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A Few Words About Brady Collins

Brady Collins insists that his daily intake of caffeine is modest.

“I have two cups of coffee,” he told me. “One in the morning on my drive to work and one after lunch.”

Perhaps I should have asked how many ounces are in each cup.

Consider some of the words that are used to describe the UC football program’s new strength and conditioning coach.

“Juiced is the first word that comes to mind,” said cornerback Grant Coleman. “I’ve never seen somebody as energized as him. He brings it every day and sets the tone.”

“If I had to pick one work to describe him it would be fireworks,” said kicker Andrew Gantz. “If you ever walk by the (practice) bubble when we’re working out it sounds like a freaking concert or something like that. He makes things a lot of fun.”

“Coach Brady is a ball of energy,” said running back Mike Boone. “From the time we walk in until the time we leave.”

When Luke Fickell was hired as Cincinnati’s head coach in December, he brought Collins with him from Ohio State where Brady had been an assistant for the past two years under esteemed former UC strength coach Mickey Marotti.

“Energy, energy, energy,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “Positive, positive, positive. He’s one of those guys that if I’m having a bad day, the first call that I’ll make is to Brady.”

“I would have followed that guy to the University of Alaska,” said Collins. “I would have gone anywhere with Coach Fick – he’s awesome.”

So if Collins isn’t guzzling coffee or Red Bull, where does all of that energy come from?

“It’s just my natural personality and who I am,” Brady told me. “Up-tempo, passion, energy, juice – all that stuff. These kids have so many stresses in life that when they come into the weight room I want it to be fun, I want it to be loud, and I want it to be nuts. If they see me with my head down and I’m not loud or I’m not excited, they feed off that. The number one thing that I’m always thinking of is these kids and making sure that when they come in, their energy level is through the roof. When they’re under our watch, it’s high-octane crazy stuff.”

That was obvious in early January when Collins began conducting 6:00 am outdoor “attention training” workouts.

“How hard is it to crawl through mud or snow?” said Fickell. “It’s not that hard. But it’s hard mentally. We wanted to see how committed they were and how much work we needed to do.”

“I won’t lie to you,” said Collins. “When we came in, we anticipated friction and guys not wanting to buy in. It was the complete opposite. It was almost like they ripped their chests open and said, ‘Please coach us.’ It was like we hit them in the face, they took a step back, and then they stepped right back up and wanted more. Once we saw that, I said, “We got ‘em.’ You were either in or out and everybody was in.”

“Everybody’s open to it,” said Coleman. “And if somebody’s not, they’re out of here. That’s just how it is.”

Coleman says he’s put on 22 pounds of muscle since January. Offensive lineman Korey Cunningham, on the other hand, dropped 12 pounds and lowered his body fat.

“Gains in our strength and speed are a given, but the bigger thing is the bond we’ve developed from the hard work that we’ve gone through,” said quarterback Ross Trail.

“One of the reasons why this team is coming together so well is because of what him and Coach Fickell have done for the culture,” said Gantz.

“When I see them do something in the weight room or on the field, or when they do something in academics, they act differently,” said Collins. “They have smiles on their faces or they have their chests up. That’s what gets me going.”

In other words, it’s not those two cups of coffee.

“People always ask me, ‘Where do you get the energy?’” said Collins. “Really, I get it from these kids.

“We’re asking them to do ridiculous things and they can do it. They may not think that at first, but when you get their hearts and their minds, that’s when you win championships. That’s when you turn them into great men, great husbands, great fathers, and great representatives of the university.”

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Core Audience

No matter what Cody Core accomplishes in his pro football career, he will not go down as the best 199th-overall draft pick in NFL history.

Thursday’s birthday boy Tom Brady (2000 NFL Draft) has that distinction wrapped up.

But the wide receiver selected in the sixth round last year appears ready to play an expanded role in his second season with the Bengals.

Cody Core

“Last year, he couldn’t finish a practice,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “For a guy who supposedly played at Ole Miss, I would tease him, ‘You can’t handle our humidity here, huh (laughs)?’ I think he has matured a lot physically, and he obviously knows what to do – he’s smart. He was a big contributor for us on special teams, and when A.J. (Green) went out, he got a chance to go out there and play.”

“I’m a lot more comfortable,” said Core. “Just getting the playing time last year, starting the last couple of games and seeing the pace. It helps a lot.”

