A Most Interesting Year (of sports)

On January 14, 2003, Marvin Lewis was hired as the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. At that time, the Cincinnati Bearcats men’s basketball team was led by Bob Huggins who would be replaced by Mick Cronin, a few years after, but the Bearcats basketball team enjoyed some years of coaching stability. Both of these teams, coupled with the Reds, embark their 2019 campaigns with new leaders at the helm making this year one of the most interesting in the city’s sports history.

David Bell has led the Reds almost halfway through the 2019 with mostly positive results. Sure, they are not above the vaunted .500-mark, but that would be lofty to expect given the team’s consistent failures over the last five years. He has implemented ideas scorned by his predecessors and had to galvanize a tumultuous roster, in the process. Say what you will about their apparent cohesion, right now, but the Reds have a number of expiring contracts (roughly $65 million is coming off the books, this coming offseason), big personalities (like Yasiel Puig), and players who could have been hurt by the team’s rumored movements from this past offseason (Tucker Barnhart). None of that has boiled over, though, and Bell deserves a lot of credit for that.

So I wonder, how the new coaches for the Bengals and Bearcats basketball teams will fair?

Zac Taylor has been handed multiple tests before even heading up his first training camp. His first round pick and, given the Bengals’ continued abstinence from spending in free agency, best acquisition of the offseason, Jonah Williams, was confirmed out for the season. Williams requiring surgery to repair a torn labrum underscored the lack of aggression in improving a roster that won six games last year. 

Their biggest weaknesses were at linebacker and offensive line and their solutions were to draft help. One of the aspects of that help will have to wait until 2020 to make an impact and the other, with all due respect to Germaine Pratt’s perceived talent at linebacker, was a third round draft pick. 

Due to the lack of roster turnover, the Bengals’ brass made it clear that coaching was to blame for the team’s demise. So, Taylor will be evaluated from the get-go as change will come schematically, if it comes at all.

A very different situation led to the hiring of John Brannen. The Bearcats fizzled out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, yet again, last season, but they weren’t exactly bad. In fact, many had high hopes for what 2019 could become with returning players and an experienced coach, in Mick Cronin. Then UCLA came calling for Cronin and everything changed. He went west, his players and recruits scattered, and Brannen was left with what appeared to be a skeleton crew. 

Then Jarron Cumberland announced he’d be returning for his senior season and things changed. Suddenly, because Cumberland is returning, transfers perked up at the idea of going to Cincinnati. Brannen has since gotten Cumberland’s cousin Jaevin, an experienced point guard named Chris McNeal, and a top-50/four-star recruit in Zach Harvey.

Even with the roster turnover, all eyes will be on Brannen and how he coaches this team. Many fans were vexed by Cronin’s style throughout his tenure. Reports say Brannen is completely opposite, focusing more on offense than defense. He has said they will be a faster team, aiming at increasing the amount of possessions they have in a game. Words are far different than actions, of course, but there is quite a bit of buzz around what will be going on inside New Fifth-Third in it’s second season.

Predictions, bad guesses, and premonitions aside, there is a lot of intrigue at what will be. Both the Bengals and Bearcats have enjoyed lots of continuity in coaching, over the past 16 years, but there is a lot of anticipation for this coming season which will offer lots of newness in the Queen City. Just ask Reds fans as they are still interested in where there team is, halfway into the baseball season. Pretty much every Reds fan could not have said that last year.

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Cincinnati Sports Fandom, Not for the Faint of Heart

What is it about Cincinnati sports?

I was born here, or more specifically, I was born in Hamilton. Ever since I comprehended sports I have called myself a fan of Cincinnati sports. I was a year old when the Reds completed their wire-to-wire run in 1990. I can’t even, really, claim that because, ya know, I was a baby.

I have known nothing but pain as a fan of the Queen City’s sports teams. You joke, you say melodramatic, but man, when sports is this close to your soul, you don’t just shrug this off.

Friday night’s ridiculous 12-11 loss by the Cincinnati Reds to the San Francisco Giants is a microcosm of what is Cincinnati sports fandom. Some city’s fans may say they have it worse, and sure, maybe Cleveland fans have an argument. However, as a city, they have a professional championship in the last 28 years.

Friday night was supposed to be a celebration of a talent the Reds have been expecting for four years. Nick Senzel debuted. With him came the thought of a jolt to the team, maybe an awakening. For a few innings, it felt that way. Then reality set in.

In 2012, the Cincinnati Reds were good. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. In a strange twist of fate, the National League divisional round playoffs would be played in a manner where the lower seed would get the first two games at home with the higher seed getting the last three. The Reds won the first two in San Francisco, setting up a series clincher at Great American Ballpark in game three. Then reality set in.

