Strong's Cards get ‘fresh' start this spring

Charlie Strong is eager to start spring practice later this month with a team that finished strong in 2010, but must replace 25 seniors. The second-year coach hopes his young team will answer several key questions this spring.

Charlie Strong begins his second spring practice at Louisville later this month. The second-year Louisville coach is eager to get started with a team that finished strong last season, but lost more than two dozen players to graduation.

"I'm excited because it's a new team, a new challenge, and new expectations," Strong said Tuesday. "We are starting all over again. We're starting from scratch. It's a new team. This team has to find its own identity."

The big question for Louisville this spring: What that identity will be?

Though Louisville won the Beef O'Brady's bowl game in December, the Cardinals must replace 25 seniors, including running back Bilal Powell, tight end Cameron Graham, wide receiver Doug Beaumont, linebacker Brandon Heath, cornerback Johnny Patrick and four of five starters on the offensive line.

In short, Strong has a lot of questions heading into spring practice. At the top of the list of questions for Strong:

Teddy Bridgewater will have to beat out Will Stein for the starting quarterback job this spring.
"What's going to be the make-up of this team?"

"What's going to drive this team?"

"Who are going to be the leaders?"

"Are we going to be a tough team?"

"Are we going to be a competitive team?"

Even with those questions facing his young team this spring, Strong still said, "This group now has something to build on."

Louisville should be strong on the defensive line, at linebacker and at wide receiver and running back. The major question marks are at quarterback, where true freshman Teddy Bridgewater will battle seldom-used Will Stein and sophomore Dominique Brown, offensive line and in the secondary, where Strong will be looking for two new starters at cornerback.

"We have no idea about the make-up of this team," Strong said. "That's what we're trying to get going right now. That's why it's so important to build during the off-season and so critical the kids work hard. As a coaching staff…we can't get complacent because players are going to take on the role of their coach."

Strong also announced that several players will miss spring practice with injuries; including sophomore defensive end B.J. Butler (shoulder), senior tackle Greg Scruggs (hernia), senior defensive end Bill Savoy (hernia), junior corner Darius Ashley (shoulder), sophomore wide receiver Damian Copeland and sophomore running back Jeremy Wright (hernia). Center Mario Benavides and wide receiver Andrell Smith are questionable.

"They'll be ready to go in August," Strong said.

The Cardinals will open up spring practice on March 23. Louisville also practices on March 25-26, March 28, March 30, April 1-2, April 4, April 6, April 8-9, April 11, April 13-14. The Spring Game is slated for April 15 at 7:00 p.m.

Strong Quotes

On the quarterback battle: "Will Stein, Teddy Bridgewater and Dominique Brown are the three quarterbacks that are going to have to compete. They're going to have to lead this football team. Stein knows the offense. He may not be very tall but you love his toughness. He's going to compete.

"Whoever is going to win that position is going to work hard, study and understand everything that is going on with that offense. I'm comfortable with Stein. I have no reservations about him. It's going to be hard to beat him out.

"Teddy is very mature, but everything is new to him. He's is very athletic. The thing about him is he wants to be a quarterback. He studies the game. Stein will be good for him and help him develop. He can drop back, plant his foot and throw the football."

On expectations: "You have to up the ante because we got to seven wins [last season]. We need to continue to build this program. We can't take a step backwards."

On replacing seniors: "We have a lot of skill guys coming back, but we don't want that to be the corps of the team because the toughness of your team is built up front. The corps of our team has to be our front people."

On spring goals: "The thing we need to improve on is tackling and not giving up big plays. That's what hurt us last year. Offensively, we need guys to make plays and find some depth."

On Clint Hurtt: "He wants to be recognized as a good coach. He doesn't want to be known as just a recruiter. He wanted to be here, which says a lot about this coaching staff."

On how he can improve as a head coach: "I can improve and get a lot better. It's just managing people and this whole job. It's every minute. You have to wear so many hats and you deal with a lot. Sometimes you just want to catch your breath. What's difficult is dealing with everybody. What is really good for me is I have a really good coaching staff with veterans like Vance [Bedford], Mike Sanford, Shawn Watson, and Larry Slade."

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