The Bengals drafted Core largely for his size and speed – he’s 6’3”, 214 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“He’s a big guy and he’s quicker than you think,” said cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. “He uses his body really well and I think that he can help us.”

But being fast and playing fast are two different things and Core should benefit from having a year of experience in the Bengals’ offense.

“If you look in the receiver position group at guys like Cody Core, Alex Erickson, and Tyler Boyd, those guys aren’t thinking about what the play is,” said quarterback Andy Dalton. “Now they know which way to run a route on different coverages and things like that. That’s a big area where we have taken a jump.”

“Things are getting better,” said Core. “Just the trust and the communication and having everybody on point and on target.”

“The playing experience Cody got last year has been very beneficial to him and everyone on the football team to be able to see his abilities,” said Lewis.

Core has been on the receiving end of several long passes in training camp, and the 23-year-old is battling to earn playing time on a deep and talented wide receiver corps.

“He’s one of my favorite guys to play against because he’s got a little fire about himself,” said Kirkpatrick. “He’s going to get the best out of you. He challenges me and Adam (Jones). He doesn’t really look at who you are – he’s a competitor. That’s what I like about him.”

“Whether it’s Andy or AJ (McCarron) or Jeff (Driskel), the guys have great confidence in him,” said Lewis. “When he gets in a one-on-one situation, he can win that battle.”

“We have a lot of talent,” said Core. “Everybody has speed so the defense had better be ready.”

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Pinckney Embracing Second Chance

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

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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Big Country Takes The Lead

Senior offensive lineman Korey “Big Country” Cunningham is noticeably leaner after spending several months training under the Bearcats new strength and conditioning coach Brady Collins.

“I played last year around 320 (pounds) and it didn’t really feel good on my knees and stuff like that,” said Cunningham. “Now I’m down to around 308 and I’m feeling good and moving way better. Coach Collins and his strength staff have done an amazing job. I’m toned up and in the best shape that I’ve been in a long time. I’m excited for the season.”

“His before and after picture was kind of scary,” said quarterback Hayden Moore with a laugh.



But Big Country still has a big appetite and it was on display at the recent American Athletic Conference media days in Newport, Rhode Island which annually includes an all-the-lobster-you-can-eat clambake.

“I think I only ate seven,” Korey told me. “The only guy that ate more than me was a tackle from UCF. I think he ate ten. If I knew that, I definitely would have had 11 or 12.

“I definitely could have put more down, but I had to ease back a bit. I knew Coach Brady would get it out of me when we got back.”

Cunningham arrived at Cincinnati as a 225-pound high school tight end before being moved to the offensive line. The Alabama native started every game at left tackle last season and is the only returning offensive lineman with more than five career starts.

“Being a guy that has the experience that he does and the leadership skills that he has, he means a lot to our group and a lot to our offense,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “A lot of the guys in the locker room are looking toward him to see how he prepares and gets ready every day. If we can get enough guys to follow suit, that’s going to help us in the long run.”

“We’re definitely rebuilding this year and we’re going to find out what we’re about,” said Cunningham. “We lost Bond, Leahy, and Stout but we’re going to be good with the guys that we have now. Everybody is learning the system with the stuff that we’re doing on the field and also in the film room. Come game time, we’ll have good people up front.”

“He’s really come a long way to become that guy on the offensive line that everybody looks to,” said Moore. “The other offensive lineman look toward him and Korey has the attitude where he is going to make them block. I love that he’s that guy because he’ll yell at you and get in your face to make you do what he wants you to do.”

Cunningham is not only a leader of his position group.

“He’s one of those ‘heart and souls’ of our team,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “If there’s anybody that I’ve seen really transition and embrace the culture it’s Korey. I’m excited to watch him play this year.

“He’s the kind of guy that you want to have in your locker room and on your offensive line. I hope what he does and what he believes in and the passion that he has for the game of football is contagious.”

“Coming back from our break last winter after we didn’t go to a bowl game I was hungry,” said Cunningham. “I wanted someone to come in here and change the culture. (The new staff) came in and pushed us to our limits. I loved it because we’re hungry and ready for a new day.”

Coach Fickell saw what a “hungry” Korey Cunningham can do to lobster. But that’s not what caught his eye at AAC media days.

