Spring football is underway in Louisville, as Bobby Petrino looks to return with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and a bevvy of studs. A new defensive coordinator, depth at skill positions and offensive line play will headline the top stories of U of L’s spring football in 2017. Louisville will also have open practice for fans on March 24th, March 28th and April 4th, with the Spring Game set for April 15th.
Offensive Line Questions
One of the main reasons Louisville’s 2016 season went drastically south after a 9-1 start, was due to abysmal offensive line play. Louisville gave up 22 sacks in its final three games, including 11 at Houston and eight in the bowl game against LSU. The Cards finished 126th in sacks allowed, out of 128 teams.
Simply put, for Louisville to get better, they need better offensive line play. Mike Summers, who coached the position during Petrino’s first campaign at Louisville, returns after being at Florida the last two seasons. Summers produced a number of offensive linemen at Louisville that saw significant playing time in the NFL, including All-Pro center Eric Wood.
U of L has already seen one offensive lineman (Chandler Jones) transfer, and with Kiola Mahoni and Tobijah Hughley graduated, Louisville has a big hole to address this spring. Robbie Bell and Cole Bentley are names to watch entering spring practice, while Geron Christian and Lukayus McNeil return as well. Most of Louisville’s premier offensive line prospects (ex: Toryque Bateman, Mekhi Becton) aren’t supposed to arrive until the summer, so Bell and Bentley need a good spring to potentially enter summer practice as the incumbent starters.
Running Back Battle
Among the replacements Bobby Petrino is figuring out is the running back position, after Brandon Radcliff also graduated this past season. Jeremy Smith might be the leading candidate to earn the starting spot in 2017, but expect some new faces to arrive at the position. Petrino indicated that he wants more power running in the scheme to complement Jackson’s dynamic speed on the perimeter. Enter Reggie Bonnafon, who could see some reps at running back while awaiting Colin Wilson to arrive in the summer. Dae Williams, Malik Williams and Trey Smith will also see reps to determine a backup running back entering the summer.
The tight end battle is up for grabs this season, after Cole Hikutini graduated with some stellar success in 2016. Texas A&M transfer Jordan Davis, Micky Crum and Charles Standberry will all vie for the position this offseason, and with receiver Jaylen Smith sitting out of the spring with a foot injury, each of the three players may see more targets this spring. Kemari Averett is one that could surprise some people and see a role in the offense, once he arrives in the summer.
Additionally, Louisville will need to replace Jamari Staples and James Quick. Seth Dawkins figures to be a shoe-in candidate for one of those roles, and saw his role increase as the season progressed. Dawkins has arguably the highest upside of the young recruits with exceptional catching ability and route-running, while redshirt freshmen Dez Fitzpatrick and Traveon Samuel could see an uptick in playing time in 2017.
Depth at the Linebacker Position
With Devonte Fields gone, the depth at the edge position in Louisville’s defense is going to be the main focus in Louisville’s new defense under Peter Sirmon. James Hearns returns as the team leader in sacks from 2016, and Trevon Young is finally healthy. Young sat out last season after suffering a brutal hip injury during the Music City Bowl in 2015, and figures to return to a starting role after 8.5 sacks that season. Henry Famurewa is also fully healthy after sitting out the Citrus Bowl due to a gunshot wound, but Jonathan Greenard will sit out for the spring after surgery.
Replacing Keith Kelsey will be no easy feat for the Louisville defense, but Stacy Thomas had a stellar 2016 season and figures to lead the defense. Candidates for the other middle linebacker position could be Amonte Caban, Tabarious Peterson or Gary McCrae.
New Faces at Safety
To replace Josh Harvey-Clemons, it’s expected that either Dee Smith or Khane Pass will earn a starting role, opposite senior Chucky Williams. Depth, however, will be an interesting point to watch as the spring unfolds. P.J. Blue and C.J. Avery will be some of the new faces you’ll see in the spring; Avery is one of the early enrollees in the spring, and as an Under Armour All-American in high school, figures to be one of the most highly touted freshman in the 2017 class. Blue and London Iakopo could be key reserves at the safety position, with the latter also serving a key role in Louisville’s special teams.