As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.
Team: Louisville Cardinals
Spring Practice Start Date: March 20
Spring Game Date:
The big news for the Cardinals so far this offseason? Head coach Charlie Strong opted to return to the team despite SEC overtures, and they will opt to sell $1 beers during April’s spring football game. But to focus on those items is to miss the bigger point of what’s going on at Louisville. U of L has become one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country, and sees its institutional stature growing by the second. It’s why they received an invite to the ACC back in November, and why the Cardinals’ huge upset of Florida in the Sugar Bowl meant so much to the league. And it’s why now, after a breakout sophomore season, QB Teddy Bridgewater looks poised for a run at a top-five ranking and a Heisman campaign. Even with all that hype though, there’s still plenty to do this spring.
While Bridgewater’s hold on his job and the Louisville playbook are both about as strong as they come, the rest of the play-making positions on offense are not nearly as solid. At running back, both proven options — Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright — will not be present for spring practice. The offense isn’t slated to move on without them, but at the same time, things can’t just wait for them either. Dominique Brown and Corvin Lamb will take on the majority of the carries, and if things remain unsettled with the more veteran backs come July, there could be a shake-up in the backfield. In terms of receivers, it’s clear which players will be lining up as starters, but Bridgewater may take spring to really figure out who his primary target(s) is/are. DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland and Eli Rogers all figure into the plans, but it’s anyone’s guess who leads the pack (though my money’s on Parker).
Defensively, the Cardinals bring back virtually everyone from last year’s group that only allowed 23.8 points per game (36th in the country) and ranked 23rd in total defense (340 yards allowed per game), while managing to hold the Gators to just 286 yards in the Sugar Bowl. Over the past three years, D-coordinator Vance Bedford’s unit has been ranked 23rd, 23rd and 14th in total defense. But rather than a mark of decline, it’s a mark of consistency. He’s seen impressive effort from this defense year-in and year-out, and if there’s anything he’s looking for out of them this spring, it’ll be a commitment to the same level of dedication. With a downturn in competition in the Big East over the past few years (losing West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh), things may look simpler on paper, but make no mistake, the Cardinals still have plenty of competition this season. Expect seniors like Hakeem Smith and Preston Brown to set the tone for a workman-like spring, en route to an impressive fall.
For a team that ended the year ranked 13th in the nation and figures to be in the top 10 come this fall, it still looks as if Louisville has something to prove — which is in no way a bad thing. Charlie Strong’s return shows he believes in this group, and that may be all they’ll need, even if no one else outside those walls are on board. Expect spring practices to lean on that message in what may be the last go-around for a lot of the program’s key figures, from coaches to players.