“It was interesting to take him with us on the trip and hear him say that he wants to be a coach someday,” said Fickell. “I thought he was smarter than that, but it shows me that this is something that he’s passionate about and it’s a game that he wants to play. I hope we’ve shown him what he needs to do to play it for a long time.”

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Gray Matters

University of Cincinnati wide receiver Devin Gray, recently named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, enters his senior season as one of the Bearcats top on-field threats.

Devin Gray vs BYU

When wide receivers coach Joker Phillips describes Gray, it sounds like he’s describing the Energizer Bunny.

“He goes and he goes and he goes,” said Phillips. “That’s probably one of the biggest strengths that he has. When you go and you go and you go, you get opportunities.”

Gray took advantage of those opportunities in his first season with the Bearcats after spending two years at Sierra College in California. Devin was named UC’s Newcomer of the Year as he hauled in a team-high 58 receptions for 860 yards and five touchdowns.

devin gray

“It was my first year and I was getting acclimated from the change from JUCO to Division I football,” said Gray. “It took me a while to get used to it, but I think it was a great learning experience.”

Devin made a strong impression on new head coach Luke Fickell and his staff during spring practice when he battled back from a knee injury.

“He got hurt in practice two and during spring break he stayed here and did everything he could possibly do to be ready when we got back,” said Phillips. “That tells you the character that he has and the desire that he has to play this game.”

“We don’t want injuries to happen and try to prevent them as much as possible with some of the things that we do to take care of their bodies,” said Fickell. “But when it happens, you see what their attitude is for trying to get back. Some guys have the attitude that they love this game and want to get back in any way possible.”

“It’s a blessing to be here playing Division I football,” said Gray. “It’s my last year here, so missing anything is like missing a lifetime. I don’t have the time to miss anything.”

When the Bearcats begin fall practices at Camp Higher Ground, the receiving corps will be led by Gray and junior Kahlil Lewis who had 48 receptions for 605 yards and five touchdowns last year.

“We have to find somebody that can make some plays on the outside,” said Fickell. “The game has become so much more about one-on-one matchups now. The guys are challenged all of the time and you have to have somebody feel confident that they can make a play.”

“Devin and Kahlil have to be the leaders in our room,” said Phillips. “If you’re a leader in that room, than you’ve got to be one of the guys that we try to get the ball to. You’ve got to design stuff to try to get the ball into their hands and he and Khalil will be two of those guys.”

True freshman Thomas Geddis and Jerron Rollins also gained valuable experience last year, and Gray says that he and his fellow receivers are eager to show what they can do in 2017.

“We’re a really tight group,” he said. “We all like each other, we all want each other to do good, and we all need each other to do good. Coach Phillips expects me as an older guy to lead by example and be vocal.”

“He’s an unbelievable kid,” said Phillips. “That’s what you want in your room – a leader who is the first one in there and the last to leave.”

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Ogbuehi Gaining Confidence

Cedric Ogbuehi is convinced that the month he spent doing Mixed Martial Arts at Jay Glazer’s Unbreakable Performance Center in Los Angeles is going to pay big dividends on the football field.

“I think it’s helped with leverage, sinking my hips, and my overall strength,” Ogbuehi told me. “MMA is all about leverage and I think that helps a ton with my position.

“We did a little boxing for stamina and shoulders and wrestling-type movements. It was good work.”

Does Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander agree that MMA-style training will help his young left tackle?

“I have no idea,” said Alexander. “I haven’t really followed it to tell you the truth.”

But don’t mistake Alexander’s disinterest in MMA for doubt about Ogbuehi’s improvement.

Cedric Ogbuehi

For the first time in his three NFL seasons, Cedric has been healthy this offseason allowing him to take part in the Bengals OTAs and minicamps.

“OTAs are the time where you really start from the beginning and break down the core fundamentals of blocking,” said Alexander. “He hasn’t been able to do that. He’s been hurt and was just kind of thrown in there to run plays. He’s been playing from behind a little bit. Now he’s playing from ahead.”

“It’s the first time that I got to slow it down and learn my techniques,” said Ogbuehi. “I’ve noticed the difference. I’m a different player, and I’m a more confident player.”

Alexander is in his 23rd season as the Bengals offensive line coach and helped develop Pro Bowl tackles Willie Anderson and Andrew Whitworth. He says that an offensive lineman’s confidence is built on the practice field.

“The best way to get confident is blocking your guy over and over again,” said Alexander. “You only get that through competitive execution of consistent fundamentals.

