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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #34 Cincinnati

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 22, 2015

#34 Cincinnati Bearcats

2014 Recap:
A 9-4 record is something to be proud of especially after opening the season 2-3 and then running off seven consecutive victories. Cincinnati ultimately succumbed to Virginia Tech 17-33 in the Military Bowl, but the country got to see Gunner Kiel and what he can do from the pocket.

Coaching:
Tommy Tuberville is 18-8 in his two years leading the Bearcats, and that means he has been 9-4 during both of his seasons at the helm. We all know Tommy Tuberville has a resume that exudes success at his many steps while coaching, and Cincinnati is a school that has teetered on being a power school. While the program hasn’t had enormous success there have been a number of quality prospects Cincinnati has sent to the NFL over the last 10-15 years. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has a number of weapons at his disposal for a team that averaged 460 YPG a season ago. The defense has co-coordinators in Steve Clinkscale and Robert Prunty, and they inherit a defense that is less than stellar to say the least.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Gunner Kiel has the ability to be the top quarterback taken in this draft class. He may come back for his senior season to get another year of seasoning under his belt, and the fact that he plays outside of one of the Big 5 conferences will go against him. You have to remember, however, that Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater played in the AAC, so a big season could mean declaring early. Kiel originally went to Notre Dame and then transferred, as last season he was finally able to get out of the field full time. If there is anyone out there who thinks Kiel doesn’t have the ability to play with the big boys, you may want to watch the tape of him tearing apart Ohio State last year when he went 21-32-352 with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Kiel unfortunately left the game early with some bruised ribs, but Cincinnati was in that game due to his precision passing and constant vertical attack.

Two problems that Kiel will need to work on are as follows. Kiel left a few games due to injury, and at 210 pounds he will need to add about 10-15 pounds and strengthen his core. Kiel can also lock onto receivers which is unfortunate, because when looking off receivers or changing his field view he is effective with the pump fake and can sell play action. Kiel has all of his top receivers from a season ago back and what looks to be an improved stable of running backs led by Hosey Williams and Mike Boone. This is going to be a fun offense to watch on Saturdays.

Best Draft Prospect: Gunner Kiel QB 1st Round 2017 (could possibly declare early with a monster season).


Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

When it was stated that the top targets for Cincinnati were back, that was an understatement. Cincinnati uses a variety of four receiver sets, and the four starters are all returning seniors. The top eight receivers from last year are back with seven receivers and one junior making up the total roster. Shaq Washington, Max Morrison, Chris Moore and Makale McKay are the returning starters, and the four seniors accounted for 185-2617-24. The next four receivers add another 68-1016-10. I don’t think we can find another school that offers those numbers for returning players. Granted this isn’t the most talented wide receiver group in the NCAA, but as a unit they rank in the upper echelon. One can fathom they can only get better, especially with more threats running the football and not being one dimensional.

Despite finishing fourth in catches a season ago and last among the starters, Chris Moore has the best pro potential due to his big play ability as a deep threat (as evidenced by his 30-673-22.4-8). The numbers put up by Moore are reminiscent of what we have seen in years past from receivers like Paul Richardson of Colorado and Breshad Perriman of Central Florida.

Best Draft Prospect: Chris Moore WR 5th Round 2016.

 

Offensive Line:

It’s true that Cincinnati has lost their best offensive lineman in Eric Lefeld, but the Bearcats have another stud who is already on the Outland Award Watch list in 6’7” 315 pound senior Parker Ehinger. Ehringer was a guard during his last two seasons, but he will make the switch with Lefeld gone and projects as a tackle with his size for the next level. Justin Murray returns at right tackle along with center Deshawn Bond. Ryan Leahy and Delonte Murray are the new starters, and both are the guards for 2015. Moving Ehringer from guard to tackle will help to ensure that this is not just a pass protection line, as Cincinnati will concentrate on going around the edge in the running game.

Best Draft Prospect: Parker Ehinger OT 4th Round 2016.

 

Defense Analysis

Defensive Line:

Cincinnati had three defenders finish with over 100 tackles a season ago, and two of those players have been lost to graduation. Silverberry Mouhon is a defensive end that may project as more of a linebacker at the next level. Mouhon disappointed last year. His stats weren’t bad, but this was a player that looked to be on the upswing and had the ability to declare early last season if the stats supported it. They certainly fell short. Mouhon had 9.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore, but those numbers were cut in half with 4 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Mouhon is still a pass rushing threat and someone who will be drafted by the later rounds of the draft, but he needs to rebound with some big pass rush numbers after the key departures suffered by Cincinnati. Mouhon is the only returning starter along the line, but most of his help should come from fellow defensive end Mark Wilson and defensive tackle Cortez Broughton.

Best Draft Prospect: Silverberry Mounhon DE 6th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers are similar to the defensive line in that only one starter returns in the form of Leviticus Payne. The defensive line looks better for the long haul in terms of talent, while the new linebackers look more ready to contribute immediately. Eric Wilson will man the outside, while Clemente Casseus will play the middle and looks like a formidable prospect for the future. Casseus only played in four games a season ago and made one start last year before an injury shelved his season. That was the year when he was supposed to prove he had some pro potential. The jury remains out on Casseus, as Payne should garner some free agent buzz and remains a late round possibility.

Best Draft Prospect: Leviticus Payne LB UFA 2016.

 

Secondary:

Adrian Witty is the only member of the secondary that is technically not a returning starter, but he has started in years past after missing last season due to injury. Zach Edwards was second on the team with 121 tackles, tied for the team lead with a pair of interceptions, and led the team with 8 passes defended. Edwards made way too many tackles, and most of the time he was making tackles too far downfield. He will need to improve his angles in run support. While Edwards is a capable player he has not shown the ability to make big plays consistently. Cincinnati will need some other bodies to step up, especially with a pair of new lead coordinators. Cornerback Grant Coleman is the last player in this equation, and he has the ability to play both sides of the field. Coleman may be asked to shadow the top receiver for the opposing teams the Cincinnati schedule.

Best Draft Prospect: Zach Edwards S 7th Round 2017.

 

Special Teams

One area where Cincinnati struggled last season was in the return game on both kickoffs and punts. Cincinnati was outgained on kickoffs and punts in both terms of total yards and average. The return games lacked punch, although the coverage teams were better then average, but there is room for improvement. Cincinnati didn’t seem to do as well as opponents punting the football either, but sophomore Sam Geraci improved as the year progressed after a slow start. Kicker Andrew Gantz went 16-20 as a freshman, although Cincinnati seemed unwilling to have him try many longer field goals. If Gantz can show more leg strength he could be on the NFL radar for 2018, and he has three seasons ahead of him to work on his craft.

Best Draft Prospect: Andrew Gantz K UFA 2018.

 

2015 Schedule

Games 4-6 seems to be the key moment for Cincinnati, as they will travel to Memphis before a home date with the Miami Hurricanes and then hitting the road again against BYU. If Cincinnati can win two of those three games they could finish the season ranked and could contend for an At-Large bid for a BCS bowl game. Memphis got the best of Cincinnati a season ago, and that embarrassing 41-14 loss is one still fresh in minds of the Bearcats.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Gunner Kiel doesn’t seem to get the respect other underclassmen quarterbacks like Christian Hackenberg or even Jared Goff get, and it’s a mystery to us. Kiel is a little undersized and needs to add some muscle, but that has apparently happened and things are set up for a breakout year. If the transition to tackle is a smooth one for Parker Ehinger his versatility should appeal to a number of teams, and his stock should be on the rise heading into late April.

 

DJ Boyer