The University of Louisville football team will conduct its annual Wendys Wonderful Kids Spring Game on Friday, April 13 at 7:30p.m. inside Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium. Admission to the game is FREE.
Parking lots will open at 2:30 p.m. and gates open at 6:30 p.m. Drink specials will be available on the Norton Healthcare Terrace for only $3. StreetFest will open at 5:30.
All of the events and fan-friendly entertainment is awesome but I’m just here for some football. This will be your first and last look at the 2018-2019 edition of the Louisville football team until probably August. Because the public has not been allowed to any of the spring practices, you will have to watch closely for the answers to all your questions and try to take in as much as you can. Here are the top 10 things that I will be looking for or paying attention to…
1.) The Defense – For the first time in quite a while, we will be going into the season without the offensive line being the biggest question mark. The defense will probably be the biggest concern for almost every fan. With the early departure of Jaire Alexander coupled with the veterans who graduated and the 3rd defensive coordinator in 3 years, there are some reasons for concern. I think what I want to see most is the style of play that the new defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder, has implemented. I have talked to several players and they all have told me that they will be much more aggressive this year and will be attacking the ball. I don’t expect them to show too much of that in the spring game for the sake of injuries but we can at least see how he lines them up (4-3 or 3-4). All of the players seem to like BVG and really respect him based on his coaching background. I expect the defense to be pretty solid this season.
2.) The QB’s – I don’t really need to see much out of Jawon Pass in this game. I know what he can do. I would like to see him throw a few deep balls just because he didn’t really get the chance to do that last season. What I really want to see is Malik Cunningham. The 6’1″ redshirt freshman comes with a lot of hype pertaining to his running ability. During his recruitment, I heard one scout say, “He will make you forget all about Lamar Jackson.” While I think that is a huge exaggeration, the kid is talented. I just want to see something from him in case Jawon gets injured, because he is the next man up.
3.) Injuries – I am curious to see who plays and who doesn’t. I have not been given an injury report so I am unaware of the overall health of this team. What I can tell you is that Jaylen Smith was wearing a cast on his left hand during pro day so I assume he will not play. I have seen Dae Williams twice this month and both times he was wearing a boot on his left foot. I was told he should be good to go by June – so expect to see Trey Smith get a lot of carries. Malik Staples was also seen wearing a walking boot on his left foot but no word on injury or an expected return date. I do know that he will be playing running back this season instead of safety. There is another receiver that was injured who said he will be ready in June. I will be scanning the sidelines to see who is in street clothes. I don’t believe there are any really major injuries. Hopefully we can enter the season at 100% healthy.
4.) C.J. Avery – I have said it before but I think this kid is going to be special. Last season, the defensive coordinator said he wanted to use C.J. at the “star” or “roover” position. A similar position that Josh Harvey-Clemons played. I think that BVG will use C.J. as more of a traditional linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. I know that C.J. is very talented and is physically ready to be a star. I believe he will be starting at linebacker this season and I expect big things from him. I’ll be keeping an eye on him during the spring game.
5.) The Freshman – Last season, Dorian Etheridge was the breakout freshman. I don’t think many people expected him to be that good, that fast. Everyone knew he was talented but, wow! This year there are eight freshman who enrolled at UofL in January and were ready to compete in spring practice. That extra practice is huge and I’m curious to see how many of those eight guys get reps in the spring game. I’m especially curious about Robert Hicks – He looks like he is ready to start right away. Don’t be surprised if you see Etheridge, Avery and Hicks as your starting linebackers vs Alabama. I am also excited to see just how electric Tutu Atwell is.
6.) The WR’s – Louisville has 3 receivers returning that all had at least 600 yards receiving last season. Smith, Fitzpatrick and Dawkins are going to be your studs but it’s the next set of guys that I want to watch at the spring game. Last year Jaylen Smith was hurt and didn’t play. Dez Fitzpatrick took advantage of the extra reps in the spring game and let everyone know he was for real. With Jaylen potentially missing the game again this year, who will be the guy to step up and take advantage of the opportunity? I’m looking at guys like Corey Reed, Josh Johnson, Emonee Spence and Devante Peete (if healthy).
7.) The Newcomers – This group will be very interesting to watch. There are several guys that transferred in and had to sit out last year. I’m sure they are dying to get out on the field. Due to graduation, these guys will actually be counted on to step in and contribute right away. They include, redshirt sophomore cornerback Rodjay Burns, redshirt junior cornerback P.J. Mbanasor and redshirt junior linebacker Boosie Whitlow.
8.)Michael Boykin – Most of you have heard his name. He has been the most talked about recruit over the last 2 years. After a stint at junior college, he is finally a Cardinal. An impressive Cardinal, physically speaking. Dude is a beast. I’m want to see if he lines up at defensive end or tackle. He can play both and he can play both very well. I’m just excited to see him finally on the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
9.) Coaching Staff – In a scrimmage, it’s hard to tell just how good the offense or defense really is. The coaches call plays not just to get first downs but sometimes just to work on a certain situation or they call a play to put a player in a position to make a decision just to see what he will decide. After every play I turn my attention to the coaches to see if they are happy with the play or to see if they use it as a teaching moment. The coaches expressions tell a lot about the development of the team at this point of the spring.
10.) Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium Expansion – I have been lucky enough to be able to get into the stadium periodically to see the progression of the expansion. But that doesn’t mean I won’t get chills while I sit there and gaze on the new renovations. I’ll sit there and think back to the days of old Cardinal stadium and appreciate how far this program has come and how bright the future is. I know it’s just some concrete but it still gives me a great sense of pride.
As Always, GO CARDS!