We are now less than two weeks away from kickoff for the 2013 season and the Cardinals first & only season in the AAC.

Expectations are understandably high for the reigning Sugar Bowl champs. This team has the makings of a title game contender and are poised for a great season after returning the majority of the key play makers from last year’s squad and the addition of yet another talented and depth-building class.

While the season is nearing for the Cardinals it is also nearing for those who are looking forward to calling Louisville home next season. These rising seniors will be working hard during the Fall of 2013 in order to help their respective teams accomplish their goals, while also showcasing their skills and proving to colleges that they are worthy a highly coveted scholarship.
As we are at the door step of both seasons, Louisville fans know they only have one final season not only in the AAC, but with this senior class and the addition of a few key juniors. Louisville also sees the summer coming to a close with a full class of 25 prospects.

Although not all of the juniors on the team will leave early for the draft, nor will the 2014 class look the way it does at the present time in February, I thought it would be a nice to take a look at this class as a whole one last time before the season gets started.

Below is a list (by position) of players leaving/expected to leave early for the draft, and the recruits expected to fill their spot in the future:

QB- Louisville does not have a senior QB on this year’s team, but they do have just one year left with Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater. Even though fans would love to have Teddy entering Louisville’s first year as an ACC member, barring anything catastrophic that won’t happen. Even if Teddy does not win the Heisman this year, he is still set to be a top 3-5 pick in the upcoming NFL draft and looks to have a bright future at the next level.

Louisville has done a great job at building QB depth in the last few classes and adds a talented arm in this class with (Louiville) Trinity QB Reggie Bonnafon who enters his first, last, and only season as the starting signal caller for Trinity. In a recent scrimmage against Highlands Bonnafon passed for 377 yds. and 4 Tds. silencing the questions about his ability to play QB and Louisville’s lack of pursuit in any other highly rated signal callers. While Bonnafon is still raw he will add depth to next year’s QB rotation and eventually challenge for a starting spot, if not right away.

RB/FB– The Cardinals have one senior running back on the roster in Senorise Perry. Louisville could also have to replace the newest addition on the team, transfer Michael Dyer. Before his issues Dyer was a sure fire first round pick at Aurburn and if his 2013 season is uneventful off the field (while also getting enough carries to prove himself to scouts) he could make the leap after this season to the NFL. This will leave the Cards replacing two running backs heading into the ACC. Louisville will also lose recently converted FB B.J. Butler who shined at the position during the Sugar Bowl victory over Florida.

To replace these pieces in the backfield Strong and staff have targeted and landed a pair of large and versatile backs.  Former Texas commitment, and highly-rated all-purpose back Daniel Gresham can play both RB and full back committed this summer to the Cards. The Cards also have L.J. Scott, a talented bruising back from Ohio. It is no secret that Strong loves a smash mouth/power running game  and the Cards also have  a lot of bulk in the backfield with the likes of Brown and Radcliff returning. Look for Gresham and Scott to add to this already deep position for the Cards and continue the trend of talented backs in the Ville.

WR- A pair of wideouts will be departing as their eligibility will come to an end in Damian Copeland and Jarrett Davis (Davis has redshirt available, and just underwent surgery…status for 2013 unknown). Louisville has seen both make solid contributions over their careers especially if Copeland who was arguably Louisville’s most consistent WR last season. In addition to the loss of these two players at season’s end, Louisville can also expect the loss of athletic freak DeVante Parker aka ‘Spiderman’. He is a touchdown machine, and physical specimen. The only questions of concern in the past were route running and breakaway speed, both of which he has improved and put on full display lately. Like Bridgewater, Louisville fans would love to see him back.  However, if he has the monster season everyone is expecting from him, anticipate him to test the draft waters and get drafted fairly high.

