Bearcats start Tuberville era

CINCINNATI – On one hand you get the sense that Tommy Tuberville would like it to be Aug. 31 today. On the other hand you know he realizes it is Aug. 5. And he’s glad he’s got four weeks to get his Cincinnati Bearcats ready for the season opener against Purdue.

“We know that we’ve got many things to put together before we get to playing a game,” said Tuberville Monday afternoon after putting the Bearcats through their first preseason practice.

Tommy Tuberville has been through this process before. He’s taking over a program, learning the players and figuring out just how to best use them. In the case of UC, he takes over a program that has won 10 or more games four of the last five seasons. The cupboard is not bare, not with senior quarterback Brendon Kay returning following a prolific performance against Duke in the Belk Bowl last season. Not with the entire offensive line coming back. The defense has more voids to fill but linebackers Greg Blair and Nick Temple aren’t a bad place to start.

The first few days of camp are a continuation of the feeling-out process that started in the spring. No full pads until the team travels to Higher Ground retreat center in Indiana. As he did Monday, Tuberville will spend the first few days specifically watching the freshmen and other newcomers who weren’t part of spring ball, looking to see where they can fit best.

Even before practice began, he and his coaching staff made the decision to switch Chris Burton, a 6-3, 272-pound freshman from Danville, Va., from tight end to defensive end.

“I still don’t understand why we don’t wear shoulder pads the first day but it’s one of those things where we’ll try to get everybody going and make it to Friday when we go out to Higher Ground where we have full pads on,” said Tuberville. “It’s always interesting to see what the new guys can do but we’ve got a lot of work. The older guys will mostly be the guys that play but it’s always good to see the new guys come out and see what they can actually do the first time they’re on the fields.”

The Bearcats were picked to finish second behind nationally-ranked Louisville last week in the first American Athletic Conference media preseason poll. The new conference, a conglomeration of former Big East and Conference USA members, is going to be viewed from the outside with a skeptical eye. From the inside, specifically on the practice field, the view doesn’t matter.

What matters is how Tuberville and his staff, all new from last year and Butch Jones, get the players ready for Purdue.

“It’s different but at the same time I think it’s very good for this program overall,” said Kay. “We’ve got a lot of room for improvement. We listen to them, we do what we’re told by this staff and we’re going to go out there and win football games.”

Kay took over the starting job with four games left in the regular season but it was the bowl game against Duke where he shined, completing 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Bearcats pulled out a thrilling 48-34 victory. Tuberville, already named as Jones’ replacement but who hadn’t yet taken over the daily coaching duties, watched the performance from a luxury suite.

Kay’s play in spring practice, where Tuberville got to watch him up close, backed up what he did last December.

So begins Tommy Tuberville’s first preseason. Only four Saturdays before things start up for real.