The Quarterback position could not have been in better hands during the 2013 season. Teddy Bridgewater passed for the 3rd Most Yards in School History (3970) and threw 31 Touchdowns and just 4 Interceptions while completing 71% of his throws. The Minnesota Vikings selected Teddy Bridgewater with the 32nd pick in the 1st Round of the NFL Draft.
Bridgewater’s play was outstanding and the Cards were 2nd in the Nation in 3rd Down Conversion % and were 16th in the Nation in Passing despite running just the 69th most plays in college football in 2013.
One thing Louisville DIDN’T do well in regards to the Quarterback position was get the #2 quarterback Will Gardner much action. Gardner threw just 12 passes (completed 8) for 112 yards and 2 Touchdowns.
Bobby Petrino is known for offense, and it all starts with the quarterback. Petrino said multiple times during the offseason that after installing the offense in Fall Camp he & Garrick McGee will then mold the offense around the starting Quarterback. Right now Will Gardner (6’5 226, RS-Soph) is the starter for 2014. It really isn’t up for debate at this point. Gardner committed early the summer prior to his senior year in high school at Coffee County HS in Douglas, GA but did hold offers from Alabama & Mississippi State. Will was a 3-star prospect according to all 3 major scouting services (Rivals, Scout, 247). The young QB ran the Wing T, Option, and Spread Offenses in high school and had his senior year cut short with an ACL tear….a 2nd surgery was needed to repair the ACL upon arriving at UofL.
Bobby Petrino has RAVED about Gardner’s athletic ability and spent an inordinate amount of time with Gardner in Spring Drills. At the 2014 Spring Game, Gardner had a chance to finally showcase his game in front of Cardinal fans throwing for 32-37 and 542 yards 4 Touchdowns and 1 Interception. Gardner physically can make all the throws, he is big, he is strong, he is fast. Gardner’s ball has ridiculous range & tempo. But Will’s biggest challenge is making the right decision quickly and releasing the ball in time. I like the toolbox that Will is working with and he has no better teacher than Petrino. To start Fall Camp, Gardner didn’t look as sharp as we saw him at the end of the Spring…….but Will also really struggled at the early practices I attended during Spring Football. Quarterback is a rhythm position and after 1 week of Fall Camp the day-to-day improvement that Gardner showed was obvious even to the casual observer. No athlete is ever a finished product, but Petrino & McGee will have Gardner in top form by September 1st.
The back-up spot is the most worrisome for the program, mostly because Gardner has had two knee injuries. No other Quarterback on the roster has thrown a collegiate pass at the FBS level. Brett Nelson (6’4 220, RS-Jr. ) redshirted after coming from Southwestern CC. Nelson comes from Chula Vista, CA & was 6-14 for 93 yards (0 TD/INTs) in the 2014 Spring Game. Nelson was slightly better than Redshirt Freshman Kyle Bolin (6’2, 203 RS-Fr) in the Spring Game who threw for 7-11 for just 28 yards but did have a Touchdown on the day. Bolin has struggled with injuries as a Cardinal and also really hasn’t shown adequate arm strength to facilitate the full field, while Nelson really needs to be much more consistent to be a reliable part of the offense. To start Fall Camp of these two Nelson has taken some steps forward but at this point can only be considered in competition for the #3 QB 3rd option. Kyle Bolin suffered an injury after Spring, and came into Fall Camp without much zip on his ball and really struggled the 1st week. It is clear that Bolin needs to rehab & get stronger if he is going to see the field for the Cardinals. Right now, that seems like a longshot for 2014.
