LOUISVILLE, Ky. --- The game has slowed down for Louisville's highly touted starting safeties, Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. You hear that phrase a lot in football. For different positions, it means different things. For the Cardinals' last line of defense in the secondary, it means recognizing what opposing wide receivers are going to do before the ball is even snapped, including UofL's corp of stud receivers in fall camp.
"I just recognize it by splits. (UofL's wide receivers) do everything by splits," said Pryor, meaning where and how the Cards' receivers line up along the line of scrimmage often tips Pryor off to what is coming. "If DeVante (Parker) is split out a certain way, he's going to run this certain route. That's just something by watching film you have to understand."
"(Pryor's) freshman year, the bullets are flying. So, the game's a little bit fast," said Louisville defensive backs coach Tommy Restivo after practice Friday. "Now he's got over 20 games under his belt, and the game's slowed down. He's starting to recognize formations and splits and stems on the receivers."
Pryor says that is something that he has vastly improved on since stepping on campus at Louisville.
"Most definitely, because my freshman year, I probably wouldn't have known none of that."
Pryor finished 2nd on the team last year with 100 tackles at free safety and had a team-best five forced fumbles to earn 2nd-team All-Big East honors as a sophomore. At strong safety, Hakeem Smith was third on the Cardinals defense with 73 tackles and will be a 4-year starter this upcoming season as a senior.
"It's pretty simple to us now," said Smith. "You have a lot of guys who know the game. It's easier on us. We don't have to force ourselves to want to come up (closer to the line of scrimmage) to try and make a play."
Head coach Charlie Strong has not been shy about calling the duo the best pair of safeties in the country. That doesn't mean there still isn't stuff left to work on though for the accomplished defensive backs.
"Hakeem and Calvin got to get better," said Restivo. "They've gotta become better tacklers, especially in the open field. That's just how it is."
Tackling has been the major point of emphasis for the Louisville defense in training camp this year. Restivo said the defensive coaches have a running tally they are posting on a board at the team facilities, with points awarded for tackles and turnovers. Forcing fumbles and interceptions are worth more points.
Restivo wouldn't say who is leading those standings, but defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said cornerback (and converted wide receiver) Charles Gaines had the most interceptions in camp as of Thursday.
Restivo also said even though improved tackling is a top priority, UofL is not tackling to the ground in practice. Many teams don't do that to help limit the number of injuries in practice.
However, the Cards will tackle to the ground Saturday when the Cards conduct a live scrimmage. From all accounts, that will go a long way in determining who will start at cornerback in the secondary alongside Pryor and Smith, as well as the rest of the starting spots up for grabs on this top-10 Louisville team.
*Injury Update* - Right tackle Abraham "Nacho" Garcia (left arm) was in full pads Friday, doing extra blocking drills after practice. He had left Monday's practice with his arm in a sling. Friday was a good sign; although, Garcia was still shaking his left arm a bit during those extra reps. He is competing with Ryan Mack to start at that right tackle spot.