It doesn’t even have to be the Reds, look at the University of Cincinnati men’s basketball team, in 2018. A two-seed in the tournament, they looked poised for a run. In the second round, they built a 20-point lead on Nevada, leading fans to begin figuring out Final Four paths. Then reality set in.

Probably the worst of all, in 2005, the Cincinnati Bengals had a Super Bowl contending team. You can count on one hand the number of teams you could describe that way, who have played in Cincinnati. Nevertheless, 2005 looked like the year. Carson Palmer was an all-pro quarterback, the defense was stellar, there were no holes in the team. Then Kimo Von Oelhoffen and reality set in.

Cincinnati sports fans can’t have nice things.

Friday was another reminder. You finally get to see the Reds bring their top prospect to the big leagues. A signal that the next phase, if not the final one, of the rebuild is in full effect. You build a crazy 8-0 lead early in the game. You finish the night now six games under .500. Reality set in.

When the Reds, Bengals, or Bearcats win a championship, it will truly be something to behold. I am not sure of how my mental state will be. Until then, I will grapple with the reality of being a Cincinnati sports fan.

Bengals Optimism Postponed

During this time in which I’ve neglected this space, I joined a gym. Figuring it was time to try and offset *some* of the ballpark food, Skyline Chili, and Taco Bell that I regularly consume, my wife dragged me to (no free ads) gym. We sat down with a trainer, came up with these things called “goals”, and found out its going to take awhile to attain said “goals.” Not going to lie to you, that period of time that is said to take awhile is taking awhile.

Which got me thinking about my favorite football team and their offseason. The Cincinnati Bengals began this offseason with the promise of new horizons. They didn’t necessarily promise better horizons, but after having spent my entire football-comprehending life with the same Bengals head coach, new sounded awesome. Here’s the rub, with the promise of new horizons comes the promise that positive horizons may take awhile.

Much like pacing in place on a treadmill or moving parts of weighted machines, the various decisions and machinations of the Bengals during this offseason have been a bit laborious.

They’ve all but signed a contract extension with Andy Dalton, when it comes to committing to who is the definition of an average QB. They passed on multiple chances to acquire the franchise’s future QB and instead settling for a kid (Ryan Finley) who figures to be the next AJ McCarron. They used the free agent period to bring back everyone from last year’s team who managed to lose more games than they won and even when they brought in a new face, it was a guy who’s name sounds almost fake (John Miller). Their biggest acquisition to fill their most underachieving position (linebacker) was a third round pick (Germaine Pratt). All the while pushing the hashtag “New Dey” and promising things will be different.

Now, believe me, they had to do this. Paul Brown Stadium was barren, fans had moved past the upset phase into apathy, and the franchise’s most popular player (AJ Green) even seemed disenchanted. But how much did they really change? Again, the bulk of this evaluation will take awhile, because we have to see what it’s like during game day.

They’re profiling as a run-heavy, control the clock, keep our defense off the field-type team, but that has been the offseason mantra before. I’m inclined to believe it may be closer to this with a new coaching staff, so we’ll see, but they aren’t preaching any new offseason sermon, here. A historically bad defense added new talent whose grades were no better than third round draft choices, and all are rookies. All of that leads back to what the scheme will be like which, again, will take awhile to understand.

So, with a promise of new comes, instead of positive vibes and feeling of excitement, a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty as to the direction of the team. As it sits on paper, this team is going to have to be REALLY good on offense to make up for its defense. With an offensive-minded coach, who knows? Maybe that happens. However, Zac Taylor has never held the clipboard for an entire season and with the well-publicized selectiveness of who his defensive coordinator would be, he’s also put a lot of pressure on himself before his horse is even at the starting gate. So as for my optimism about the Bengals, much like my current feeling towards the gym, it’s going to take awhile.

Zac Taylor: Five Burning Questions

The Cincinnati Bengals made it official and signed Zac Taylor to be the 10th coach in franchise history. Right out of the gate he has a myriad of questions to answer. Most of them cannot be answered for another 10 months. Some of them can be answered this week. All of them need to be answered, at some point. Here are the big ones.

1.      Who will be his defensive coordinator?

This one is the most obvious question because it’s been a most obvious weakness, the past few years. It also has some mustard to it, because the next D-coordinator needs to be a little experienced. Think Wade Phillips with Sean McVay-type pairing. The experienced candidate would be a wise, Obi-Wan-type guy who Taylor can lean on, and who can reign in Vontaze Burfict.