Because neither Bolin or Nelson really stood out this Spring, the Louisville coaching staff felt it was necessary to get another Quarterback to push for the #2 position and Petrino & Co. went out and signed Pat Thomas (6’4 190, Soph) came to the Cards from Georgia Military College and will have 3 years of eligibility remaining with UofL. Coach Petrino said that signing Thomas for this purpose was a little bit of a gamble because he will not be available for contact drills (due to injury) until about mid-August. Thomas led Georgia Military to an 11-1 record and defeated Lackawanna College in the NJCAA Championship 63-18. Pat threw for 1695 yards on 110-207 passes for 17 TDs and just 6 INTs while also rushing for 199 yards. Pat Thomas hails from Banneker High School in Atlanta and has a close relationship with Louisville Offensive Coordinator Garrick McGee. Early in Fall Camp, Thomas has worked in some QB drills, but regularly is held out of skeleton and 11 on 11 activities. It is assumed that Thomas’ rehabilitation keeps him out of those drills. Thomas does throw a nice ball, has good presence but it is impossible for me to gain any more about his game without seeing him in the more important periods. Thomas at this point is behind much of his competition and if he emerges once fully cleared it will be behind closed doors. GMI teammate Reggie Green (6-1, 201, Jr) also joined the Cardinal roster this Spring at Quarterback.
The hope is that true Freshman Reggie Bonnafon (6’3, 205, Fr.) is ready to contribute for 2014. More than likely Cardinal fans will see Reggie in 2014, Petrino said at the ACC Kickoff that it would be ‘GREAT’ if Bonnafon was ready enough to take a series or two in the 2nd quarter of each game ala Brian Brohm in 2004. I’m not sure Petrino and staff feel comfortable quite yet to make that type of accommodation for Bonnafon’s game. Early in camp, the staff traded Reggie for Bolin and the two switched spots in the “Veterans” & “Newcomers” afternoon & morning sessions. Since that time Reggie has been taking a lot of reps as the #2 Quarterback.
Bonnafon comes from local Trinity High School and has only play one high school season at Quarterback. Bonnafon as a senior at Trinity was outstanding statistically but at times lacked the polish & toughness of a veteran Quarterback. Still, Bonnafon is ALL potential and was a 4-star QB according to Scout.com and 3-stars according to 247 & Rivals with offers from Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and a late run from Charlie Strong at Texas Bonnafon’s early commitment to Louisville in January of 2013 held firm. I’m extremely impressed with Bonnafon’s mechanics and Bob Beatty’s system is very similar to Petrino’s…..the sky is the limit for Reggie but he will need time to develop, especially the intangibles of the position. Reggie just needs to be more comfortable at this level & in understanding the playbook.
Louisville rounds out its eligible Quarterbacks for 2014 with Leslie County walk-on redshirt freshman Ethan Horton (6-0, 205, RS-Fr.) who had a fantastic high school career.
My Projected Depth Chart
1) Will Gardner
2) Reggie Bonnafon
2) Pat Thomas
4) Brett Nelson
5) Kyle Bolin
6) Reggie Green OR
6) Ethan Horton
Ineligible This Year Due to Transfer Rules: Tyler Bruggman, Tyler Ferguson
The 2015 Quarterback race is set to be a big time affair. I suspect there will be some roster turnover at the end of the season. Petrino & Staff have taken on two very talented quarterback transfers in Tyler Fergusion (6’4, 225, Jr. two years remaining after sitting out 2014) from Penn State, and Tyler Bruggman (6’1, 200, RS-Fr three years after sitting out 2014) from Washington State.
If Will Gardner oversees a Louisville team with 8+ wins in its 1st season in the ACC it might be hard to unseat him. But at the same time winning the position in 2015 is going to be much more of a challenge for Will than during the 2014 season. That is a good thing for the program, but Gardner can go a long way to staking his claim for 2015 with a huge 2014 season.
2015 NFL Draft Possibles: None. Unless Will Gardner has a HUGE campaign.
2015 Roster Expected Available: Same as 2014..no Seniors. (we do expect transfers)
2016 Roster Expected Available: Gardner, Ferguson, Green (if redshirt is used) Horton, Thomas, Bolin, Bonnafon,
2017 Roster Expected Available: Horton, Bonnafon, Thomas (if redshirt is used), Bolin
2018 Roster Expected Available: Bonnafaon (if redshirt is used)
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