Spring Preview: Emerging Stars

Last spring, Hakeem Smith, the Big East Freshman of the Year, emerged as a star for Louisville. Who will rise from obscurity this spring for Charlie Strong's Cardinals? InsideTheVille.com breaks down five players who could make an impact this spring.

Emerging Stars: Could these five players impact this spring for the Cardinals?
True Freshman Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
Though Will Stein is the only quarterback on Louisville's roster who has taken a snap at the Division 1 level, all eyes will be on true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater this spring.

One of the highest rated recruits in Louisville history, the former four-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American has the size, talent and athleticism to be the starting quarterback for the Cardinals this season.

Though the 5-foot-8 Stein will begin spring practice atop the depth chart, Louisville needs Bridgewater to be as good as advertised and command the job. If the Cardinals hope to contend in the Big East and go bowling again next season, they'll need Bridgewater to lead the way for the offense.

A dual-threat quarterback who can pick defenses apart through the air or on the ground using his speed and athleticism, Bridgewater appears tailor-made for Mike Sanford's spread offense.

What Bridgewater needs to show this spring is a firm understanding of the offense and an ability to make good decisions with the ball. Bridgewater doesn't have to be the MAN for Louisville's offense to win the starting job, but he does have to be efficient and get the ball into the hands of the Cardinals playmakers where they can make plays.

Bridgewater has been described as an outstanding leader who possesses the ‘it' factor. Louisville's coaching staff will be watching to see if the 6-foot-3 phenom takes command of the Cardinals offense this spring.

True Freshman Wide Receiver Charles Gaines
This one would have gone to Michaelee Harris, but the talented redshirt freshman will sit out spring practice after missing last season with a knee injury that required surgery.

Gaines, another speedy wide receiver from Miami, enrolled early at Louisville and will participate in spring practice. With Harris and sophomore Damian Copeland sidelined with injuries, Gaines has a chance to step in and shine.

Louisville lacked a big-play threat at wide receiver last season, and the 5-11 Gaines, who runs a 4.3 forty, could provide excitement in the passing game. Gaines averaged 18 yards per reception in high school and has the ability to make defenders miss and the speed to outrun defensive backs.

Gaines has the potential to become a playmaker in Louisville's offense. He needs to prove he can get open at the college level and consistently make plays on the ball. If he does those things, Gaines could emerge as a favorite target for fellow Miami prep star Teddy Bridgewater.

Sophomore Linebacker Tarik Rollins
A former four-star prospect, Rollins transferred from Clemson and sat out last season.

Now, the 6-2, 225-pound Hollywood, Fla., product could challenge for a starting job at outside linebacker.

Considered one of the Top 150 players by ESPN, Rollins missed most of his senior year in high school with injury and rehabbed another injury last season while sitting out. If Rollins is healthy, he has the ability to make an impact for Louisville's defense.

A physical linebacker at the point of attack, Rollins is athletic and possesses range to make plays in space. The emergence of Rollins this spring will help lessen the loss of Brandon Heath in the middle level of Charlie Strong's improving defense.

Redshirt Freshman OL Jake Smith
Smith, 6-4, 320-pounds, passes the eye test.

Though he's a big body, Smith moves well for a lineman his size. A late pickup for Charlie Strong last year, Smith originally committed to Central Florida, but signed with Louisville, where he redshirted last season.

Now, Smith could be poised to challenge for a starting position on an offensive line that lost four starters, and two key reserves, to graduation. Noted as a run-blocker coming out of high school, it will be interesting to see if Smith can handle his pass protection assignments this spring.

Louisville offensive line coach Dave Borbely will be looking for several players to step forward this spring and emerge as starters. Smith is one to watch closely during spring drills.

Sophomore Linebacker Deon Rogers
One of the bigger recruiting coups for Louisville last year, Rogers was a special teams standout as a true freshman.

A former three-star Georgia commit, Rogers has the kind of speed, athleticism and range that Louisville's linebacker corps lacked last season. Blessed with 4.4 speed, Rogers spent the off-season adding strength to his 6-foot-3 frame.

Now, Rogers appears ready to emerge as more than a special team standout, and could challenge returning starter Daniel Brown for his starting job on the weakside this spring.

Rogers could be a disruptive sideline to sideline defender, and it will be interesting to see if he's ready for an expanded defensive role after learning the ropes last season.

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