“(Cedric’s) never really been comfortable enough where he could execute the techniques the same way twice. That’s what he’s doing now. You’re building habits, you’re getting lots of repetitions going at slower speeds and then faster speeds and you’re developing those habits of good fundamentals.”

“Every day I’m getting better,” said Ogbuehi. “I’m learning something every day and the game is slowing down.”

When the Bengals concluded their final minicamp on June 15th, Ogbuehi said his plan was to go home to Dallas and continue training. When training camp opens at Paul Brown Stadium on July 28th, the 25-year-old will look to pick up where he left off on the practice field.

“I have to do what I did in OTAs and do it in camp,” he said. “Stack the practices, keep getting better, and be the same guy in camp that I was during OTAs.

“It’s exciting and going to be fun. Playing left tackle is the place I love to be and I’m excited to go out there and play.”

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Elliott Looks To Kick Start NFL Career

The Bengals had 11 draft picks this year. Their first round selection, wide receiver John Ross, ran the fastest 40-yard dash in the history of the NFL Scouting Combine. Their second round pick, running back Joe Mixon, looks like he has Jeremy Hill’s body with Giovani Bernard’s feet. Both of them should be able to help the offense immediately.

But another rookie could wind up having the biggest impact on this year’s team – fifth round selection Jake Elliott out of Memphis who was the first kicker selected in this year’s draft. He’ll go to training camp in a three-way battle for the job with veteran Randy Bullock and first-year kicker Jonathan Brown.

jake elliott bengals

“I’m looking forward to competing,” said Elliott. “Nothing in this league is given and everything has to be earned. I look forward to competing and hopefully winning the job.”

Last year Mike Nugent missed six field goal attempts and six extra points. His replacement, Bullock, only missed one kick in three games but it was a 43-yard field goal try that would have beaten Houston at the gun on Christmas Eve.

With four extra picks in this year’s draft, the Bengals were able to target a kicker and it was largely up to special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons to rank the college prospects.

“I like to think that it’s a total team effort, but I think they rely a lot on my opinion,” said Simmons. “I’m the one that gets to see each guy individually kick. I’m not a big pro day guy. I like to work them out individually because I like to do the things that I want to do with them and not necessarily have that on display for everyone else. I spend a lot of time with each of the top guys and I feel comfortable with the guy we got.

“I like to go in there individually so that I can work at my own pace. Sometimes I think on these pro days it’s a rush for everybody. The scouts and coaches have flights to catch or whatever it may be, and this way it’s a little more laid-back and I get a better feel. When you’re making a decision like that you don’t want to be rushed. I try to gather all the facts that I can.”

Elliott obviously made a strong impression on Simmons, but the reverse was also true.

“I got to know Coach Simmons a little bit during the Senior Bowl and during the Combine,” said Elliott. “Then he came up and worked me out individually in Memphis. He put me through a lot of stuff – field goal charts and kickoff charts and certain situational stuff as well. Then he coached a little technique stuff at the end and no other coach really did that.”

“I think he’s very coachable,” said Simmons. “That was easy to see right away with a couple of adjustments that we tried to make right after the workout was over. When I made suggestions, he picked up on them right away.

“He has a very calm demeanor. It was a tough day in Memphis that day that I worked him out. The wind was probably blowing 15 to 20 miles per hour and he never flinched. Some specialists have a tendency to be, ‘Woe is me,’ because of the weather. We were supposed to start kicking around two o’clock and there was a torrential downpour. We just stayed inside and watched video for a little bit and went out when the weather was nice. He never flinched with any of that and it was good to see that he’s got some composure.”

Jake Elliott memphis

As the radio broadcaster for UC, I saw Elliott kick in four games against the Bearcats and he made 5 of 7 field goal attempts and all 18 of his extra points. In his college career, Jake made 78% of his field goal tries at Memphis and all 202 of his extra point attempts.

“I take pride in that, but at the end of the day it’s still a competition coming in here,” he said. “I look forward to competing and hopefully earning a job.”

Most rookies that make an NFL team, even some of the high draft picks, begin their careers as backups.

But not kickers. There’s only one on the roster.

If Elliott wins the job, he’ll be under a white-hot spotlight from day one.

“It’s a lot different situation coming in as a specialist,” Jake told me. “That’s the pressure that comes with the job and that’s why I love what I do.”

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