For the most part, Ralph David Abernathy IV had a pretty ordinary freshman season. He was a dynamic kick returner, but he didn't get much time in the backfield. But that was for good reason. The Cincinnati Bearcats featured the Big East offensive player of the year, Isaiah Pead, in their offense. Now they are trying to replace him, and Abernathy could be their man.
He does have some work to do. While he's certainly explosive -- evidenced by a 90-yard kick return touchdown against Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl -- but he has limited experience at running back. He only had 14 carries last season, but coach Butch Jones is confident Abernathy will be a quick study.
“He can handle the volume mentally,” Jones told Cincinnati.com. “He's a quick learner and he's a student of the game. That lends itself to being able to understand what we're trying to accomplish. He's probably our best player in space. He's dynamic with the ball. He's got great lateral quickness, great burst and acceleration and then good flat-line speed as well.”
Abernathy seemed surprised at the assessment, especially since it indicated that he'd be given a bigger role in the offense. Something, apparently, that was told to him by a reporter.
“He doesn't really do things like that,” Abernathy said, according to the report. “You've just got to be able to feel it out from practice. You try to have an idea based on how they use you in spring, but whether I touch the ball or not depends on how I do.”
There will be competition in the backfield. Senior George Winn is the team's leading returning rusher, though he didn't necessarily set the world on fire a season ago, carrying the ball 40 times for 219 yards and two scores. Still, Winn figures to hold the job heading into the season, unless Abernathy can make some major strides this month.
Overall, though, the Bearcats will likely be looking at a pass-heavy offense, or at least a Munchie-heavy offense, as in quarterback Munchie Legaux. Taking the torch from the departed Zach Collaros, Legaux will be counted on to lead Cincinnati, both with his feet and his arm. He has a solid crop of receivers returning, and he showed last season he was capable of effectively running the offense.
But the more Abernathy and Winn can contribute, the better off the Bearcats will be offensively. And if Jones can find a way to utilize Abernathy's dynamic ability, then Cincinnati may possess a dangerous weapon.
“I'm just excited to get the opportunity to get my hands on the ball and show people what I can do,” Abernathy told Cincinnati.com. “It gives you a little confidence boost knowing that you're going to have an opportunity to help the team in a bigger way and be a bigger part of the team.”
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