LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- The game week news conference before the season opener is a chance for a coach to reset the outlook for his team, to provide a perspective heading into the season, to fiddle with expectations or to shore up doubts.
Charlie Strong, in his first eight minutes of speaking before taking reporters' questions on Monday, crafted a definite theme.
"We have enough."
He used the phrase a half-dozen times. He used it when talking about his trio of running backs (he's expected to settle on a primary ball-carrier Tuesday or Wednesday). He used it when talking about his wide outs, about his linebacker depth and about his secondary.
"We have enough to go be a good football team," Strong said. "The question is will we perform."
As so many things have been during this preseason when the Cardinals have moved into the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2007, that theme is a departure.
For two years, Strong has definitely not had enough. Not enough depth, not enough size, not enough talent.
He's had enough to get by, mind you. But now he has enough to get on with it. To talk to Strong is to talk to a guy who knows he has the engine put together pretty close to the way he wants to have it. He's just not entirely sure how it is going to respond when he turns that key for the first time -- will it roar to life, or need some time to warm up?
Contrary to the preseason hype, this is not the season Strong was building for, as far as arrival on the national scene.
This season, it was supposed to go something like this: Everybody in this Big East preseason was supposed to be raving about West Virginia, talking about how the Mountaineers were the cream of the Big East, talking about them running the slate, debating whether they'd be given any national championship consideration if they managed a perfect regular season.
U of L was supposed to have been improved, stalking the leaders with some notice but not much, comfortably within striking distance, going about its work, looking to make a stealth move.
Instead, West Virginia left, and the Big East conference spotlight had nowhere else to fall but over on Floyd Street.
Next year was the year Charlie Strong & Company really figured to show them something. Teddy Bridgewater as a junior. All those wide outs with two years of experience. Sophomore linebackers rounding into form. Offensive line junior trio in its third year. Defensive line fully cured and seasoned. (Sorry, went to the State Fair ham breakfast last week. Still affected.)
That's not to say anything that's been said about this U of L team has been wrong. The team is as good as it would have been even if more of the Big East hype had flowed West Virginia's way.
In fact, it might be better for having had all this hype heaped upon it a year earlier than planned. But that's yet to be seen.
Regardless, here it is. The future is now. And Strong's young players seem to sense what time it is. (Just in case, one of Strong's go-to catchphrases in practice this year has been, "Don't punch that clock! Keep on working.")
There are seven true freshmen in the defensive three-deep. And they're all good. And there are more sophomores on offense than coordinator Shawn Watson can shake a stick at. But there's no magic wand to make them play like upperclassmen.
That's why, when Strong looked at a UK team that is a 14 1/2-point underdog against his own, Strong was moved to say on Monday, "We have a Kentucky team coming in here that's a very good football team, similar to us in a lot of ways, similar to us. A young football team, we're a young football team."
And he was quick to add: "Kentucky has won four of the last five times here (in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium -- and actually the number is three out of the last five). When you look at it, we will always stay the hunter."
It's just that Strong has a few more weapons now. In fact, for the first time in his U of L tenure, even if he always wants more, he can say he has enough. Copyright 2012 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, March 5 2014 8:53 AM EST2014-03-05 13:53:25 GMT
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