It also needs to be a guy with some new ideas. Now this is my personal thought, but Dom Capers has been rumored, and some have recoiled from that, sighting his 3-4 scheme. The Bengals have run a 4-3 scheme since before Marvin Lewis came to town. Now might be a good time to try something new, though. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t completely prepared for it. Their linebackers need overhauling for this idea to work. But that can happen. They already have two guys who could make the change work, in-house, in Malik Jefferson and Carl Lawson. What they don’t have are middle linebackers. They could address that in the draft, but that’s a thought for another blog post. Suffice it to say, they shouldn’t rule out Capers simply because his scheme is a bit different from what they’re used to.

2.      Who is his quarterback, beyond 2019?

This upcoming season is crucial, not only for the Bengals coach, but also for the Bengals QB. Andy Dalton is getting a little older and, by most accounts, has plateaued in his professional development. Can Taylor and his new offensive staff inject some sort of new life into Dalton’s Bengals career, or are his stripes so worn from the last years of Marvin Lewis that a new guy is needed, altogether? Some, myself included, believe that Andy is right there in the middle of the pack, as far as NFL QB rankings go. Not bad, but not great. Maybe Taylor is just what the doctor ordered for him to find that next gear. Or maybe the Bengals meet their franchise QB on April 25? Time will tell.

3.      Does he like Skyline, or Gold Star?

One makes okay chili and is the sponsor of the Bengals and the other is awesome and is named Skyline. Will he be a pawn of corporate contractual obligation, or will he be the free-thinker with a wise pallet that we all think he can be?

4.       Will he quietly do a better job?

We’ve been hearing how important it is to do a better job for 16 years now. Will Taylor have the wherewithal to complete the task without reminding us of the objective each week?

5.      Will he be able to improve Tanya O’Rourke’s golf game?

Quite possibly the most important accomplishment of any NFL head coach is how he imparts his knowledge of the links onto the local news anchor. This is what will earn him his contract extensions for years to come.

The first year of Taylor’s tenure is fraught with excitement and peril. I’ll be all over each development as we look forward to a new era in Bengals football.

Thinking Out Loud on Paper

Got the house to myself, for the day, and my mind has a few things on it, but none of them could really fill out an entire blog post, so I’m combining them.

I love the idea of Zac Taylor. It looks like the Rams QB coach need only dot some T’s and cross some I’s and he’ll be the Bengals next head coach. I love the thought of new things for my favorite NFL team. They’ve been stale, for awhile, and an infusion of fresh-thinking is just what the doctor ordered. Some are saying this could revolutionize Andy Dalton. I don’t know about that, but new thinking could change his career. Currently he, and the Bengals, have been the definition of mediocre for years. Just good enough to not be bad enough. The man, himself, Taylor has limited experience, and a checkered resume in the eyes of Cincinnati sports fans, but he’s not Marvin Lewis of Hue Jackson. For that reason, I am really excited for everything that is about to happen at Paul Brown Stadium.

Mid-major basketball is my favorite regular-season college basketball to watch. It’s usually pretty nip and tuck, both teams carry the identity of their coach instead of their star players, and for all but one in their conference, they’re not guaranteed action in March. At time of writing, I am watching the second half of Kent State and Ball State with Seton Hall and Butler waiting in the wings to switch to on commercials. Plus, there’s always that little glimmer of information to gather for bracket picking…that will inevitably lead to me making a dumb upset pick. College basketball rocks.

I really enjoy playing video games, but I’ve met enough people to know that I am not a “gamer.” With that being said, I feel like the culture of video games, for the last decade-and-a-half, really, has leaned heavily on first-person shooters. I think my personal video game taste has undergone that whole periodic taste change, thing, in that I don’t like FPS-style games, any more. I love adventure games, and sports games, but I don’t like FPS. Is that allowed? Maybe I’m moving past video games? This is weird to me, but I just can’t with FPS anymore.

I also hate trying to “correctly” hang jeans, but that’s neither here nor there.

Looking forward to checking out a new place in Middletown next week called the Swire Inn. It’s brand new and it’s a pub. My expectations are a little slice of heaven. Are they too high, probably, but I will most likely blog about my experience, so stay tuned.

Catching You Up-Intro to Links of the Week

I’ve been busy writing, but not here, and that’s kind of a bummer. Here’s some links to what I’ve been up to. I’m going to start doing this where I tease what I’ve been doing elsewhere and provide a link. I don’t much care for neglecting my home site, where I decided writing was something I wanted to do, pay or not. Now I’m building something to possibly start turning money out of this hobby. Anyway, here is what I’ve been up to.

