With preseason camp coming to an end, the depth chart is just about set for the University of Cincinnati. And head coach Butch Jones surprised most fans by saying star running back Isaiah Pead would return kickoffs and punts for much of the season.
Cincinnati was the top return team in the Big East in 2008 and 2009, thanks to All-American Mardy Gilyard.
However, last season they ranked last in punt returns and next to last in kickoff returns.
Jones is looking for a spark on special teams and is turning to Pead to handle most of the duties.
Most teams do not put their biggest offensive threat on special teams due to the potential for injury, but Jones is taking that risk and letting Pead run free.
Though, Pead will not be the only person returning kicks. Senior receiver D.J. Woods is back for this third consecutive season of returning punts, but will relinquish some of his duties to Pead.
Also joining the special teams mix is star linebacker J.K. Schaffer who has led the team in tackles the past two seasons.
Schaffer will be joined by three-year starter Drew Frey and fellow linebacker Maalik Bomar on special teams.
Clearly Cincinnati is putting an emphasis on this phase of the game due to the struggles they had last season, and possibly remembering how it propelled them in 2008 and 2009.
After all, those who remain from the 2009 Big East championship squad remember how significant Gilyard was on special teams in the seasons final game against Pittsburgh.
Pead has that kind of big-play ability and breakaway speed that Gilyard possessed.
Hopefully he can display it and give the Bearcats an advantage on that side of the ball.
Regaining their swagger and confidence on special teams will go a long way toward leading Cincinnati to the top of the Big East once again.
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