Expectations are through the roof this season for the Bearcats as they return their deepest and most talented roster, probably of all time. In this multi-part series, I’ll examine each of the position groups, expectations, potential break out stars, and weaknesses. This week we’ll examine the biggest question mark for this team, the Offensive Line led by returning players Dylan O’Quinn, Vinny McConnell, and Jake Renfro.
— Ron Crook (@CrookUC) July 22, 2021
Offensive Line Coach Ron Crook and Offensive Coordinator Mike Denbrock have their work cut out for them this season replacing both Offensive Tackles from last season including one who found his way onto the Cleveland Browns roster. Last year’s team struggled early in the trenches, but true freshman Jake Renfro and freshman Dylan O’Quinn were the spark the Bearcats offense needed and took the team undefeated into the Peach Bowl, but Renfro missed the game with an illness so we didn’t get to see the lines true potential and a BS targeting penalty pulled our best Offensive Lineman out of the game. Depth was an issue for this team last year, will they be able to overcome the loss of two Tackles and also build some depth when the unexpected happens? That’s the biggest question for this team going into September 4th.
As of today, the presumed starters are as follows:
LT – Freshman John Williams
LG – Junior Jeremy Cooper
C – Sophomore Jake Renfro
RG – Senior Vinny McConnell
RT – Sophomore Dylan O’Quinn
Redshirt freshman John Williams steps in at the starter at Left Tackle. The Aerospace Engineering Major made a push for playing time last season in training camp, but ultimately needed a year to develop into a starter quality player for the Bearcats. All indications is that Williams has seized the opportunity and will be the starter Week 1 against Miami. Left Tackle is the most important position, protecting Des Ridder’s blindside, so this is the biggest question mark heading into the season. The Bearcats have been pretty lucky during the Luke Fickell era with LT, except 2019, so hopefully Williams meets expectations. Backing up John Williams is former UConn Offensive Lineman and Stony Brook transfer, James Tunstall. Tunstall was an FCS (Division I-AA) All American on the Offensive Line. Tunstall received his transfer waiver late in the process, so if Williams struggles early, look for the Bearcats to put in an experienced transfer in Tunstall.
Jeremy Cooper lost his starting role at Left Guard last season to Freshman Dylan O’Quinn, but he’s penciled back into the line up at left guard. Cooper was injured in the 2019 season, but saw the field plenty last season, spelling O’Quinn and others along the line. Cooper should be a steady addition to the O Line. Colin Woodside looks to be the next man up at Left Guard. Woodside has a similar history to Cooper, going down in 2019 with an injury, but getting extensive playing time last season.
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) January 15, 2021
One of the biggest stories in the Peach Bowl was the absence of Freshman All-American Center Jake Renfro. The offense took a big step forward last season when Renfro and O’Quinn took over the starting duties after the USF game and while we held our own against Georgia in the Peach Bowl, the rushing attack certainly suffered without our starting Center. If Renfro were to get injured or miss a game with illness, as of today, starting Right Guard Vinny McConnell would slide over, but Gavin Gerhardt has started to make a push for the back-up at that spot and Landon Fickell has also taken some snaps at back-up Center. While the starter Renfro is very solid, if there were to be an injury, there would be some concern for the Center position.
— Vinny McConnell (@sensei_curtis) March 18, 2021
Starting at Right Guard, a Bearcat who’s kind of a Swiss Army Knife, the artist formerly known as Sensei Curtis, Senior Vinny McConnell. McConnell has moved around the Offensive Line, but settled into a starting role at Right Guard last season. McConnell is the most experienced linemen, having played in 33 total games and started 14 of them. McConnell’s experience will be huge for the Offensive Line this season, and as mentioned, looks to be the back-up Center as of today. If McConnell were to go down with injury or slide over to Center, German Giant Lorenz Metz would slide into the Right Guard role. Metz has had a bit of a troubled history at Cincinnati, being an International project, but at 6’9 and 330 pounds, his size is worth developing. Metz has struggled at the tackle position, but appears to be more of a natural for Right Guard, despite being significantly larger than average for that position.
Another question mark on the starting Offensive Line is Sophomore Dylan O’Quinn, who is moving from Left Guard to Right Tackle this season. O’Quinn was a big part of the success we had last season with Jake Renfro, but all signs point to O’Quinn sliding into the Tackle position with very few questions. If O’Quinn can make that step, we will be set at the Tackle position for the next few years. Tunstall looks to be a back-up option at Right Tackle, but former QB Cam Jones could be the next man-up if O’Quinn isn’t available. The 6’8 star of Let It Fly Episode 4 started his career at Cincinnati in the QB room, even though it was a foregone conclusion they recruited him to eventually make his way to the Offensive Line room with Coach Ron Crook. After a quick stop with the Tight Ends, Cam Jones finds himself as a big part of Cincinnati’s plans going forward.
From aspiring coach, to paracord bracelet weaver, to Bop It aficionado… freshman @glynn_ma can do more than just play football.
— Cincinnati Football (@GoBearcatsFB) August 20, 2021
Cincinnati has recruited the Offensive Line very hard over the past few years, and there are lots of young guys who could hear their name called as the next back-up or starter. O’Quinn and Renfro were not even on the radar at this time last year, so if this team struggles in the trenches, look for the Bearcats to make changes. Players such as Walnut Hills star Mao Glynn, Marcelo Mendiola, or even Landon Fickell to step in and do their best to open up lanes for Jerome Ford and protect future NFL Star Desmond Ridder.
I’d like to thank all of you for reading through this series, it was really fun to get to learn more about this team going into a very special season. A big Thank You to the Republic of Cincinnati for allowing me to write these articles and for all of the journalists at Bearcat Journal, The Athletic, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and the UC SAD Office who share their first hand accounts of practices and scrimmages who helped me write these positional break downs.
See you on The Grid next Saturday!