It is already that time of year again. Spring football begins today, and Bobby Petrino met with the media on Monday to talk about the state of the team. The Cards are in the Sweet 16 (men and women) and spring football is starting. This is a very fun time!
I’m excited to get started tomorrow. I’ve certainly been looking forward to this. It’s a new team. We have a lot of new working parts, so it will be a lot of fun to see how it all goes together, who wins competition for positions. The thing we always understand is that spring football is, number one, about our players getting better at their craft and working hard on their technique and fundamentals, working hard to become experts about what they do.
It’s also about the depth chart and the competition for spots, moving up, moving down, keeping your spot, taking somebody else’s. In spring ball, you get to look at different guys in different positions and different things they do well. So that will be exciting for us. And then it’s also part of coming together as a new team, setting the standards of how we’re going to work, who are the leaders going to be and getting your teammates to trust you as an individual that you’re going to do your part, compete, do your job. So all those things are fun when you get to spring ball.
I think one thing that makes this exciting for me is there are so many open positions. We had a very heavy senior class last year; 11 of those guys went to the combine and we only have 10 seniors coming back that are on scholarship, so it’s a young group and it will be fun to see how it all plays out. Certainly, we’ll have a lot of competition.
I’d like to congratulate Coach Pitino on the big win last night. That was exciting to watch and we stayed up late. But what a great job of competing by his players and I’m excited to watch Coach Walz tonight and see if both of them go back to the Sweet 16. I think our players are excited to get out on the field.
We had a great winter, they did a great job in the weight room getting stronger, getting thinner or getting bigger. I liked the way we tested. One of the things that’s important to me in their testing is to watch their competitiveness and seeing if they get their all-time best, and we had a lot of guys that really did that. And a some of them even surprised themselves on how well they did. That’s all part of putting a team together. This phase now is getting on the field and showing how much they learned about football in the offseason and working hard at their craft. But we are going to continue to work hard in the weight room. I think that’s something we’ve always done. We’re not going to think about maintaining, we’re going to think of continuing to get stronger in these coming weeks.
On the competitions at certain positions
There’s a lot. When you look on the offensive side of the ball, obviously the biggest one is the quarterback position. Unfortunately, Will Gardner will not go in spring ball, but you’ve got Reggie (Bonnafon) and Kyle (Bolin) coming back, who both played real well at times last year. Then Tyler Ferguson will be in the mix, the transfer from Penn State, who has a big arm. Has a lot to learn about playing the position, but can really make the throws you need to make. So I think it will be great to get them all in there and get reps and see how they do.
We lost a lot of senior receivers, so obviously there’ll be great competition there. It’s a good-looking group when you look over all the size and speed. We’re going to look a lot different out there because we’re a lot bigger; hopefully, our speed shows up. Obviously, a big guy to replace with Parker gone. That’s going to be hard to do with one person, so hopefully we can do it with the group. But we do have some talented guys.
On the offensive line, we lost three senior starters, so that’s going to be great competition there. Defensive side of the ball, I think we’re pretty sturdy up front with the returners and the experience. They’ll probably be ahead of the offensive line. We’ve got some really good players coming back with (Sheldon) Rankins and Pio (Vatuvei) and (DeAngelo) Brown. I’m excited to see (Johnny) Richardson there because he’s a very, very talented young man who just keeps getting bigger and faster.
Our linebacking group is going to have a lot of experience. Burgess will be limited a little bit, although he’ll get a lot of work in, but he had off-season surgery on his wrist so some of the live contact he won’t be a part of. Certainly, Keith Kelsey coming back and I’ll be excited to see how Stacey Thomas does in there, a guy that’s a really smart football player, needs a little more experience. Keith Brown’s going to work on the outside this spring, so that will be a little new to him. But he’s a very good football player. Nick Dawson’s going to be a little bit limited too. He will be out there doing some things, but not live contact.
The secondary, we’re going to have to rebuild again like we did last year. But we do have guys that redshirted that are very capable and very experienced in Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. I’m excited to see Chucky Williams; I think he’s had a great offseason. In the last half of last season last year, he kept getting better in practice and he’s stronger and bigger now. We took (Cornelius) Sturghill and moved him from wide receiver to corner, then when we went through testing I got every offensive coach mad at me for doing it because he was one of our fastest and strongest skill guys. Then Jaire Alexander, a new freshman corner, certainly has the speed and ability to compete for playing time, along with the freshmen we had last year. So I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
On Georgia transfer Josh Harvey-Clemons
Yeah, hopefully he can (have an immediate impact). And the reason I think he can do that is he was with us all last year. He lined up in practice and practiced every week. He took a lot of reps with the twos (second string), played not only safety but the nickel position and he’s very big and physical. I always like that length. I look at it on the offensive side and it’s hard on the quarterbacks to throw it against the tall, long guys. You look back on guys like Brandon Johnson and Abe Brown and how difficult they made passing lanes. I think we’re going to see that with Josh, and he can catch the ball. One of the things that impressed me was the interceptions he got throughout his time on the scout team or the extra practices we do, and over bowl week preparations he got a lot of interceptions.
Could this secondary be better than last year?
Yeah, we’ve got to wait and see. We got a lot of production out of those guys last year and I’m not sure anyone’s going to get 14 picks for us. That’s a pretty amazing feat, but if we’d been sitting here a year ago and you told me Holliman would get 14 I don’t know if I’d believed you on that either. So it will be exciting to see how it all plays out.
Is Louisville rebuilding this year?
I’ve never used the term rebuilding. I think what it is is an opportunity for a lot of guys to step up and get their opportunity to go out and play. I think it’s fun because there’s literally going to be a lot of competition. I told the players that last night when they got back from spring break. Obviously, there are some spots where guys should not get beat out, guys that have played, had a lot of production. But really it’s up to them to make sure they don’t get beat out. Other than that, it’s pretty wide open.
