CRAWFORD | Louisville opens camp under Petrino -- what to watch for
Bobby Petrino begins fall camp with some weapons on offense and defense, but where are the questions for his University of Louisville football team?
Tuesday, August 5th 2014, 1:01 pm EDT by
Tuesday, August 5th 2014, 1:16 pm EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Bobby Petrino began his first preseason camp of his second University of Louisville coaching stint today, under a bit of cover from the national spotlight trained on Valhalla Golf Course for this week's PGA Championships.
But that doesn't mean there isn't plenty to watch at the U of L practice fields. There are lots of changes in the way Petrino does things, but perhaps the most noticeable is for the players.
Charlie Strong sequestered the team at the Hilton Garden Inn adjacent to the Fairgrounds for preseason camp. Petrino won't be piling up any hotel points. He is leaving the players in their rooms and apartments as camp begins.
"So far," he says, "guys have done a great job accepting the changes."
(As an aside, there's a big change for media, too. Petrino is allowing media access to early camp sessions, and by access, I mean it. Those who were there said he allowed reporters between the practice fields and basically wherever they needed to get to find a better vantage point. Not only that, but Petrino allowed freshmen and transfers to speak with reporters this morning -- a no-no under the previous staff.)
Petrino knows he has a challenge not just on the football front, which every coach has, but in replacing a coach who was extremely popular with players.
He has some motivational cards he can play. His team begins the season ranked below a Miami team it just beat handily in the Russell Athletic Bowl -- a team it will face in the season opener, its opener in Atlantic Coast Conference competition, on national TV in front of a Labor Day Monday night audience. Doubters, it seems, are everywhere. But so are chances for a fantastic first impression.
But Petrino isn't harping so much on that as he enters camp as he is on basic execution.
"We can't carry over any points from that Miami game," Petrino said. "I wish we could. But this is a new start for both programs. I like having a big game at the beginning of the schedule. It has your players focused all summer. I'm hoping it will have us sharper once camp begins."
He'll know pretty soon. Petrino is conducting two-a-days for his coaches, but fewer for his players, as the NCAA has suggested under its new player safety guidelines. Newcomers will work out in the mornings, veterans in the afternoons.
Petrino generally does three installments of his relatively large playbook. They installed their offensive and defensive schemes over the first week of spring practice. Then did it again in the second week.
The first week of camp will be the third installation, after which they'll begin to tailor packages and plays to the team's talents, and particular personnel groups Petrino wants to use.
There's plenty going on. If you're looking for five things to watch as camp opens, here are some suggestions:
1. BACKUP QUARTERBACK.
Will Gardner may not be a known quantity nationally, but coaches at U of L -- and many fans who have seen him -- feel like they know he'll be a more-than adequate replacement for Teddy Bridgewater.
"Nobody is going to replace a special player like Teddy," Petrino said. "But Will has a lot of good players around him, and it's our job to do things that make him successful."
Petrino's biggest concern about Gardner is his health. That means he needs to get a backup quarterback ready, and nailing down that player and position will be a priority in the preseason. Petirno had a chance to look at some candidates in the spring, but has made no secret he's interested to see freshman Reggie Bonnafon out of Trinity High School in Louisville.
He says Bonnafon will get some early reps with the No. 1 offense, and will be given every chance not only to win the backup job, but compete for the starting job. An ideal outcome, he said, would be Bonnafon progressing to the point where he could take over one series in the second quarter, just as Brian Brohm did his freshman year, to gain experience and give the offense a different look.
2. OFFENSIVE LINE.
While the Cardinals are loaded at the skill positions, you're only as good as your blocking. With the program still developing depth at the quarterback position, protecting Gardner will be a huge priority. Jake Smith, who started last season at center, anchors the group, which features five returning players with starting experience, but Smith moved to guard in the spring and might stay there, depending on how competition shapes up this month.
"The question for us is how to get the best five guys together," Petrino said. "When we started out spring ball, Jake being at center coming back, we put him at center. That put a guy who had just moved over from the defensive line (Pedro Sibea) working with the ones at the guard position and he just wasn't ready for it. He wasn't ready for the get off and the speed of the game. He's really improved. I'm excited for his future. But he wasn't ready in the spring. So moving Jake allowed us to operate better on offense if we put (Tobijah) Hughley there at center, and he did a nice job and Jake did a nice job at guard. He'll work both. And we've got to find what is our best five combination. We're much better on the offensive line today than we were in spring ball. We've got guys back off of injury that didn't participate in spring. We've got Kelby Johnson, a transfer that came in. We have more depth and it'll be interesting to see how we play it out, who starts at guard and who starts at center."
3. TERRELL FLOYD, AND THE SAFETY SPOT.
Petrino loses a pair of NFL-caliber safeties who started 33 straight games together. It's a pivotal position, and one he knows will garner significant attention in fall camp. To get some experience into the mix, he moved Terrell Floyd from cornerback to safety, and it looks as if that move could stick.
"He's been working at safety and getting the ability where he can play either one," Petrino said. "He's excited about it, and I think he can do real well there. He's a really good corner. It's hard to move him on the inside because he's so experienced and really good at corner. Our best experience for his position is Andrew Johnson, who has played and made some plays and has good experience and knowledge, so I think he can step in there and play for us. We've also got some freshmen coming in who are going to have to contribute. They're going to have to help us in the secondary."
One who will not is Michael Johnson, who didn't make it to campus and will enroll in a junior college in Miami. Also Jermaine Reve, who moved to safety from cornerback, But James Sample, a transfer from Washington who spent last season in junior college, should compete to play right away.
If you want to pick one position group to watch on a trip out to practice (and Petrino has opened five days of preseason workouts to fans -- plus one scrimmage), safeties would be a good choice.
4. LORENZO MAULDIN.
The hybrid defensive lineman didn't get to work out in spring as he rehabilitated from an injury, but should be 100 percent to start the fall, and his energy and leadership on defense will be a key for this team.
Petrino identified Mauldin early as a player he needed to develop a rapport with,
"That was one of the first things that Tom and I talked about was Lorenzo, and how unique his past was and how special a young man he is," Petrino said. "He's been great. It's fun to see his attitude and how hard he works and how much energy he has. We didn't get to work with him in spring because he was only able to do non-padded stuff, so it will be fun to watch him play."
5. THE FUN STUFF.
Look, you know you're going to watch these guys anyway, so you might as well give in and watch reps at wideout and running back. The Cardinals are deep and talented at both spots.
DeVante Parker will usually make one catch every day that leaves you shaking your head. Will James Quick keep emerging? The running back competition between Dominique Brown, L.J. Scott and Michael Dyer should be interesting -- and that's not even considering the return of Corvin Lamb and the possible emergence of Brandon Radcliff.
Petrino said he was a bit surprised at Dyer's performance in the spring game.
"I'm hoping he can really help us," Petrino said. "I'm hoping he can play a big role. The first couple of weeks of spring practice he wasn't the Michael Dyer I knew, you know? He didn't have the same quickness. He was making it through about half to three-quarters of practice. And then he started getting better. In the third week he started showing some signs of that acceleration and signs of making plays out in the open, and then he had a great spring game. He was quick. He was decisive and made plays catching the ball and running with it. So I'm hopeful that's what we'll see. A lot of it is staying healthy. Our strength staff has really learned to like him a lot because he's been in there for extra work and is very committed and working hard. So if he can continue to do those things well, he's very talented."
Petrino isn't worried about a logjam at the position.
"I remember when people would ask me, 'How are you going to use Lionel Gates and Eric Shelton and Michael Bush and Kolby Smith?" Petrino said, then smiled. ". . . We found a way."
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