The first time that I met A.J. Green, I asked him what his initials stood for.
When he told me “Adriel Jeremiah,” I thought it had a majestic sound that might be fun to use on the radio when he caught a touchdown pass.
I will resist the temptation to do the same thing when “Jernard Jeremiah” Pinckney hauls in a TD pass for the Bearcats this year.
JJ Pinckney started the last five games of the 2015 season at cornerback for the Bearcats, but he suffered a knee injury in training camp last year and wound up leaving the team.
After Tommy Tuberville resigned as head coach and was replaced by Luke Fickell, Pinckney was given the opportunity to return during spring practice.
But the 6’3”, 210-pound junior from Sylvania, OH lined up at a new position.
“When I came back to the team in the spring, we were pretty loaded at corner,” said Pinckney. “We’re young at the receiver spot and they knew that I have experience playing at this level even if it wasn’t at receiver. I’ve got nice size and they said that I could definitely help the team. And I’ll do anything to help the team.”
“He’s been a pleasant surprise, but he still has a lot of work to do because we didn’t get him until about five days into spring ball,” said receivers coach Joker Phillips. “A lot of the nuances of the position are a struggle right now – just the consistency. That’s no doubt that he can do it, and that will come with reps because he’s a little bit behind the guys right now. But athletically, he isn’t behind anybody.”
Pinckney originally expected to play wide receiver when he signed with Cincinnati, but nearly all of his college career has been spent at cornerback.
“I played wide receiver for one week,” JJ told me. “It was the week that we beat Miami two years ago. We were a little banged up at the receiver spot and they said maybe we can use you. But beyond that, I haven’t played receiver since high school.”
“He’s been on the defensive side of the ball so he understands coverages and how to play different leverages,” said Phillips. “He’s got a chance to help us.”
But Phillips, who played wide receiver for the Washington Redskins, says that it’s a more challenging position to learn than many people realize.
“I think receiver might be one of the more difficult places to play,” he said. “You tell the five offensive lineman exactly where to line up on every play. The same is true for the quarterback or running back. But we don’t always tell the receiver exactly where to line up. He has to line up in the best place to do his assignment and then there are all sorts of adjustments after that because coverages change. It’s not like the old days where they line up in a coverage and play it. Now they try to disguise it and you have to be able to move on the run and adjust on the run.”
“It’s a very complex game,” said Pinckney. “I know from the standpoint of being a young kid and not understanding how much goes into one play – all of the adjustments and all of the things you have to recognize to make things work. You have to be cohesive because it’s a chess match.
“I’ve been working and trying to do everything that our coach tells us to do. In the end it should work out.”
Pinckney caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jake Sopko in the spring football game, and spent part of a recent practice working with the first team offense when the Bearcats lined up with three receivers.
“There’s an opportunity to be that third guy and play a supporting role,” JJ said. “One of the advantages that I think I have is that other teams don’t know about me.
“Our leaders are Kahlil (Lewis) and Devin (Gray) and they’ve been on us day in and day out in the meeting room to make sure we get extra work. First on the field and last off the field. I think it’s working out.”
Pinckney says that “tough love” from the current coaching staff has renewed his love of the game.
“When we got here, JJ had one foot out the door,” said Coach Phillips. “But JJ bought in. Everybody here is trying to help him, nobody is trying to hurt him, and JJ couldn’t see that. Now he sees it.”
“I’ve learned a ton from (Coach Phillips),” said Pinckney. “I didn’t even know the ins and outs of the position existed. It’s fascinating, and the different things that he teaches you opens your horizons and makes you hungrier to play. I’m deeply grateful for him.
“There were things that needed to be done and they got the best out of me. Tough love is a good way to describe it.”
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