Although Louisville has done a great job at building depth at this position and returns players like Eli Rogers, Robert Clark, James Quick, and Michaelee Harris in 2014, they have also added depth with the commits of this class. Strong has made it a priority to secure several WR in this class in Desean Blair, George Rushing, and Isaiah Ford. While Ford and Rushing bring blazing speed, Blair is tall and athletic standing at 6-4 and will be a good replacement for Devante Parker down the road. So while the Cardinals will have a new signal caller heading into the ACC, the cupboard will not be bare in terms of who he has to throw the ball to.

There are two other players in this class that are being recruited more as athletes. They are listed as WR recruits by most recruiting services, but I believe that strong has recruited them because of their versatility and the fact that they could both possibly get a look in the defensive backfield. Cameron Polk and T.J. Foster give the Cardinals some options in this class and allow Strong flexibility when recruiting both DBs and WRs because these two could eventually end up on either side of the ball.

TE- This is a position I look for Louisville to utilize a lot more this season as the finally have a stable full of options and players with great size and versatility. Louisville will lose Ryan Hubbell after the season. I am also going to suggest that the Cards might also lose Florida transfer Gerald Christian after just one season. He will emerge early in the season as a reliable middle of the field target, and his size will create a match-up nightmare both blocking and receiving. If he gets the targets he should and is able to showcase his skills look for him to move to the next level.

This is yet another position where Charlie Strong has put emphasis as he has built depth over the past few years with the additions of Zeke Pike, Hunter Bowles, and Keith Towbridge. To replace the possible departure of two tight ends the staff has gone out and replaced with yet another pair of versatile TEs. Both Devin Pike and Micky Crum provide ideal size to block, and the ability to act as another WR and catch balls down field. This allows the offense to be more multiple and create match-up issues for the opposition.

O-Line- There is only one significant loss from the offensive line after the season as jack-of-all-trades Kamran Joyer will graduate. Although he has been injured often for the Cards he has provided a great deal of value as he can and has played all five positions on the line. In the spring he took reps at center, but after Jake Smith slid into that spot over the summer he has moved to RG and settled in nicely. If there are any injuries or fatigue, it is good to know that the Cards have someone that can play many positions. Joyer will be a big loss and could have the effect of multiple losses when he leaves due to his versatility. Although I do not expect him to leave due to the fact that he is still so raw at the position, Louisville may also lose the services of junior LT Jamon Brown. He has the size and skill to play at the next level showed flashes during 2012 of his next-level ability. If he has a breakout season and does a great job at protecting Heisman candidate Teddy Bridgewater, he may draw enough attention from scouts to consider making the leap.

I am a firm believer in the well-known adage “Championships teams are won in the trenches”; therefore, it is important to build so much depth that you allow your team to replace and not rebuild. Strong has done a great job at this by adding several offensive linemen per class and redshirting to build even more depth. This class is yet another example of the importance Strong has placed on the “Big Uglies.” Danny Burns, Kavaris Harkless, and Jared McCray, add to the depth that Louisville has been building in the trenches and will allow for talented backs like Gresham and Scott to run wild in the ACC for years to come.

DB- Charlie Strong is a defensive minded coach and this season he finally has a defensive backfield that is loaded with not only talent but experience. While there have been many bright spots with this unit the Defensive Backfield has gone through a great deal of growing pains due to the lack of overall depth and playing time delegated to underclassmen. After this season the Cards will lose four year starter Hakeem Smith to graduation and the NFL. And like the other draft eligible juniors I have previously mentioned, FS Calvin Pryor may also have a decision to make when it comes to his final year of eligibility. A three year starter at the position, Pryor is a hard hitting presence and a talent that could easily leave before his eligibility expires.

Although players like Jermaine Reve and Gerod Holliman are likely to step into the roles that will be left by Louisville’s talented safety duo, and the Cards don’t lose any CBs from this year’s team.  Still DB depth will be important to add. This class has seen more emphasis put on DBs than any other position other than LB and for good reason. When replacing talented players like Pryor and Smith…. the more the better. I am really excited about the players that comprise the future secondary for the Cards. The two that stand out, and are being recruited heavily by the “big boys” still are Michael Johnson and Marques Gayot. These two are the perfect pair to roam the secondary against the ACC in the future and will challenge for time early in their careers. In addition these two are joined by Nilijah Ballew, De’Eric Culver, and Zykiesis Cannon. One thing is also apparent in this class of DBs; Louisville is looking for both size and speed. All of these players look the part physically already and they are yet to arrive on campus. Louisville is in good hands in the future with what they are bringing in, adding to an already young and talented group that just arrived on campus.

