Where to start? Well there can only be one place to start and that is at quarterback, the one position Bearcat fans have been talking about the most for the past two seasons. Will Dustin Grutza hold off the challenge of Nick Davila? Or will another quarterback emerge to push the Bearcats starter from last season? Let's take a look.
Remember this breakdown comes from how players did during spring practice and things could change when the team reports to Camp Higher Ground.
Returning From The 2005 Season
New For 2006
David Wess - Played other position.
When the Bearcats open Camp Higher Ground in August they will suit up six quarterbacks all looking to accomplish different goals. Some will look for major playing time while others will continue to build up for the chance to earn the starting role.
Dustin Grutza is the heir to the throne and the target Nick Davila has been shooting for since arriving on campus in January of 2005. Craig Carey was expected to make a push this past spring, but health issues put him behind and for a few days he moved to tight end as Coach Dantonio looked to catch his attention. Tony Pike may have enjoyed the best spring as far as growth is concerned as he took as many snaps thrown his way. Kurt Shoemaker sat out last season after he transferred from Akron. He took snaps and looked to find his way behind the others as spring practice wore on. David Wess spent the early part of the spring at running back and then moved to receiver before the staff sent him back to the position he started at when the Bearcats opened Camp High Ground last year.
While fans didn't enjoy the end results of last season or the showing during the spring game the future is not bleak as other issues also caused problems. The first big adjustment was getting use to a new quarterback coach. Dan Enos left for Michigan State and Dave Warner came in looking to keep the players on track, while his coaching style is different then Enos, he did seem to get the players attention as the spring went on. Look for an even better understanding between players and coach when camp opens.
As for who will do what in 2006, here is my breakdown on each player starting with Grutza.
Dustin Grutza became the scapegoat for the Bearcats offense last season and this spring. In 2005 he enjoyed some success and failures as the season progressed. By the time the Bearcats finished their season he finished fourth in the conference in total offense and passing. While Dustin may not have the arm of Brian Brohm or the legs of Pat White, he's not a bad quarterback. Grutza's strong point is his understanding of the Bearcats offense. Coach Dantonio, Treadwell and Warner saw a quarterback making the right reads during spring practice, this alone keeps Dustin in the driver seat for the starting spot when the Bearcats open camp in 2006.
Strengths: Understanding of the offense is Dustin's strength. He knows what people are to do and were they are to be. When given time he'll make completions and move the offense. While fans want to look at his interception totals from last season, I saw many come from tipped passes or receivers' not making the right breaks on the ball. Also keep in mind 2005 was his first on the field since high school two seasons before.
Weakness: Arm strength, height, shell shock. Dustin doesn't have the arm Bearcat fans have come to expect from their quarterback, but in this offense he doesn't have to. While I've seen quarterbacks who stand shorter than Dustin enjoy success, I saw a lot of times he was throwing from his tip-toes not to mention the number of thrown balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. While Dustin can't take blame for all the knocked down passes (offensive line) there were enough that I feel a taller quarterback may not have seen them tipped. By the time the season was coming to a close he'd seen enough of defenders in his face to be shell shock.
What Do I Expect From Dustin Grutza: I expect Dustin to enter camp as the starter and see a challenge from Nick Davila. While Davila will get his share of reps, I expect Dustin to keep the starters position entering the season while looking over his shoulder. Early I expect Dustin to see success and gain confidence as long as the revamped offensive line can hold steady. But I don't expect the coaching staff to have the long leash it showed last season. Too much is ridding on this season to allow poor quarterback play to slow down any chance of posting a winning record or having a chance to earn a bowl berth.
Alto Loma, Calif
Nick Davila has shown many the patience needed in a top quarterback. While sitting behind Dustin Grutza last season when fans were calling for him to start showed the type of person he is. Davila wants to win the starting position, but on the merits of his play and not the failure of a teammate. Last season Davila enjoyed success when he finished out games, but much of his playing time came when reserves were on the field and games were out of reach. The one game he saw early playing time was Pittsburgh and he failed to move the offense and Grutza returned to the field. Davila has great quarterback skills but has yet to put everything together. If given the chance I expect Nick Davila to never look back over his shoulder looking for Grutza or another quarterback on his tail if he's the starter.
Strengths: Throws nice looking ball and is quarterback savvy from his playing experience at the Junior College level. Is a gambler willing to take the extra risk to make the big play.
Weakness: Running the total offensive package. While he's able to make plays on the fly he sometimes loses sight of the system. This spring he showed this in both positive and negative ways by changing plays at the line of scrimmage.
What Do I Expect From Nick Davila: I expect Nick to give everything he's got to find his way onto the field. You know what they say about a caged animal and Davila is a caged quarterback as his college career nears it's end. If Grutza drops the ball and allows Davila to take the starting position away he'll never give it back until the Bearcats take the field in the spring. Overall the Bearcats can win with both quarterbacks if all things come together on the offensive side of the ball.
Tony Pike enjoyed a great spring and showed much promise as a quarterback candidate for the future. I've followed Pike since his high school days at Reading and felt Coach Dantonio got a steal when he convinced Pike to grayshirt and become a Bearcat. Pike has the size you like in a quarterback (6'6) but still needs to add a few pounds. No one can question his arm as he can make all the throws needed at the college level. The one area Pike needed to work on the most was his feet. While in high school he played in a shotgun only system. While the Bearcats do use the formation they also place their quarterbacks under centers more. Pike is not a finished product but could push for playing time if the season gets away from the Bearcats. 2007 will see Pike fighting for a starting position.
