Potential players of next season's Bearcat football team – The News Record

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Updated: January 17, 2022 @ 7:52 am
University of Cincinnati former quarterback Ben Bryant (6) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the football game against Austin Peay on Saturday Sept. 19, 2020 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.

University of Cincinnati former quarterback Ben Bryant (6) runs the ball in for a touchdown during the fourth quarter of the football game against Austin Peay on Saturday Sept. 19, 2020 at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
The Bearcats are starting to feel the consequences of being a top football program. All season, a handful of Cincinnati starters made their names known among NFL scouts, and with that, have formed a draft class with the potential to be the biggest in program history. This means that the team will see a lot of first-year starters in 2022, including at some of the most critical positions.
The most significant change will be at the quarterback position, as Desmond Ridder is officially off to the NFL Draft. Sophomore Evan Prater, who sat behind Ridder for the last two seasons, looked like the lock for the starting job a week ago. However, former Cincinnati QB Ben Bryant returned to the Bearcats after a one-year stint with the Eastern Michigan Eagles. 
Bryant, who spent three of his four collegiate seasons with the Bearcats, now has an entire season of experience with the Eagles of the Mid-American Conference. On the other hand, Prater has multiple years of chemistry with many of the soon-to-be starters. 
The interesting part is that both players will meet a new offensive coordinator, as last year’s Mike Denbrock is headed to LSU. At the moment, Denbrocks former position remains open. 
The other primary position on offense is the replacement for running back Jerome Ford. Ford, unlike Ridder, had the choice to come back to Cincinnati but elected to enter his name in the draft. This opens up the door for multiple players, the most likely candidates being Ryan Montgomery, Charles McClelland and Ethan Wright. 
All three had around the same amount of carries on the season and were used in the Bearcats win over South Florida, a game that Ford sat out due to injury. There is a chance that all three could be utilized in the upcoming season if Fickell elects to go with a running back by committee approach.
Out wide for the Bearcats’ offense, there will still be some familiar faces. Tre Tucker and Tyler Scott will both look to build off their 2021 campaigns with the departure of leading receiver Alec Pierce. Cincinnati recently acquired Nick Mardner from Hawaii, the 6’6”, 190-pound transfer receiver with at least two years of eligibility. Cincinnati hopes that he can fill some of the void left by Pierce. 
Jadon Thompson could also see his snap count increase, as he was third last year in receptions among returning wideouts. Adding to the perimeter threat is the return of Leonard Taylor, Cincinnati’s tight end, who made his presence felt throughout the season’s entirety. 
As for the defense, the Bearcats will be losing their two starting cornerbacks: Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner and Coby Bryant. Arquon Bush, who played significant time this year as the Bearcats’ nickel corner, could see himself moving into a role as one of Cincinnati’s top cornerbacks. As for the other corners, current Bearcat Ja’quan Sheppard, Todd Bumphis, and Taj Ward are all names that could see serious increases in playing time.
Darrian Beavers, who accepted an invite to the Senior Bowl, will likely also need a replacement at linebacker. Deshawn Pace, a sophomore, had a breakout season at the linebacker role, so Cincinnati decided to go out and get Ivan Pace Jr., Deshawn’s brother, to join him through the transfer portal. Ivan spent the last three seasons at Miami, Ohio, and was named one of the Co-MAC players of the year in 2021. 
Safety Bryan Cook, who also accepted a Senior Bowl invite, will have his spot filled by Ja’von Hicks. Hicks played alongside Cook last year, helping add to the great secondary of the Bearcats. Next year, the potential safeties that Hicks could be paired with include both Jacob Dingle and Will Adams, who both saw the field last year.
The final spot the Bearcats need to look to fill is Myjai Sanders. Sanders, who has been pulling NFL traction for the past couple of years, is the only defensive lineman who’s confirmed a departure for the Draft this year. Jowon Briggs, who played in all 14 games this season, will most likely be taking on a lot of the role that Sanders will leave. 
Returning with Briggs is Malik Vann, who will bring a needed element of seniority to the Blackcats front. However, Cincinnati’s recruiting brought in another end who could look to make some noise in his first season.
Mario Eugenio, a four-star defensive end out of Tampa, Florida, was the highest-graded prospect the Bearcats recruited this year. He ranked 20th out of all high-school defensive ends and 94th among all high-school prospects. After receiving offers from Michigan, Iowa State, Arkansas, and many other division one programs, Eugenio picked Cincinnati out of the pack and should be on everyone’s radar come the season opener.
The Bearcats also brought in some other potential first-year starters in this year’s recruiting class: Oliver Bridges, a four-star out of Potomac, Maryland, and J.Q. Hardaway, a three-star from Phenix City, Alabama. Both are cornerbacks that have officially signed with Cincinnati. Also joining the class is four-star recruit Derrick Shepard, a defensive tackle from Kettering, Ohio.
There’s still time for more players to be thrown into the mix. The transfer portal is still an option, and there are always training camp surprises that end up taking the starting job altogether. But regardless, come the season opener, this Bearcats team will look very different from their 2021 historic self.
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