LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - On Thursday, Louisville Cardinals head football coach Bobby Petrino spent some time with WDRB's John Lewis to discuss the upcoming 2016 campaign. Petrino talks about the progression of quarterback Lamar Jackson, the role of Reggie Bonnafon and the return of linebacker Devonte Fields, who opted to come back to U of L rather than make himself eligible for the NFL Draft.
Lewis: We know the strengths of this team already with as much as you have returning. What might be something that's underestimated about this team coming into the 2016 season?
Petrino: I would look at our leadership. Guys from within the team are demanding and holding everybody accountable to each other. I'm excited about that. I think anytime you have great leadership from within the team, you have a chance to have a special team. I'm fired up to see how it all plays out.
Lewis: You gotta be fired up with 10 returning starters on offense and 8 returning starters on defense.
Petrino: Yeah, there's no question the experience factor is something we're looking to build on. Last year, we were very, very young. We certainly had our struggles early in the season. They showed a great attitude and willingness to work hard and get better as the year went on and we finished strong. So we just have to try to build off how we finished last year.
Lewis: And you talk about young, and I guess the X factor last year was (then freshman quarterback) Lamar Jackson. We didn't really know what we were going to see out there. What kind of step do you think that he takes from his freshman year to his sophomore year?
Petrino: I expect a lot of improvement out of him. It shows how hard he worked from the end of the Kentucky game to the bowl game and how much he improved in his knowledge and his technique throwing the football, how well he did in spring ball and how much he was willing to work and put into it. So he's got the work ethic and he's working hard on his technique and fundamentals to be an accurate and consistent passer. We all know what he can do with his legs and how well he can run with the ball.
Lewis: How big was it for (linebacker) Devonte Fields to come on later in the season (and) then decide to come back this year?
Petrino: I think it was the right decision for him and obviously something we're excited about because he's such a great player. You know, give him another year to develop his skills and understand the game of football better, work at getting his degree completed, you know, and he's healthy now. A year ago he came in in August and was completely out of shape. When you're not working out for the team, it's amazing how much difference there really is. So it took him awhile. It took him awhile to get used to it. It took him awhile to get healthy but now he should be full speed from day one and I expect him to have a very good and productive senior year.
Lewis: Historically in your system, the tight ends play a really big role. A lot of other teams may say "this guy's a fourth string tight end" but in your system, a fourth string tight end could be productive.
Petrino: Yeah, we got a good crew. It's going to be great competition. They'll make each other better. One thing that I don't do and our coaches don't do is get caught up on the depth chart and where somebody's at because, the way I look at it, they have an opportunity each day to go out and change the depth chart. The players set the depth chart, not the coaches. But it's a good group. You got Keith Towbridge coming back for his senior year. He's healthy now. He's big and strong. Cole Hikutini showed his ability to make plays last year--to run and catch the ball. Charles Standberry is bigger and stronger and moved back full time to that position. He had a really good spring. Micky Crum is a young man that is very, very talented, has the ability to run and catch the ball and run after the catch and be a good blocker for us. The four of them should make each other better.
Lewis: How about the role of Reggie Bonnafon? It seems like it's shifted because he can do almost everything. What is his role or do you try to put a label on him before the season?
Petrino: We brought Lonnie Galloway in here as our wide receiver coach and co-offensive coordinator and really, from the first day he was here, he was like "Coach, give me Reggie full time."
Lewis: I think you had a lot of coaches saying "give me this guy"
Petrino: No doubt. So what we ended up doing, was the last two weeks of spring ball, we moved him to receiver to allow him the opportunity to perfect his skills and really understand the position. And he knew the concepts and he knew what to do because he was playing quarterback and he understood the whole picture. But now, he gets to really refine the details and techniques involved in it. He's got a great teacher and coach in Lonnie. So we put him there. Now, we're still going to hand him the ball and we're going to let him do some other things, but mainly he's a full time wide receiver.
Lewis: You might have him returning punts and kicks
Petrino: He can do that pretty good, too.
Lewis: When you go down to ACC Media Days there's going to be the deal with "where does UofL fit into the ACC (this year)." You guys obviously did pretty well (last year). Projections now are third in the Atlantic Division. Do you even look at that?
Petrino: No, not at all. We understand that the division goes through Clemson and Florida State. They're two teams that have been to the national championship game. Both are really quality programs and we've got to find a way to beat them on the field. But there's a lot of other good teams, too. That's the thing about being in a conference like the ACC, you have to come to play each week because every team is going to have really good players and be very well coached. So, you just gotta focus on one practice at a time, getting better, and then when we get to the season, you know, winning that game that you're playing that week.
Lewis: Does having ACC opponents so early in the schedule change your approach at all?
Petrino: I really look at the early part of the season and really try to make sure that we're in game shape for the first game and for the first part of the year, that we have the ability to develop depth. Most of these games are going to be fourth quarter games, so we've gotta be in great condition. We've gotta be able to have depth so you can rotate some guys in, particularly on the defensive line so that we can be fresh and playing our best football in the fourth quarter.
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