Believe it or not, it’s Football Season.  Spring Practice 2016 is a very important time for Cardinal Football.  It’s the first time that Bobby Petrino 2.0 will return the core of his previous season with 18 starters and some of the most electrifying impact freshman & sophomores that the program has seen.

The program has opened 5 practices + its annual Spring Game for 6 practices that fans can observe.  Here is what we’ll be watching:

Offense

Development of Lamar Jackson/QBs

As usual the offense starts with how well the Quarterbacks are playing.  With Louisville there is a great deal to be excited about with Lamar Jackson return after an incredible freshman season.  Still Jackson had fundamental flaws that limited Louisville’s options with him in the game.  Petrino speaks of needing to work on Lamar’s footwork under center and in the passing game.  If Lamar can reliably work under center the offense can REALLY GROW both in the run game and in the play-action game. Also Lamar’s accuracy throwing the ball will be a big key to watch.

Kyle Bolin of course does return for his junior season.  All eyes might be on Lamar, but having a Quarterback the caliber of Bolin pushing Jackson is a wonderful option for the coaching staff.  And there’s no way we believe Kyle will just accept the #2 role, Bolin will compete for the #1 spot and the coaches will give it to him if he beats out Jackson.  There’s no reason to guarantee anything to anyone when you have two QBs like Louisville has.

What’s Reggie Bonnafon’s Role?

Speaking of Quarterbacks, it’s going to be very interesting to see what Reggie Bonnafon’s role might be this Spring.  At Monday’s press conference Petrino seemed to indicate that Reggie would primarily be with the Running Backs in practice and taking some reps at Quarterback and Wide Receiver.  Heading into his junior year Reggie has done a great deal for the Cardinals but it’s time for Bonnafon to specialize and really put his skills to work for both himself and the program.

Offensive Line Development

There is no need to rehash the stats of the offensive line.  There was all kinds of moving pieces throughout the year and 3 freshman played key roles.  This season there should be less personnel uncertainty beyond Week 1 but there are plenty of spots to win.  Geron Christian was phenomenal at Weak Tackle as a true freshman and Lukayus McNeil began to grow into his potential at guard.  Tobijah Hughley has been tested over & over again at Center…..it’s his job.

At the open Guard & Tackle jobs it’s a safe bet that Kenny Thomas is going to win one of those spots.  If Thomas is at Tackle we’ll be watching to see who wins the other guard spot either Kiola Mahoni or Chandler Jones.  If Kenny Thomas is inside at Guard (probably his pro position) it means that someone stepped up at Offensive Tackle (Toriano Roundtree, Khalil Hunter, Danny Burns, or a player to be named later).

Either way this group started to play well towards the end of the season but they really need to step up their game if Louisville Football is going to reach its potential in 2016.

Lonnie Galloway & the Wide Receivers

The deepest position group on Louisville’s roster got a new coach with a big reputation in Lonnie Galloway.  There is no reason to list every wide receiver here…….but the potential is HUUUUUGGGGGEEEEE in this group.  The marriage of all that talent with a new wide receiver coach is a huge deal.

Tight Ends Now a Strength?

The tight end position has always seemed to have depth issues….but not now.  With this group Louisville finally has enough talent and bodies that they have tight ends for every scenario, perfect for the Petrino offense.

Running Backs More Involved?

Louisville Football needs to involve its running backs more.  Pure and simple you can’t let talent like the Cards have in the backfield go to waste.  Petrino lamented this all last season and this will be a big emphasis for 2016.  Will it happen?

Defense

Continuity

Getting Keith Kelsey, DeAngelo Brown, Devonte Fields & Josh Harvey-Clemons back for their senior season is a big deal for Louisville Football.  The Cards were #18 in Total Defense in 2015 and for the 1st time in several seasons UofL won’t suffer from a large number of its players entering the NFL Draft early.  Replacing Sheldon Rankins, James Burgess, Pio Vatuvei and Jermaine Reve will be much easier to handle now that UofL held on to Kelsey, Brown, Fields, and JHC.  Replacing all of that talent would have been incredibly difficult. Additionally Louisville lost linebackers Nick Dawson-Brents & Keith Brown to Western Kentucky after graduation.  Had the returning 4 departed the Cards would have effectively had to start over.  Now they don’t.

Who Are the Outside Linebackers?

Louisville did lose Trevon Young to a hip injury and is going to sit out Spring (and perhaps Fall).  Devonte Fields is also coming off a surgery that will keep him limited through the Spring as well.  So who will fill the void?  Henry Famurewa had an outstanding Spring last year and tore his labrum during Fall Camp….look for Henry to get back into the mix.  Also keep an eye on redshirt freshman Jonathan Greenard, Finesse Middleton, and James Hearns at OLB.  Hearns is an interesting case because he can also play DE in base but can also play the OLB role in Grantham’s defense.  Either way there is a big opportunity this Spring to grow for a bunch of players at the OLB spots.

How Do The Early Enrollees Fit In?

Kordell Slater, Chris Williams and Ronald Walker all enrolled in January and will participate in Spring Practice.  Slater is a freshman while Walker & Williams both come from the JUCO ranks.  It’s expected that Williams will enter into the Defensive Line rotation right away and Walker will likely be looking to find an impact position in the secondary.  But where and how fast each makes their presence felt is a good question, typically the staff doesn’t bring in guys during January that they do not believe will impact the upcoming season so we’ll be watching these 3.

Development of Secondary

Speaking of Walker, Louisville really has some options in the secondary.  As we saw Grantham stayed in Nickel for much of 2014 & 2015 putting JHC at the “Star” position.  Who wins the other safety spot opposite of Chucky Williams?  Dee Smith, Khane Pass, Ronald Walker or Terrence Ross? Also how do the players adjust to the new coaches Keith Heyward & Cort Dennison?

Lastly, Louisville had a nice trio of cornerbacks in 2015 in Trumaine Washington, Jaire Alexander & Shaq Wiggins…can a guy like Cornelius Sturghill break into the mix?

Spring Practice Schedule
March 22 (Open)
March 23
March 25
March 26
March 29 (Open)
March 30 (Open)
April 1
April 2
April 5 (Open)
April 6 (Open)
April 8
April 9
April 12
April 13
April 16 (Spring Game, 1 p.m.)

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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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