Cardinals Gear for Competitive Camp, Season (July 22, 10 a.m.)
The second day of the 2016 Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff showcased the Atlantic Division, and the Louisville Cardinals were first to the podium in the Charlotte Westin’s Grand Ballroom.
Louisville returns 17 starters from last season’s 8-5 squad that won six of its final seven games, and head coach Bobby Petrino believes the Cardinals have one of their deeper teams of recent years. At the same time, he knows that his team competes in arguably the toughest division in college football.
“We know it's a tough road,” Petrino said. “We've got to go through Clemson and Florida State just in our division, two teams that have been to the national championship game, and one that's wearing a ring. We know it's a great challenge, but one that we're certainly looking forward to with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement.”
Barring injury or other unforeseen developments, Louisville’s two representatives at this year’s Kickoff – sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson and senior linebacker Keith Kelsey – appear etched in stone as starters. But Petrino said competition for playing time at most spots will be keen.
“We went into spring ball with a team that worked extremely hard and has a lot of confidence,” Petrino said. “I feel like we have the depth you need to compete, and we've got experience at almost every position coming back. What the depth will do is allow us to get better in practice. We'll go out on the practice field and guys will have to work hard to maintain their spot on the depth chart or work hard to take somebody's spot on the depth chart.”
According to Petrino, setting the depth chart isn’t something that really falls under the category of a “coach’s decision.”
“I always try to tell our players that they're the ones that set the depth chart, not the coaches,” Petrino said. “How you go out and practice, what you really tell your teammates, because your teammates know who the starters are, who should be playing. This will be a very, very competitive fall for us here to see who is going to open the season as the starters.”
Jackson admitted to a few growing pains as he settles into his starting quarterback’s leadership role – and not everything has been related to practices or game days.
“I've been having a lot of training on my interviews,” he laughingly told reporters on Friday. “How am I doing? I'm doing good, all right? It's been fun. It's been a fun experience. At first I was like, ‘Media Day? I don't want to do this, Coach.’ But I'm growing, so I have to do what I have to do – responsibility.”
2015 In Review
For the first time in his six years in Louisville, Bobby Petrino did not lead the Cardinals to at least nine wins in a season...But he did lead them to an eight-win campaign, with three of the Cardinals’ five losses coming by five or fewer points, two of them — Top 10 teams Clemson and Houston — by just three points each...The Cardinals were a team of transition in 2015, a very good defensive team that was very young on the offensive line and at quarterback and searching for playmakers in the passing game...After an 0-3 start, the Cardinals finally settled on a starting quarterback — true freshman Lamar Jackson — and when its young O-Line started to mature, Louisville steadied itself, winning eight of its last 10 games, including impressive wins over SEC foes Kentucky and Texas A&M at season’s end...Jackson, a mercurial dual-threat quarterback, recorded three of the top rushing days in ACC history by a signal-caller...The WR trio of James Quick, Jaylen Smith and Jamari Staples developed into playmakers and the Cardinal defense, led by the pass rushing trio of Devonte Fields, Trevon Young and Sheldon Rankins finished 18th nationally in total defense and 9th nationally in team sacks...LB Keith Kelsey earned first-team All-ACC honors while Rankins and DT Deangelo Brown were second-team All-ACC...LB James Burgess, CB Trumaine Washington and S Josh Harvey-Clemons were third team All-ACC selections.
In contrast to a year ago, Louisville loses only seven starters, only two on offense in T Aaron Epps and G Skylar Lacy, three on defense in DEs Rankins, a first-round NFL Draft pick, and Pio Vatuvei and ILB James Burgess as well as PK John Wallace and P Ryan Johnson.
Louisville’s schedule remains formidable, with a Thursday night road trip to Houston, a home game with Kentucky and an away contest at Marshall, in addition to their always-difficult Atlantic Division foes.
With nine starters returning on offense, led by Jackson, Louisville appears poised to be much improved in 2016...Three of five starters on the offensive line return, led by T Geron Christian and including G Lukayus McNeil and C Tobijah Hughley....Jackson will have a variety of weapons to use, led by Quick (16.0 avg.) and Staples (17.2) who both have the ability to stretch the field in the passing game...Improved consistency will be the key, both offensively where Jackson will need to improve on his 54.7 percent passing accuracy, and in the defensive secondary where CBs Shaq Wiggins and Washington and safeties Harvey-Clemons and Chucky Williams earned valuable experience last fall...Jackson, who ran for 960 yards and 11 scores, heads an improved Cardinal ground game that also includes RB Brandon Radcliff (634 yards), Jeremy Smith and L.J. Scott...The Cardinals also have a strong TE corps, led by Cole Hikutini, but also including Micky Crum, Charles Standberry and Keith Towbridge...Another weapon is versatile Reggie Bonnafon, who could see action at QB, RB or WR...Defensively, Fields, who led the nation in tackles for loss per game (1.73) and was 10th nationally in sacks per game looks to be a candidate for defensive Player of the Year honors....He will lead a linebacker corps that should be one of the best in the nation and will include Young outside and Kelsey inside...Replacements will have to be found upfront at DE where Johnny Richardson, Drew Bailey, Chris Williams and G.G. Robinson are competing for playing time with DeAngelo Brown returning at NT...Junior Stacy Thomas emerged from spring as the leader at the open ILB spot and redshirt freshman Jonathan Greenard opened some eyes at OLB.
Numbers & Notes
1.73 - Louisville OLB Devonte Fields led the nation in tackles for loss per game, with 22.5 in 13 games, an average of 1.73 TFLs per game.
18.5 - Fields and fellow OLB Trevon Young combined for 18.5 QB sacks last fall. Fields had 11.0, while Young added 7.5.
26.8 - Rising sophomore Traveon Samuel established himself as a threat in the return game, averaging 26.8 yards on 12 kickoff returns, including a 100-yard romp for a score against Clemson.
9.09 - Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who knotched the 100th win of his career in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, has averaged 9.09 wins per year in his 11 years as a college head coach. That average ranks him 10th nationally among active FBS head coaches with at least five full years of experience. Petrino’s career winning percentage (.719) ranks 11th.
226 - Louisville QB Lamar Jackson set an ACC record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game, when the then true freshman ran for 226 yards on 22 carries and 2 TDs in the Cardinals’ Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. In his first year in college football Jackson recorded three of the top five rushing games by a QB in ACC history.