Who’s Gone?

Brett Nelson, Tyler Bruggman 

Nelson played in 2 games for the Cards in 2014 and threw 7 passes for 27 yards.  Bruggman has transferred to a junior college.

Who’s Back?

Reggie Bonnafon (6’3, 205, Soph), Will Gardner (6’5, 226, Jr.), Kyle Bolin (6’2, 203, Soph)

All 3 players started and played significant roles during the 2014 season.  Gardner got the majority of the work and had the lowest Interception % per attempt at 1.35%, compared to Bonnafon’s 3.33%, and Bolin’s 3.85%.

Also all 3 players have had injury issues during their time at Louisville.  Will Gardner‘s early fumble troubles were largely due to those injuries that caused a long period of inactivity, but Will quickly corrected that problem and did a nice job of protecting the football through the air.  Gardner needs to work on making quicker decisions and throwing more consistently.  There were some missed throws and missed opportunities that would have given the Cardinal offense more juice.  Overall though, Gardner had a nice sophomore season despite the injuries.

Reggie Bonnafon was either ON FIRE or ICE COLD, which you might expect of a true freshman playing high-level football at the Quarterback position.  Bonnafon’s athleticism was a nice boost for the Cards and I really thought he had some truly brilliant plays.  But when things were bad, Reggie couldn’t dig out of the funk.  That’s gotta change.  The biggest jumps in ability in college football come between the freshman and sophomore seasons and I’m interested to see if Bonnafon can raise his bottom level of play and maintain perspective when things aren’t going well.  We’ve seen how good Reggie can be when things are clicking, but I’d like to see Bonnafon show the ability to reverse course when they aren’t.  Lots of ability here.

Cardinal fans only got to see a little of Kyle Bolin in 2014 and though the sample size is small, I can tell you that Bolin’s game came A LONG way from when we saw Kyle at the opening of Fall Camp, when the 1st group of offense couldn’t practice well with him in there.  Kyle was still coming back from an injury and trying to find his groove at that time, so staying healthy through Spring & Fall Camp are really going to be HUGE for Bolin. Kyle is armed with a quick trigger and an accurate deep ball.  He just needs more polish and size.  It’s a good sign when the 3rd string guy comes off the bench and shows the confidence that Kyle did vs. Kentucky, especially a freshman.

Who’s Coming?

Tyler Ferguson (6’4, 216, Jr), Pat Thomas (6-4, 190, Soph)

I’ve spoken with a lot of people inside the program and the consensus is that Tyler Ferguson will compete for the starting Quarterback position.  A transfer from Penn State, Ferguson was not on the radar coming out of high school (Ridgeview, CA)in the 2012 class (2011 season), but he did gain traction during the 2012 season at College of the Sequoias.   Ferguson was Penn State’s #2 Quarterback for the 2013 season throwing 10-15 for 155 yards and a TD behind Christian Hackenberg.

Then Penn State Head Coach (now HC of the Houston Texans) didn’t decide a starter for 2013 until the week of the season-opener and expected that Ferguson would play much more than he eventually did.  O’Brien said of Hackenberg & Ferguson before the start of 2013, “They both have the ability to throw the ball down the field, to make athletic moves on the perimeter of the defense. They’re both athletic, even for their size, both those guys can run. So we’ve seen a lot of that. They can both throw on the run.”  O’Brien added “I’ve never had more fun coaching quarterbacks than I’ve had coaching these two guys.”

Christian Hackenberg ended up throwing for 231-392 for 2955 yards and 20 Touchdowns with 10 Interceptions in during a 7-5 2013 season with O’Brien and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.  Hackenberg followed that up with a 270-484 for 2977 yards and 12 TD with 15 INTs during 7-6 2014 season under James Franklin.

Also be on the lookout for Pat Thomas who was also with the program during 2014 after transferring from Georgia Military.  Thomas originally committed to Garrick McGee at UAB before Pat went to GMI. Thomas has a cannon for an arm and it will be interesting to see where he is in the QB rotation this Spring. Thomas was limited at the beginning of Fall Camp due to injury.

Who May Be Coming?

Lamar Jackson (6’3, 202)

There are a lot of Quarterbacks on the Louisville roster that have a shot to earn the starting job for the Cardinals in 2015, The future may be Lamar Jackson from Boynton Beach H.S. in Florida.  Jackson is a 3-star QB recruit with offers from Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Ohio State, South Carolina, Syracuse, Tennessee, Tennessee, Southern Cal (USC), and West Virginia.

Having watched some Boynton Beach this year, I can say that Lamar Jackson is a play-maker and a fantastic leader.  A lot of programs are still vying for Jackson, but I believe his commit to the Cards is solid.  Once signed, Lamar faces the tough task of cracking the depth chart in Year #1.  But Jackson is an incredible athlete with fantastic running ability, but also has great arm strength.  Petrino’s main focus for Lamar Jackson on arrival will be polishing the throwing habits and teaching the young QB the offense.  How soon until Lamar is ready?  That is the question.  Once he earns the starting Quarterback job he may not give it back.

Best Guess Depth Chart

1)  Tyler Ferguson

2) Will Gardner

3) Reggie Bonnafon

OR

3) Kyle Bolin

OR

3) Lamar Jackson

6) Pat Thomas

It’s hard to say where Lamar Jackson or Pat Thomas really fit in here.  Without seeing them inside the program it’s tough to slot them.  We’ll have a good idea on Ferguson and Thomas this Spring, but Lamar Jackson is the true Wild Card here.

My feeling is that with Will Gardner’s health issues, the coaches may go ahead and “auto-place” him as the #2 Quarterback.  Someone who can win a game, but can you invest a ton of time into a quarterback who has shown to be so prone to knee injuries?  It’s a tough position, but an honest one.  Gardner did some great things for Louisville in 2014, but how much further along would Bonnafon be if he was given the 1st rep throughout the Fall?  It’s just hard to trust the health of a repeat injured player.

So to me, the question really becomes who wins the job?  It is entirely possible that the race for the #1 QB leaves the loser of the battle as the team’s #3 signal caller.  That’s just a theory.  Maybe Reggie Bonnafon or Kyle Bolin have a tremendous jump from Freshman to Sophomore seasons and make this a tough decision?  Louisville has the bodies at the Quarterback position…..does it have its #1?

It’s THE question of the off-season.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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