SK should have won the award,” said Jackson.  “Before the season, we were picked to be the number four team in the league and now we’re the number one seed.  SK is the biggest reason.”

In fairness to Napier, his all-around stats are worthy of MVP.  While Kilpatrick averaged 20.9 points to Napier’s 17.8, Shabazz topped SK in rebounds and assists and had a slight edge in shooting percentage.

“The Player of the Year award is in great hands with him,” said Kilpatrick.  “He’s a great player.”

But like Coach Cronin, I thought that Cincinnati’s share of the American Conference title would be the difference in Kilpatrick’s favor when voting for MVP.

Kilpatrick did not hide his disappointment or his desire to use it for added fuel.

“It’s going to be 20 times harder for other teams now,” he told reporters.

“We’re very similar – we use any motivation we can get to drive ourselves,” said Cronin.  “I think the greatest competitor of all-time Michael Jordan did that.  So in a way, I hope he uses it to push himself even further here in March.”

Image

Ironically, one of Napier’s former teammates did that three years ago.  BYU’s Jimmer Fredette won the national Player of the Year awards, but UConn’s Kemba Walker earned a greater prize by carrying the Huskies to an NCAA title.

“My message to SK is:  With all due respect to these awards, I’d like to be standing on a podium in Dallas in April next to him,” said Cronin.  “And if he’s MVP of something, he wants it to be the NCAA Tournament.

“You become a legend by what you do in March.  That’s been my message to the guys all year.  We have a lot of former players that come around and I said, ‘Do you ever notice which guys come around the most?’  I make them name names and after they do I say, ‘You do notice that most of those guys played in the Final Four.’  If you want to be remembered for a lifetime, you play on a Final Four team.  A National Championship team would be even better.  That’s what it’s all about.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.