Cincy tries to get over loss of playmakers

The quarterback and running back are gone. So are the top two

defensive linemen. The Cincinnati Bearcats are trying for another

Big East title with a lot of players moving up to starring roles

for the first time.

Are they ready for it?

Not even coach Butch Jones can say for sure. Cincinnati went 8-3

last season, won a share of the league title for the third time in

four years, then won the Liberty Bowl led by a group of seniors who

had been through a lot.

Quarterback Zach Collaros is gone after leading one of the

league’s top offenses for two years. Running back Isaiah Pead, the

top scoring threat, was drafted by the Rams in the second round.

Tight end Adrien Robinson went to the Giants in the fourth round.

Defensive tackles Derek Wolfe (Broncos) and John Hughes (Browns)

were drafted in the second and third rounds.

That’s a lot of playmakers to replace.

”To ask somebody to duplicate the production of an Isaiah Pead,

I don’t know if that’s realistic,” Jones said. ”That’s what we’ve

been talking about. This is a new team. We form our own identity.

It’s an opportunity for guys that were maybe in the shadows last

year or in a role-player role to move up to the next phase, which

is a playmaker role.

”So, we’re relying on them.”

No one is moving into a bigger role than Munchie Legaux. He

started three games last season after Collaros broke an ankle,

getting a little better as he went along. A true sophomore, Legaux

was prone to erratic play – long stretches without completing a

pass, for instance.

”Consistency,” Jones said, referring to Legaux’s biggest

challenge. ”Consistency in the pocket. Just maintaining his poise

under pressure.

”He has to be able to able to get the ball to our playmakers. I

talk about the consistency in managing the offense and

understanding where your matchups are and being able to exploit

those matchups.”

Like Collaros, Legaux is a dual threat, able to run or throw.

His accuracy was an issue last season, when he threw for 749 yards

with five touchdowns and four interceptions.

Until now, he’s been known primarily for his nickname, given to

him by his grandparents. When he lost his two front teeth as a

youngster, he had trouble chewing and had to munch on his food.

The experienced players on offense supported him last season

when he was thrown into the starting role. He’s the one taking

charge this year.

”I need to lead by example and just have a positive mindset,

let the whole team see I’m a hard worker,” Legaux said. ”When

things are going bad or things are going good, they can always

count on me to be cool, calm and collected. That’s what I’m working

on, to be consistent in my leadership role.”

There’s no break-in period.

”We graduated some good guys on offense – tight end, a Big East

player of the year at running back, a quarterback, a senior

receiver, two offensive linemen,” Legaux said. ”So guys have to

step in those roles and be playmakers. It’s not going to happen

tomorrow; it needs to happen today.”

There’s some experience at receiver with Anthony McClung (49

catches, 683 yards, 6 touchdowns) and Kenbrell Thompkins (44-536-2)

returning. Nobody has emerged as a full-time running back, leaving

Jones to share the role. Ralph David Abernathy IV, who made his

mark last season as a freshman kickoff returner, will get more of a

chance in the offense.

”I think it’s going to be running back by committee, but Ralph

David Abernathy has playmaking skills,” Jones said. ”We have to

do a lot to get him the ball in space.”

Abernathy returned 39 kickoffs for a 26.5-yard average,

including a 90-yard touchdown in the Liberty Bowl that put the

Bearcats in control and showed his ability to run away from

defenders. He also carried 14 times for 52 yards last season.

Pead could make a move to freeze a tackler and turn a run or a

short reception into a big play. Abernathy is trying to become the

same type of running back.

”Just being explosive and having a burst, making people miss

and being that playmaker that can go the distance at any chance,”

Abernathy said.

The Bearcats were picked to finish fourth in the Big East

because of their inexperience – 65 first- and second-year players,

including 28 freshmen. The offense in particular has to do a lot of

growing up.

”We’re a young offense,” Legaux said. ”We have some guys who

have been here one or two years. We also have two seniors on

offense. So some guys have to step up and fill big shoes. New guys

have new roles. Old guys have new roles, too.”

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