Injuries slow Cards to start spring practice

The biggest challenge facing Charlie Strong to start spring practice isn't how he'll replace the 25 seniors that led Louisville to its first bowl victory in four years. Instead, Strong wonders whether he will have enough players to make it through 15 practices this spring?

Louisville will begin spring practice Wednesday afternoon and Charlie Strong's Cardinals are dealing with more than two dozen injuries. Strong, who met with media members Tuesday, said that 14 players will not take part in spring practice because of various injury problems.

One of those players, redshirt freshman wide receiver Michaelee Harris, missed last season with a PCL knee injury. Harris will sit out spring practice after injuring the PCL in his opposite knee two weeks ago during winter conditioning. That injury, according to team officials, won't require surgery and the former four-star recruit is expected to play in the fall.

The other players officially listed out for spring practice, include:

CB - Darius Ashley (Shoulder)
OC - Mario Benavides (Knee)
DE - BJ Butler (Shoulder)
WR -Damian Copeland (Knee)
WR - Aaron Nance (Knee)
TE - Nate Nord (Shoulder)
OL - Chase Petersen (Knee)
LB - Tarik Rollins (Knee)
DE - Greg Scruggs (Sports hernia)
DE - William Savoy (Sports hernia)
WR - Andrell Smith (Back)
WR - Demarcus Topp (Shoulder)
RB - Jeremy Wright (Knee)

"We've had 14 surgeries," Strong said. "You look at the list and you wonder who's left to play? I'd like to know that myself. We're really thin but we're going to have to practice. That's the only way we're going to get better and improve as a football team."

A closer examination of Louisville's injury list reveals this key fact: Six of the 14 players out this spring are listed as starters on the official spring depth chart. That's not good news for a program trying to replace 25 seniors, including key performers Bilal Powell, Doug Beaumont, Johnny Patrick, Cameron Graham, plus both starting quarterbacks and four starting offensive linemen.

"There are a lot of questions that have to be answered about this football team," Strong said. "No. 1 we lost 25 seniors. The foundation has been set, but who is going to be the leader of this program?"

Compounding the problem for Strong this spring is a numbers crunch in the junior and senior classes. Louisville has only 12 seniors and 14 juniors on the official roster this season. That's a major problem Strong inherited from the former coaching staff.

Though Louisville signed the Big East's best recruiting class – and one that ranks in the national Top 25 – most of those players won't arrive at UofL until this summer, though four true freshmen – quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, wide receiver Charles Gaines, defensive back Jermaine Reve and linebacker Brandon Golson - enrolled early and will participate during spring practice.

"Usually there are 25 guys in a class, so we're missing a class," Strong said. "Depth will be an issue for us. We're really thin on the offensive and defensive line. We have some skill guys at wide receiver and the secondary and the linebacker crew is going to be fine. It's the linemen where [depth] is going to be an issue right now."

The other main storyline for Louisville this spring is whether Bridgewater, one of the most heralded recruits in UL history, can beat out Will Stein and sophomore Dominique Brown for the starting quarterback position.

"Stein has been in the program and knows what's going on," Strong said. "Now we get a young player in Teddy Bridgewater and Dominique Brown is also in the program. The thing you like is we have three competitors. Each guy has something he brings to the table."

Stein, a 5-8 junior from Trinity, is listed as the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart to open spring drills.

"I told [Bridgewater and Brown] the only way they're going to beat Stein out is outwork him because he's going to work in the classroom and on the field," Strong said. "We just need somebody to manage the game and get the ball in the playmakers hands. Teddy is an athletic guy and comes from an outstanding program."

Though there has been speculation that Brown, who was used in the Wildcat formation last season as a true freshman, might change positions, his immediate future lies at quarterback. "We only have three quarterbacks [on the team] so you can't look to move anybody right now," Strong said.

The first three practices Wednesday, Friday and Saturday will be open to the public before Strong closes practices. Louisville's spring game is set for April 15 at PJCS.

"This is the city's team," said Strong. "It's the fans football program and they'll get a chance to watch them compete and how hard they practice."

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