Burning Questions for the Cards' Spring Game
The Cards not only lost their Heisman candidate quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but head coach Charlie Strong is gone after taking the same position at Texas.
In comes Bobby Petrino, who had tremendous success at Louisville before leaving for the NFL. But this is a different job now; the program enters its first season in the ACC, which should prove as a much tougher regular season schedule opposed to that of the AAC.
There’s no doubt that Louisville will be an intriguing team to follow in 2014. With a new coach, new quarterback, new defensive scheme, and fresh faces on both the offense and defensive line, along with a new conference schedule, the Cardinals will be under the microscope.
So amongst all the uncertainty of this upcoming season, let’s take a look at what UL fans will want to focus on in the upcoming spring game:
1. Who Will Fill Teddy Bridgewater’s Shoes?
Petrino has three guys working within the first two groups in spring practice: redshirt sophomore Will Gardener is the leader right now to win the starting quarterback job, with Brett Nelson and Kyle Bolin chasing him. But Gardener definitely has the upper-hand at the moment.
“Gardner certainly has a better grasp of the offense, but he has to make better decisions — distribute the ball better, be more accurate on his passing," Petrino told the Courier-Journal. "But I really like the way he's coachable. I like his understanding of the game of football, and he's got the ability to make all the different throws that we need.
2. Will the Offensive Line Hold Up?
Petrino was concerned about this group coming into spring practice, but keep an eye on the middle of the line during the spring game. The coaching staff made an adjustment midway through spring practice, moving Tobijah Hughley to center, which allowed Jake Smith to return to his right guard position. So far, it has brought success to the unit.
“I think he’s done a nice job coming in there and giving us somebody that firms up the pocket,” Petrino said of the 6-3, 300-pound Hughley, according to 247sports. “Jake Smith has done a nice job making the swing over to guard and it’s eliminated our assignment errors. Making that move has helped us with our execution.”
3. Can This Defense Produce Like it Did Under Charlie Strong?
Louisville lost several key guys from last season’s defense, including defensive linemen Marcus Smith and Brandon Dunn, linebacker Preston Brown and defensive backs Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. Replacing them won’t be a small task for new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
In Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, it’ll be imperative for the Cards to find someone to clog up the middle. It seems that junior defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins will be the guy to
stop the opposing run game in 2014. Keith Kelsey is working hard to replace Preston Brown at linebacker, and he’ll have James Burgess lining up next to him this season.
It’ll be interesting to see if Louisville can produce another great pass-rushing defense that Strong was able to master.
4. Will Mike Dyer and LJ Scott Produce Behind Starting Running Back Dominique Brown?
Brown will be the starting power back for Louisville this season, but the reemergence of Mike Dyer should take away some of his touches. We know that Dyer can catch the ball out of the backfield—he did that quite well his freshman season at Auburn—so I’m sure Petrino would be open to sending him out on a flare quite often.
L.J. Scott enrolled early out of Marion, Ohio and has been making his fair share of plays during spring practice. He was the only running back signed in this 2014 class and he is proving that he is all the Cards will need in the upcoming years. He should be seeing some playing time this season.
5. Will DeVante Parker Explode in Petrino’s System?
Parker was the Cards’ leading receiver in 2013, with 55 receptions for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3, 209-pound receiver has always been a matchup problem for opposing defenses, but could really excel in a fast-paced Petrino offense.
Assuming that Gardener is able to deliver as the starting quarterback, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Parker lead the ACC in receiving yards—or even the entire NCAA. He will definitely be one of the top receivers in the country this season.