CRAWFORD | Pass moves into the spotlight, and under a microscope - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Pass moves into the spotlight, and under a microscope, for Louisville's spring game

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WDRB photo by Eric Crawford WDRB photo by Eric Crawford

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – If spring won’t come to your spring game, then you move the game to the spring. University of Louisville coach Bobby Petrino called an audible to move the Cardinals’ annual spring game to Friday night at 7:30, hoping to avoid forecasted thunderstorms on Saturday.

That should leave the skies clear for redshirt sophomore quarterback Jawon “Puma” Pass, who steps into the Heisman-shaped shoes of Lamar Jackson to slip behind the wheel of Petrino’s offense.

The differences in style and ability will be among the most scrutinized elements of the scrimmage. How pass handles himself in the huddle. How he interacts with teammates. His arm strength, accuracy, footwork, presence in the pocket, you name it.

Even the way he walks the hallways of Louisville’s football facility have been under Petrino’s watchful gaze this spring, as the coach has asked him to project more urgency in all of his football activity.

“We had meetings this morning at 7 o’clock and I was watching him and timing him walking down the hallway and, he’s picked it up a little bit, but not quite where we need to be yet,” Petrino said, with a smile. “I always remind him, guys that walk fast know where they’re going. Somebody told me that a long, long time ago. I don’t know if it’s true or not. . . . But he has really concentrated on the field on taking over the leadership, on being intense, getting the huddle set, getting out of the huddle, and when we do go no huddle, watching his responsibility of getting guys to the ball and being quicker with everything he does.”

Pass is a laid-back guy. He speaks slowly, with a southern accent, and has shown great patience while waiting his turn behind Jackson. When he’s gotten a chance to play, he has shown flashes of the promise that made him a coveted recruit.

He has been a quick study when it comes to the Louisville offense, Petrino says. He can run the same read-option game Jackson ran at Louisville, but lacks the Heisman winner’s explosiveness and ability to cut so quickly. But that’s not his primary game. Pass is a pocket passer. He’s 6-4, 225, and has had two years to learn under Petrino.

The coach is looking forward to seeing Pass, and his backup, Malik Cunningham, in front of a live crowd.

“To have a real-game situation, I think, I something that he really needs, and Malik too,” Petrino said. “Maybe not so much about the crowd, but the fact that it’s a real scrimmage, a real game-type play. You’ve got the clock working, you’ve got the 40-second clock working, you know, when you’re in the Trager Center, it’s more of a scrimmage. If we just the game on Saturday and the lightning comes like they told us it’s going to come, and all of a sudden we shut down the scrimmage and just go inside, then everybody’s energy would go down.”

Petrino said he’s seen both Pass and Cunningham do a better job of reading defenses in spring workouts, but there’s still work to do.

“The biggest thing is being able to go through your progressions and understand between man coverage and zone coverage,” he said. “But it’s really the linebackers that tell you man or zone. If he opens his hips and drops out of there you understand that it’s zone coverage. If he comes downhill at a 45-degree angle to cover the running back then it has to click in that it’s man coverage right away. They’ve had some really good days, knowing that, and they’ve struggled sometimes knowing it. Both of them do a really good job with their footwork and getting set and being where they need to be depth wise. We do need to work on timing in our passing game, with the receivers and the quarterbacks and getting the ball out on time.”

Of course, there’s more than the quarterback position to keep an eye on. On defense, there’s a slew of new faces, or old faces in new slots, under a new defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder. From the other side of the field, Petrino said he thinks the defense has had a productive spring as it acclimates to what VanGorder wants to do.

“I think they’re coming along, you know,” Petrino said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but I think we’re going to be more physical up front, Dorian Etheridge has done a really nice job of kind of taking over and settling in as the leader of the group. We’ve got two guys really competing at the will linebacker spots, P.J. Blue and C.J. Avery have both shown the ability to run and tackle and understand the concepts of the defense. . . . But we’re still going to need some people to come in and play right away for us, too.”

Offensively, Petrino says the competition at the running back spot has been spirited. After three years of Jackson handling the bulk of the running duties, Petrino expects the running back position to reclaim that load this season.

“I’m not sure who’s going to be the top rusher, but I would think it would be a running back this year, no question about that,” Petrino said. “I think we’ve got a lot to find out when we come back in the fall. You’ve got Dae Williams that’s going to be competing for it. Colin Wilson is going to be competing for it. Tre Smith has had a really good spring and shown the ability to really run well inside and break tackles. He’s done a really good job for us. Tobias Little is a guy who is 250 pounds that’s shown the ability to break tackles and has the speed to go all the way. All of them catch the ball really well out of the backfield. We’ve also got two guys coming in that I really like that are fast and explosive, but as we know, it’s a lot to learn as a true freshman. But that core group right there, we’ve got to see who is going to take over, who is going to be the go-to guy.”

Petrino said he has structured the game, as much as possible, with starters against starters and second-team against second-team where possible. The first half will feature regular timing, with the potential for a running clock in the second half. The game won’t have kickoffs, and punts will not be “live.”

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