In less than a month, the UCLA Bruins will be heading to Nippert Stadium to mark the start of the 2019 football season for the Cincinnati Bearcats. In preparation of that game, we’ll be going through each position group on the roster, and breaking down said group. Next up, we’re talking about the offensive line.
Probably the most talked about headline this offseason for Cincinnati football was whether or not James Hudson would be granted immediate eligibility. Following last season, Hudson announced his transfer from Michigan stemming from his struggles regarding mental health. After the waiver was initially denied in May, Hudson took to Twitter addressing the matter, which led to countless tweets that read #FreeJamesHudson. This storyline eventually made national news as well, after Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh made comments speaking out against Hudson. Long story short, Hudson’s most recent transfer got denied, meaning he won’t be able to play for the Bearcats this season.
As a former four-star recruit out of Toledo, Hudson would have likely filled the void of Dino Boyd at left tackle this season. For obvious reasons, this is less than ideal. However, Chris Ferguson is one of the more promising offensive linemen on the roster. While Ferguson was only listed as a two star recruit by 247Sports.com, he was definitely an interesting prospect. After moving from the Bahamas to Orlando in high school, he picked up football, originally playing defensive tackle. He was offered by Minnesota and Illinois, and rumor has it Georgia tried to flip his commitment, but nonetheless, he stayed with Cincinnati. The coaching staff eventually moved him to offensive line to help give some depth in a place where depth was needed, and due to his massive frame, he’s picked it up quite nicely. As a junior, Chris Ferguson started twelve games, and was one of the more consistent players on this Cincinnati offense. Ferguson is one of the few legitimate guarantees on this year’s offense, and for good reason. While switching sides of the line may hold him back at times, he’s easily one of the most talented and experienced players on the offensive line this year.
While Ferguson is the clear choice at left tackle, there wasn’t that same clarity for a while at left guard. According to BearcatJournal.com’s Chad Brendel, freshman Jeremy Cooper has been starting at left guard during the recent preseason scrimmages. Cooper comes out of Mount Carmel, Illinois, and was as a three-star prospect, receiving offers from Colorado, Ohio, and Northern Illinois among others. While it didn’t seem that Cooper would be the day one starter for this year’s offense, he appears to be the most likely candidate to fill the void that Kyle Trout leaves.
Last year, Garrett Campbell finished out his long college career with the Bearcats as an all-AAC second team performer at center. However, with Campbell gone, sophomore Jakari Robinson will be anchoring the offensive line this season. As a second string last season, Robinson saw a major uptick in playing time after Campbell went down with a leg injury against UConn. Although Robinson was relegated back to the second team once Campbell recovered, he played well enough to make the Rimington Trophy Watch List for this upcoming season. Robinson stepped up in a huge way last season when filling in, so don’t be surprised if he takes it even further by elevating his game to the next level.
On the right side of Robinson is the only consistent returning starter from last season’s offensive line, Morgan James. James has probably the most interesting background on this year’s roster. Originally, he was a minor league hockey player, who had never played a single down of football in his life before coming to Cincinnati as a preferred walk-on. Fast forward a few years and James is a 29 year old senior starting at right guard for the Bearcats. As crazy as it sounds looking back on it, James has transformed from someone who could help give some depth if needed to one of Cincinnati’s top guards in years past.
There’s still some uncertainty regarding who will take that final spot at right tackle. Currently, it’s a battle between Lorenz Metz and Vincent McConnell. Metz is a 6’9, 330 pound behemoth out of Neuötting, Germany, who was a pretty under the radar recruit for Cincinnati. He picked up some interest from Georgia Tech and Central Michigan among others, but due to him playing overseas, he never really received the interest one might think, judging from his frame and athleticism. While his upside is endless, as a redshirt freshman, he lacks major experience at the collegiate level.
On the other hand, McConnell comes into the season as a redshirt sophomore without much experience either. Coming out of Washington High School in Massillon, Ohio, McConnell picked up offers from Army, Syracuse, and Toledo, just to name a few. Although Metz may have the upper hand in size, McConnell is a much more polished talent. This position battle is still very tight as we speak, and I wouldn’t expect the coaching staff to find a locked in starter until a few games into the season. As much as I would like to predict who comes out of this as the starter, I’m still pretty unsure as to who it’ll be. For the first few games of the season, I would bet that Metz plays more on first and second down as his run blocking has been noted as one of his strengths, and as a better pass blocker, McConnell will likely see more playing time on third downs.
While this year’s offensive line may lack some significant experience, talent won’t be any issue. Although the first games might be rocky in this category, as the year wears on, definitely bet on this group to improve by the week. Football is won in the trenches, and if Cincinnati plans on winning the conference this season, they’ll need the offensive line to step up in a major way.