CINCINNATI REDS

You all know I love the Reds the most. I’ve been writing a bunch on lockedonReds.com.

Why it’s not so bad if the Reds get good value out of trade involving Scooter Gennett – https://www.lockedonreds.com/reds/scooter-might-be-traded-and-thats-okay/

Redsfest was a blast – https://www.lockedonreds.com/reds/recapping-redsfest/

And one last link, this one was about Billy Hamilton being non-tendered – https://www.lockedonreds.com/reds/instant-reaction-bye-bye-billy/

CINCINNATI BENGALS

I must admit, my interest has waned in the Bengals season. Just doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot to write about, other than talking about how things need to change. That being said, here’s one about my feelings on the state of the team – https://www.lockedonbengals.com/bengals/a-sucker-til-the-bitter-end/

FANTASY FOOTBALL

I began writing for another website, called getsportsinfo.com. Every Friday I do a column called “Studs, Duds, and Sleepers,” with mostly successful picks. Here’s last week’s post…which won’t do you any good right now, but check out the look of the post – https://getsportsinfo.com/studs-duds-and-sleepers-week-14-2/

Like I said, from here on out, I’ll post links to other stuff, that way you know I’m not abandoning the writing. On the contrary, I’m trying to make it more than a hobby!

Happy Veterans Day Weekend, Cincinnati

It’s Friday and my mind is focused on a three day weekend, but I did want to impart some thoughts on the world of Cincinnati sports for this weekend.

The Bearcats football team has a massive matchup this Saturday night. USF comes into Cincinnati an underdog, but I do not believe they’re as bad as the line (UC favored by two touchdowns), but this is definitely a winnable game for UC. It all comes down to focus. Luke Fickell had the boys ready for Navy’s triple option offense, a running attack that put up the loftiest rushing total by an opponent in Bearcats history, last year. This year, though, the Bearcats held them to just over two yards a carry. Now Fickell has to keep his team reigned in as they approach a monster matchup with the best team in the conference, the “defending national champion” Central Florida Knights. South Florida is not good in the cold, and it will be coooooold tomorrow night. Still, the Bearcats cannot take them for granted, as the Bulls were undefeated and ranked in the Top-25, as soon as three weeks ago.

The Xavier Musketeers play their second game of the season on Saturday, against Evansville. Another solid mid-major opponent for the Muskies to grow against. The question will be, will Naji Marshall return to the floor in this one? Didn’t have him in the opener and they got by, it will be difficult against a solid squad from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Men of Steele found a way to win, forcing turnovers late, we will see if that trend continues. Xavier hasn’t had a good defense in the past few years, but if they consistently force turnovers, there’s your defense.

The Cincinnati professional football team may be smashed this Sunday. They may also (tiny chance) win. The New Orleans professional football team is really good. They have a future hall of famer at quarterback and, possibly, a future hall of famer at coach. They have oodles of talent at running back and wide receiver. They are also coming off a huge win to knock the Los Angeles professional football team off their undefeated pedestal and have to travel to a non-conference opponent and play in dismal weather. Not the brightest, most motivational backstory for the fleur de lis-wearing pigskin professionals, but they are a much better team (given injuries) than that of the Orange and Black. Honestly, if Marvin Lewis’ men come out on top, I will be pleasantly surprised, but if they don’t it won’t even phase me. The all-important game for the Bengals is next week, in Baltimore, against the Ravens. So long as they don’t come out of this week’s game with even more injuries than they are already plagued with, I think they’ll be fine. Also, a personal reason I wouldn’t mind the Bengals losing, is I will be at a wedding watching on my phone. Shout out to Zack on his big day (holler at me if you actually read this, bro).

Two Reds rumors circulating have me feeling a certain way. The first is that some teams are interested in Eugenio Suarez. Well, so are we in Cincinnati, frankly, and I do not want to see him traded. The other rumor is very encouraging, and that is the Cleveland Indians are open to trading away their ace, Corey Kluber. Now, it will require a king’s ransom, but go for it, Reds! He is one of the best pitchers in the game. He will cost a few top prospects, but he is also the kind of pitcher who will bring the wins. He’s under control for a few years, so it won’t be a rental, which gives the Reds the perfect pitcher to build their rotation around. Plus, I am sure Derek Johnson will enjoy having a vet like Kluber to be the “stopper” of the rotation. I am a Cincinnati sports optimist, to a fault, but I am excited by what’s going on around Great American Ballpark.

Here’s to a three-day weekend, for some of us and Happy Veteran’s Day!