Strength: Size and arm strength is what sets Tony Pike apart from the rest. While he missed some time due to injury he's made great strides in picking up the offense.
Weakness: Feet and understanding the offensive package are the two areas Pike will need to continue to work on.
What Do I Expect From Tony Pike: I expect Pike to keep getting better and fighting for the starting position in the spring of 2007. Unless the Bearcats make a change in their offense he's got all the tools to run it and run it well. I don't expect Pike to be a major factor unless an injury happens or the season is lost.
Craig Carey missed a great chance this past spring to set himself up for the future. First their was the illness that keep him from going full go early in spring practice and then it was the way he acted in practice when he came back. His body was there but his mind seemed to be somewhere else. Keep in mind this was his first spring and sometimes young players don't understand the importance of spring ball. Before the spring ended you could tell the staff was upset with how his spring went. Carey was moved to tight end for a few days to open his eyes and then returned to quarterback for the spring game. As I've said many times, Craig Carey has the skills to excel in college at the quarterback position. He's got size, arm strength and great athletic ability for a player his size.
Strengths: Craig Carey has the ideal size to play the quarterback position in college. He's got great athletic ability and was the best quarterback in Cincinnati during his senior year. Why didn't Carey get the hype of his GCL counterpart who saw offers from all over the country? He didn't camp and combine the way he needed to during the spring and summer of his junior year.
Weakness: Maturity looks to be the only thing holding him back at this time. This is not to say anything about him off the field because Craig is the type of kid you want your daughter to bring home, but he's still young and learning that college is not high school and much work is needed on and off the field to find success.
What Do I Expect From Craig Carey: Just as I stated the day he signed to play for the Bearcats, I expect Craig Carey to become the starting quarterback before he leaves UC. This spring I feel he lost a great chance to throw himself into the mix for playing time this fall. I expect him to turn this around and at least take another step forward in learning the system and preparing incase the worst happens and he's needed to take the field. While I expected him to compete in 2006 for playing time I must move this to 2007. Instead of fighting for playing time Carey will be fighting to make the travel squad this fall.
David Wess has seen position changes (quarterback, safety, running back, receiver, quarterback)become the norm during his Bearcat career. Are they over with now? I don't think so. Wess is a great athlete and the best one among the quarterbacks. If the Bearcats don't change their offensive system I don't see him pushing for much playing time at the quarterback position. Just the fact he's missed out on learning the system is a setback he may not be able to overcome. I do expect to see him on the field because of his athletic ability, just not at quarterback. The last player I watched in college make so many changes was Jerry Porter at West Virginia who is now in the NFL as a receiver.
Strengths: Speed, size, athletic ability sets David Wess apart from all of the quarterback candidates. If the Bearcats look to spread things out like West Virginia Wess would be the perfect quarterback. But I don't expect this to happen this season. Wess is just too good of an athlete to keep off the field.
Weakness: Knowledge of the offense will keep David Wess from taking many if any plays from the quarterback position in 2006. The Bearcats could bring him in on special packages and have as many as four current or former quarterbacks on the field at the same time. I wouldn't be surprised if David has another move in position to get him on the field.
What Do I Expect From David Wess: I expect Wess to make plays for the Bearcats in some capacity this fall. He's such a good athlete and can make things happen. Don't be surprised if he enters as a receiver and takes a handoff to pass or does the same from the backfield as a running back.
Kurt Shoemaker may never take the field as a starting quarterback as a Bearcat. The former Anderson High School quarterback wanted to come back home after signing with Akron and sitting during his freshman year. Still fans shouldn't discount the willingness Shoemaker has in learning the system and giving everything he's got in case his time comes. He's got good quarterback skills but lacks some of the athletic ability you look for at the college level.
Strengths: Knowledge of the game is Kurt Shoemaker's strong point. While he's a good athlete he's not on par with Grutza, Wess or Davila. Has good throwing form and feet. If the Bearcats make a change in their system to the spread he'd have a better chance.
Weakness: Speed and strength keeps Kurt Shoemaker from reaching his full potential as a college athlete. But keep in mind he's still a young player and can make strides as he did this winter.
What Do I Expect From Kurt Shoemaker: I expect Kurt to keep working and pushing for his chances on the field. Will it come? It's too early to say no, but he knows he's behind several players with very good skills and at least another quarterback or two coming in the next class. It's too early to rule Shoemaker out of ever reaching the field but his road will be tougher then others on the Bearcats roster.
No quarterbacks were signed for the Class of 2006. One quarterback will be signed in the Class of 2007 and a second one could also be signed if the right one comes along.
2005 was not that bad of a year for the Bearcats quarterback. They saw their ups and downs with many of the downs coming because of the lack of execution from other positions on the field. The Bearcats have a stable of running backs to establish the running game and a nice batch of receivers and tight ends to throw to. Offensive line will be the deciding factor in the success of the players listed above.
There you have the first of several breakdowns on the Bearcats football team for 2006. Stay tuned as we release these features in the coming weeks leading up to the start of camp.
Depth Chart Entering Camp