When it comes to scenery and gluttony, it’s hard to top the American Athletic Conference media days in historic Newport, RI.
On Monday morning, UC seniors Deyshawn Bond and Eric Wilson joined head coach Tommy Tuberville on a private plate to travel to the yacht-filled summer resort. On Monday night, coaches and players from all 12 AAC schools mingle with the media at a New England-style clambake where the steak and lobster is plentiful.
“First private jet and it will be my first time trying to eat a lobster,” said Wilson. “It should be interesting.”
“Every time we travel it’s exciting, but this one is special,” said Bond. “It’s an honor that me and Eric got selected because only a few people get to do this.”
At last year’s kickoff event, Cincinnati was the preseason media pick to win the conference. Houston, coming off a 13-1 season, is likely to be the favorite this year and the Bearcats say they’re not concerned about where they are projected to finish.
“It’s not that big of a deal to us,” said Bond. “We’ll try to work our way up no matter where we are picked.”
“The end of the season is what matters,” said Wilson. “I’m trying to get us to the top of the list on that one.”
The Bearcats finished 7-6 last year despite ranking sixth nationally in total yards at 537.8 per game and setting 18 school records on offense.
“We made too many mistakes,” said Tuberville. “We turned the ball over and had too many penalties. We averaged 37 points a game, but you can’t play defense like we’ve been playing and turn the ball over on offense. If you do that – I don’t care how good of a team you have – you’re not going to win many games.”
Their turnover ratio was especially glaring. Cincinnati had 33 turnovers and only 14 takeaways to finish -19.
“We were number one in the league in yards, but when it came to turnovers, we had the highest number there as well,” said Bond. “That didn’t balance out very well. This year we want to be number one in yards and have the fewest turnovers.”
Last season the defense was devastated by injuries, including the loss of starting cornerbacks Adrian Witty and Grant Coleman by week four. Ten freshman eventually started on that side of the ball.
“Last year we were a little young on defense,” said Wilson. “Now the younger guys feel more comfortable and know what they have to do instead of just trying to learn on the run.”
“There’s always going to be a drop-off between the first and second team – that’s the reason why you have a first and second team,” said Tuberville. “But if it’s a dramatic drop-off – which we had last year after we lost nearly our entire secondary – then we struggled to play defense and get our offense back on the field.”
The Bearcats will begin practicing on Wednesday with a three-way battle to be the starting quarterback. Senior Gunner Kiel has been the starter when healthy for most of the past two seasons, but he’s currently listed third on the depth chart behind sophomore Hayden Moore and redshirt freshman Ross Trail.
“Gunner has the talent to be our starter, but he couldn’t be evaluated in the spring – he only practiced one or two times because he had a pulled muscle in his back,” said Tuberville. “That’s no fault of his because he was working hard and was playing and practicing well. He’s done everything we’ve asked in the last six months and he’s ready to go.
“These next two weeks will tell the tale on our starting quarterback. Whoever is going to be the starter is going to have to impress our coaches going into the first couple of scrimmages. After that, we’ve got to get ready for the season.”
When Tuberville, Bond, and Wilson return from Rhode Island on Tuesday, they will almost immediately step into the first team meeting of training camp. Coach Tuberville knows what word he’ll be emphasizing on day one.
“Discipline,” he said. “Not in terms of doing things right off of the field – I always want that. But it’s doing things in critical situations where you don’t’ have an offensive lineman move and go from third-and-one to third-and-six. Or you turn the ball over and let somebody run it back for a touchdown from 60 yards out. Those are things you can’t overcome. So Tuesday when we have our first team meeting that will be the first word spoken out of my mouth.”
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