Zac Taylor is settling into his first year as the Bearcats offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after joining the staff in January 2016. This week we had the chance to spend the afternoon with Coach Taylor and pick his brain as to what the fans can expect of his offense this season now that former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is at Kentucky.
Just 33 years old, Taylor has made quite a name for himself. He, of course, played quarterback throughout his playing career. He began college in 2002 at Wake Forest and ended his playing days in 2007 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
He began coaching in 2008. He considers his dad, as well as his legendary father-in-law, Mike Sherman, as the most influential figures in his career. It only made sense to begin at Texas A&M as a graduate assistant and tight ends coach based on the Sherman connection. He then coached the QBs for the Miami Dolphins between 2012 and 2014 before being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2015. He coincidentally had the chance to mold a former Aggie, Ryan Tannehill, while in Miami.
Fans can expect to see multiple formations and personnel groupings this fall. Many of the plays will resemble what most expect out of the shotgun formation. In the open camp sessions thus far, the QBs have practiced almost exclusively from the gun. While Taylor would not divulge too much, it’s evident that the Bearcats starting quarterback must also be able to take snaps under center and out of the I-formation. To get the ball moving, there will also be a number of quick passes, slants, and screens.
While Taylor does not plan to actively run the quarterback, fans may see an occasional QB run. Mostly, he wants to protect the QB, whoever that may be. Coach wants to instill a pocket presence and avoid a “dual threat” scheme.
A relief to the Bearcats faithful everywhere – we will see more balance this season! Taylor’s goal is a 50/50 split between the run and pass. This will certainly evolve depending on the opponent’s defense, just as the use of play action will change. However, Taylor plans to use Mike Boone and Tion Green as much as possible running – and catching – the ball out of the backfield. Taylor said that this running back group, top to bottom, catches the ball better than any backfield he has been around.
The wide receiver personnel decision remains unsettled. After losing 6 wide outs to graduation, 4 of which are now in the NFL, the coaching staff still does not know who the top 3 to 4 receivers will be. Of course, you can count on senior #84 Nate Cole playing a large role. But Taylor is still waiting for others to step up and assert themselves with just 14 days until the first game of the year. I expect walk-on Brayden Beard to get a lot of playing time out of the slot with his sure hands and route running abilities. For fresh legs, the Bearcats will probably rotate receivers every four to five plays, if possible.
The forgotten tight ends will be used. Throughout camp we have seen both Tyler Cogswell and DJ Dowdy get targeted. Coach Taylor hopes Dowdy’s athleticism creates mismatches that can be exploited throughout the year.
Taylor does not have a Chip Kelly / Baylor goal for plays per game or tempo. We will see some no-huddle, but the most important goals for Coach are: (1) converting third downs; (2) avoiding turnovers; (3) avoiding pre-snap penalties; and (4) protecting the quarterback. How will we eliminate the turnover and penalty problems UC had last year? Throughout camp, players are forced to do up-downs for mental errors. Now that Tubs has developed depth, there is also the threat of losing playing time, which is the ultimate punishment for any player.
The elephant in the room – who will start at QB? Although he hasn’t yet named a starter, Taylor’s number one requirement for a starting quarterback is “toughness.” Who will prove they’re tough enough for Taylor? Can Gunner disprove his doubters and re-acquire the top spot? Can Moore demonstrate that he’s got more grit? Or, can young Arkansan Ross Trail leapfrog two known commodities to earn the top signal caller honors?
When coach isn’t in the film room or the football field he spends every minute of his time with his wife and three young children. He claims to be adapting well to Cincinnati, and describes the City as a hidden gem. He loves the people of the Queen City.
T minus 14 days until we get to see Coach Taylor in action and we get a chance to see him open up his bag of toys in Nippert Stadium.
By Andy Smith