More on spring position races
We don’t really go into it saying that, ‘hey, after spring ball I want to know this or I want to know that.’ What we do is play it one day at a time and we’re going to give them all an opportunity to step into that number one huddle and see how they take charge. Or how they handle the tempo of no-huddle. I’ve always felt like the number one thing we have to do is put pressure on them in practice and see how they handle the pressure and make them uncomfortable, put them in tough situations and see which one of them steps forward.
On Penn State transfer QB Tyler Ferguson
Tyler’s a pretty good student of the game and I think his experience at Penn State helped him because they had a passing game offense and they went through read progressions and did a number of the things we do. So that certainly helped him. But he’ll be a little bit behind the others simply because of the reps and the speed of it all. We do practice those guys a lot during the season. We stay out on Sunday nights and work them hard then. They got a lot of reps in the bowl preparation, so he has video he’s been studying of himself running the plays throughout the winter and that helps a lot.
On opener vs. Auburn
We’ve done our computer breakdowns and getting what games we’re going to see. It’s kind of a unique opening game because you’ve got to look at Auburn’s defense and personnel and Florida’s defensive schemes and figure out what Will (Muschamp) is going to do, what they’re not going to do, so it’s an interesting opening game to prepare for. Then obviously our defense working on Gus’ offense and what they’ve done. We’ve had a lot of experience playing against each other between Todd and myself and what they do. So the defense gets a little bit ahead of the offense in understanding what we expect them to do. Obviously, in the first game they’re always going to do something different then you expect.
It’s a pretty heavy front-loaded schedule when you look at coming right out of the gate with Auburn, Houston and then a Thursday night game against Clemson. So we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us after August also.
On how far ahead they scout
We usually prepare for three games that are early in the schedule and then one opponent that we say, hey we need to find a way to beat these guys. So we usually work on four teams in the offseason.
On Texas A&M transfer JaQuay Williams
He’s really a talented guy. He’s big and strong and had one of the best testing days that a wide receiver has had in a long time when you put together the whole package of his upper body and lower body strength. He did a great job for us in practice last year, made great catches, so I anticipate him to come out and just take off and go. But he has a lot of competition.
I’m excited to see Jamari Staples, who’s a transfer from UAB who played for Garrick in this offense, so he knows the offense coming in, he’s been productive, he’s tall and fast. One of the things that’s been impressive with him is how well he can elevate and jump in the air. Quick’s going to work in the slot and outside. Will be fun to see how he handles that.
One of the things that’s different between playing inside and outside is a lot of times you have to make catches where you don’t see the ball released from the quarterback’s hand. You have to pick the ball up along the way — a third of the way, half the way or two-thirds of the way. Some guys can do that and some guys can’t, so it will be interesting to see how he does that. He did play inside in our five wide package last year and was very productive, so hopefully it’s an easy transition for him.
(Javonte) Bagley’s a young man who is big and fast. All last year we were trying to get him involved and it took him awhile to learn, so if he can pick up the schemes, his talent is very, very good. Paul Harris, who transferred in, has a lot of ability, a lot of talent. Be fun to see how quickly he learns and gets in the competition for starting or backup reps.
Gio (Pascascio) was here last year, did a great job for us on special teams and then broke his hand in a collision with (Charles) Gaines where one of them was supposed to pull off. Both of them weren’t supposed to block the punt, but we didn’t get one of them to pull off like we did in practice and that’s what you do in practice, you go through it and say, ‘Look, if you both rush one of you is going to get hurt.’ And so one of them was responsible to pull off and didn’t do it. So that hurt Gio and set him back and it was a bad break. He shattered a couple bones in his hand, so it will be interesting to see how he catches the ball, but he’s the fastest of the whole group.
(Charles) Stanberry’s going to play both the slot receiver and tight end. So he’ll be able to do both. He’s worked strictly at the slot in all the winter drills trying to get him ready to do both.
One of the biggest surprises to me has been Cole Hikutini, a guy we liked a lot, we got on late, one of our ex-players put us onto him, we were able to get him signed and man is he talented. He’s big and fast and it will be fun to see him run and catch the ball at tight end. I think (Keith) Towbridge is going to be a lot better. He’s kind of changed his body, got rid of some of the body fat. He’s the same weight, but he’s stronger and thinner as far as his percent of body fat and he’s running better and he’s got a lot of experience, so I like that.
And then we expect Micky Crum to be in the mix, a guy we liked last year. We thought early in camp he would contribute, but then it got to be a little too much for him and we redshirted him, but he’s certainly very talented.
How open are the defensive back spots?
Well, I think when you look at it you say you’d like to see Chucky Williams and Jarrod Barnes compete for the free safety spot. Like I said, Chucky really improved as the season when on last year. You could see his confidence get better, he has range, he can play the ball in the air, he has good hands, can catch it and he’s been carrying himself a little bit different. He carries himself as if he expects to start, where a year ago he wasn’t as confident as you need to be.
We moved (Zykiesis) Cannon inside, who’s a guy that can really run. He’s strong, he’s physical and I think what we’re going to like what we see from him inside. Barnes really knows the scheme, got good instincts and he wants to compete and has a lot of drive to get there.
On keeping his coordinators
It just allows us to get better quicker and the carryover with the terminology and schemes. I think it’s invaluable that we keep the continuity. We’ve got every coach back that was with us last year, so we should get better quicker.
Other spring injuries
We’ve got a few of them. Corvin Lamb won’t be able to go, Jermaine Reve, Trevon Young, who played all year with a back injury and he got it fixed in the offseason and he’s doing great. He’s a guy we expect to compete to help us rush the passer. And then Nick Dawson is a little limited, as well as (James) Burgess.