BN: Prior to his hiring at Cincinnati, Luke Fickell’s only head coaching experience was as Ohio State’s interim head coach in 2011 when he went 6-6. What makes you think he is the guy to turn around the Bearcats’ program?
DTD: The results on the field in year one weren’t ideal, but Fickell has already made huge strides in recruiting. Cincinnati had the No. 1 2018 recruiting class in the American Athletic Conference and he made a big deal about recruiting locally. Too often, the top prospects in southern Ohio weren’t ending up as Bearcats under Tommy Tuberville, who had continually diminishing returns both in recruiting and in terms of wins and losses.
Just bringing in talented players doesn’t solve everything, but considering Fickell inherited a 4-8 team and immediately began building the best recruiting class for the program in quite a while, it would be difficult not to feel optimistic about the next steps.
BN: It seems like Luke Fickell is still trying to gain the trust of his players. Have you seen anything in spring practices that indicates progress and more team cohesion?
DTD: I think there is already a great deal of trust there. Fickell and his staff have brought a lot more energy to the table and I think the players are responding to that. I also think the implementation of new schemes and a pretty young roster means there is kind of a “we’re all in this together” point of view.
BN: With a team full of underclassmen, which side of the ball will be the strength of the Bearcats team this year?
DTD: The defense. It’s easy to say that because Fickell was a defensive coordinator, but most of the best playmakers from last year (Perry Young, Jarell White, Marquise Copeland etc.) are on that side of the ball. Plus the recruiting I already talked about led to a number of talented defensive additions, including four-star prospect Malik Vann. He’s going to be a big difference maker for years to come.
BN: If you were Chip Kelly, how would you attack the Bearcats’ defense? What is their biggest weakness on defense?
DTD: I imagine this will be something Fickell and his staff are trying to address, but UC has struggled with creating a pass rush the last few years. The Bearcats had 12 sacks last year, which was actually down from already terrible amounts in 2016 (19) and 2015 (13). So throwing the ball and preaching patience is the best course of actio until its revealed that the pass rush is fixed.
BN: What is the Bearcats’ biggest strength on defense?
DTD: There’s a lot of versatility, especially in the back end. Several defenders play more hybrid roles rather than just traditional linebacker and defensive back posts. This means guys with varied skill sets are roaming around. For example, Tyrell Gilbert a starting cornerback on the depth chart but he has played safety and linebacker before.
BN: Conversely, what is the biggest strength the Bearcats have on offense?
DTD: They have two very talented and young running backs in Michael Warren II and Gerrid Doaks. The latter was recovering from an injury this offseason, so Warren is poised to get the bulk of the carries this week (No. 1 on the depth chart), but both guys run with great vision and strength.
BN: What is the most glaring weakness on offense?
DTD: Quarterback play is not the best. Hayden Moore is UC’s starter and he has flashed potential in the past, but he has been at best an average quarterback in his time with the Bearcats. He’s a senior this year and the de facto starter, but he doesn’t show a lot of confidence throwing the ball down field and his decision making suffers because of that. It’s too bad because Kahlil Lewis, the team’s No. 1 wideout, is incredible.
BN EXTRA POINT: Predict the Final Score.