LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- There are only 192 days until Super Bowl LVI, which is booked for Feb. 13 in lovely Inglewood, California. That countdown translates to this reminder:
The NFL exhibition season begins Thursday night with the Hall of Fame game between Pittsburgh and Dallas, which airs on WDRB at 8 p.m.
Dallas will be represented by Quinton Bohanna and Kelvin Joseph (Kentucky) and Brandon Knight (Indiana). Pittsburgh has local connections with Benny Snell, Calvin Taylor, Jamar Watson and T.J. Carter (UK); Tegray Scales (IU) and Jordan Berry (Eastern Kentucky).
No University of Louisville players — on day one.
That will change. By my count, 18 former Cardinals are in NFL camps trying to hold spots in the league.
The list includes rookies trying to make their way as undrafted free agents like linebacker Dorian Etheridge (Falcons) and defensive tackle Jared Goldwire (Chargers) as well as former Charlie Strong recruits like linebacker James Burgess (49ers) and Sheldon Rankins (Jets).
Here are the five most intriguing Cardinal connections:
1. Dave Ragone, Falcons offensive coordinator: As I wrote earlier this summer, Ragone took the next step toward becoming an NFL head coach when he left the Bears to develop the game plan for the Falcons, who ranked 18th in the league in total offense last season.
In Atlanta, Ragone will enjoy a quarterback upgrade as he moves from Mitchell Trubisky to former MVP Matt Ryan. But the Falcons lost receiver Julio Jones and will try to spotlight Florida tight end Kyle Pitts, their top draft pick, in their offense.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about new OC Dave Ragone and specifically Calvin Ridley: they’re consistently smiling in passing and cutting it up with each other when there’s a down moment. Chemistry matters. Looks like it’s there early. #Falcons pic.twitter.com/zDi5L5lHJ0— Maria Martin (@Ria_Martin) July 31, 2021
The Falcons won only 11 games the last two seasons, four in 2020, a perfect spot to make a dazzling first impression.
2. Teddy Bridgewater, Broncos quarterback: Denver is Bridgewater’s fourth team in five seasons. He has moved from the Vikings to the Saints to the Panthers to the shadow John Elway.
Although Bridgewater completed nearly 70% of his throws last season, the Panthers opted to move forward with Jets’ castoff Sam Darnold at quarterback. Hmmm.
Bridgewater threw only 15 touchdowns passes with 11 interceptions while taking 31 sacks. Questions about his health and arm strength have followed him to Denver, where Bridgewater must unseat returning starter Drew Lock for the starting job. The Broncos finished last in the AFC West last season.
.@JamesPalmerTV: How the battle between Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater for the Broncos' starting QB job could have a profound impact on the franchise for years to comehttps://t.co/sq7DWtuM8B pic.twitter.com/AlIsE205eQ— Around The NFL (@AroundTheNFL) August 4, 2021
3. Charlie Strong, Jaguars, assistant head coach: The Jaguars are Strong’s fourth stop since he left a really good thing at U of L for Texas after the 2013 season.
The Longhorns fired him after three seasons, which led to another firing after three seasons at South Florida, which led to one season as a defensive analyst under Nick Saban at Alabama. Saban is the go-to guy for guys trying to find their coaching mojo again.
Now Strong is back with his friend and mentor, former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, as they try to prove they can win in the NFL the way they won at the University of Florida.
Strong, who turned 61 on Tuesday, has never coached in the NFL. He has been assigned the inside linebackers in Jacksonville.
4. Javian Hawkins, Falcons, running back: Former U of L receiver Tutu Atwell figures to have a place with the Los Angeles Rams. They invested a second-round draft choice in him.
I expect Dez Fitzpatrick, another former Cards’ receiver, to make it in Tennessee. They selected him with a fourth-round pick.
After running for 2,347 yards the last two seasons, Hawkins will try to make the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent.
Part of that reflects the diminished value of running backs in the NFL. Hawkins must also prove he can hold up at 5 feet 9 inches tall and 195 pounds.
Early reports from Falcons’ training camp are encouraging with Hawkins earning the nickname, “Little Hawk.” New Falcons’ head coach said Hawkins was doing “good things” in camp.
5. Lamar Jackson, Ravens quarterback: Last on this list, Jackson is always on the marquee among former Cards in the league, even as he battled COVID-19 again.
Jackson’s completion percentage, touchdown passes and rushing yardage all declined last season. The Ravens also backtracked from 14 wins to 11.
As the league’s 2019 MVP, Jackson has established himself as the most entertaining player in the game. What he must do next is prove he can direct Baltimore into the Super Bowl. There are skeptics.
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