LBs- As significant as the loss of two safeties are for Louisville, the loss of linebackers might be just as significant. After this season Louisville will see the loss of four significant backers in Preston Brown, George Durant, Deon Rogers, and Champ Lee. This veteran group has been through a lot and played valuable time for the Cards. The most significant loss in this group will come from the departure of Preston Brown from the middle of the defense. He has been a leader on the team ever since moving to MLB with the graduation of Dexter Heyman a few seasons ago. Brown has been one of the leaders on defense and a real presence in the middle for the Cards. He had a stellar performance in the Sugar Bowl and looks poised for a monster year.

The backend of the front seven is a crucial position, and one that requires a great deal of depth for versatility and keeping players fresh and rotated. Louisville added a talented crop of players in the 2013 class at linebacker with Keith Kelsey Jr. and James Hearns, but also saw Donel Elam fail to qualify. Louisville has continued to add to this depth in the 2014 class by picking up commitments from Isaac Stewart, Henry Famurewa, and Jeff Williams. Stewart appears to be in the mold of RS Freshman Nick Dawson-Brents with his size, while Williams looks more along the lines of a replacement for James Burgess in the future as he appears to be a bit undersized but makes up for that with speed. Famurewa reminds me a lot of a Mauldin or Mount type of player that is a hybrid and can stand up or put his hand in the dirt to rush the passer. Time will tell where he ends up for the Cards.

DE- While Louisville loses just one pass rusher after the season is over; it is a significant one in Marcus Smith. Smith came in as a QB, moved to LB, and finally settled in at DE. I think those moves ended up working out pretty well for the Cards as he has been a monster for the Cardinals and this season may be his best yet.

To replace the loss of Smith Coach Strong and staff have targeted players that are hybrids and pure pass rushers. In this class Louisville has landed commitments from Rashawn Shaw and Terry Ramsey. Shaw looks to be a Mauldin type replacement with his build and power, whereas Ramsey seems to be the perfect replacement in the future for Deiontrez Mount as they are both rangy pass rushers with a lot of height.

DT- After this season there will be a void left in the middle with the departures of senior interior linemen Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon. While Louisville’s staff has the talent on the roster to step into the rolls left by these two, those backups will need backups and therefore this is a position of high importance in this class to replace. Dunn and Philon have been solid contributors and solid presence inside for Louisville. As I stated when talking about the offensive line, there is a great deal of importance when restocking the trenches and that’s just what Louisville will do.

There was a great deal of concern earlier this year when Louisville had failed to secure a commitment from an interior defensive linemen, but over the past few weeks, the last part of the 2014 class was completed when Louisville landed two important prospects, Poona Ford and Chris Nelson. This pair will add depth, and help challenge for playing time early on. This competition will help as Louisville will need strong defensive line play as the level of competition raises when they enter ACC play in 2014.
While things are still influx in regards to who comes and goes after this season is over, it is fun to speculate what the future holds.

I believe this class will do its part in restocking the cupboards and adding to the depth that Charlie Strong and staff have already assembled at Louisville. I also believe that this class is far from done, and Louisville will continue to add quality players, and even a surprise stud or two late in the process. Either way, I think I speak for all of Card Nation when I say, I’m glad football is back.

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Matt Vories

I am a recent graduate of The University of Louisville. This spring I interned with CardinalSports.com which allowed me the opportunity to write, report, and shoot photo and video at Louisville games. I also worked with the Red & Blue Review television show. I look forward to sharing my passion for all things UofL as a part of TCZ.

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