Sizing up the Cardinals

With Louisville's season-opener against Murray State less than a week away, sizes up Charlie Strong's Cardinals.

1. QB Battle In Focus: The quarterback battle between junior Will Stein and freshman Teddy Bridgewater pitted experience vs. youth.

It appears that experience will win out – at least for the time being. By all accounts, Stein, though undersized, had a solid preseason camp and appears poised to be named the starting quarterback for the season-opener against Murray State.

If Stein wins the job, his experience will be the major reason why. Louisville offensive coordinator Mike Sanford and quarterback coach Shawn Watson trust the 5'10 Stein to get the offense into the right play, make good decisions, distribute the football to the Cardinals playmakers and ‘manage' the offense.

Still, expect Bridgewater to play and continue to push Stein for the starting job throughout the season. Bridgewater's talent is undeniable, and the coaching staff sounds high on his potential. A quick learner, Bridgewater was slowed during camp by nagging injuries and that likely slowed his development somewhat.

Once the 6'3 Bridgewater gains experience and improves his fundamentals, he'll be hard for Stein, or any other quarterback on Louisville's roster, to keep out of the starting lineup.

Will Stein probably will start against Murray State.
2. D-Line Shows Promise: Despite a slew of injuries, mostly minor, during fall camp, Louisville's defensive front will be the strength of the defense.

In just one year, Charlie Strong has turned a porous defensive line that lacked size, depth and experience into one of the best fronts in the Big East.

Senior end Greg Scruggs, who missed time during camp with a foot injury, is expected to have a breakthrough season. Sophomore tackle Brandon Dunn, despite a nagging foot injury, played a lot as a true freshman and could emerge as a major force on the interior. Junior tackle Randy Salmon has drawn praise from Vance Bedford and Clint Hurtt, and figures to be a solid contributor next to Dunn.

The biggest question mark heading into the season-opener appears to be the status of starting end B.J. Butler. Butler injured his knee during camp, and his status for Murray State seems questionable, at best. If/when healthy, Butler could be one of the league's top defensive linemen.

Unlike last season, Louisville has plenty of depth. Sophomore end Malcolm Mitchell, senior end Will Savoy and sophomore tackle Roy Philon all gained valuable experience last season. Keep an eye on promising sophomore Marcus Smith, who moved from linebacker to end last spring. He could develop into a nasty pass rusher off the edge.

Redshirt freshman tackle Jamaine Brooks, and true freshmen B.J. Dubose, Deiontrez Mount and Jamon Brown are all expected to contribute.

3. Offensive Line Concerns: Louisville's offensive line was a major concern heading into camp, and those fears have been compounded by an injury to center Mario Benavides, the unit's lone returning starter and undisputed leader.

With Benavides sidelined, offensive line coach Dave Borbely has been forced to re-shuffle his lineup. Sophomore Kamran Joyer has moved from guard to center to fill the void created by Benavides' departure and is adjusting to his new position. Joyer, who has never played center, has struggled with accuracy on his shotgun snaps during camp.

Joyer's move to center created an opening at guard that true freshman John Miller has assumed. Though Miller is talented, he has no experience at the college level and it will surely take him some time to learn the offense and adjust to the speed and physicality of the college game.

Ryan Kessling and Alex Kupper, a converted interior lineman, will man the tackle positions, while monster redshirt Jake Smith will start at the guard position opposite Miller. Kessling and Kupper both played last season, and have experience.

If Kessling, Kupper, Smith, Miller and Joyer start against Murray State, Louisville will have three guys on the field who have never played a snap of college football. That could create headaches for Borbely, who watched his unit commit nine false starts during Louisville's scrimmage last weekend.

How quickly Benavides returns from injury could determine the fortunes of the offensive line this season. If he can return in the season's first few weeks, the experience Louisville's young linemen gain early will prove beneficial in Big East action.

4. Young Playmakers Emerge: Veteran wide receivers Josh Bellamy and Andrell Smith, in addition to tight end Josh Chichester form a solid corps of receivers for Louisville's quarterbacks.

But the buzz surrounding freshmen Michaelee Harris, DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers creates realistic expectation that Louisville will have a few legitimate, big-play receivers in its arsenal this season.

Vic Anderson appears poised for a breakthrough season.
Harris drew raves in camp last summer, before suffering a knee injury that forced him to redshirt. A big-time playmaker, Harris can play multiple positions in Louisville's passing attack. That versatility means offensive coordinator Mike Sanford can move Harris around in an attempt to exploit mismatches.

Parker will provide Louisville's quarterbacks a big downfield target that possesses enough speed and athleticism to develop into a dangerous playmaker. Parker has drawn praise for his attitude and coachability and should make a big impact this season.

Rogers appears another star in making. Though he's the smallest of UofL's rookie trio, Rogers' talent is on par with Harris and Parker. Coming off an outstanding scrimmage last weekend, Rogers has made a favorable impression in practice with precise route running, sticky hands and big-play ability after the catch.

If those three didn't provide enough weapons to Louisville's offense, keep an eye on sophomore Jarrett Davis. The speedy Davis quietly had a good camp and could become a reliable target over the middle for the Cardinals this season.

5. Anderson Returns To Form: After two injury-plagued seasons, senior running back Victor Anderson appears poised to return to freshman form, when he rushed for over 1,000 yards while earning Big East Freshman of the Year honors.

Though some questioned his attitude last season, Anderson has erased those doubts. Named the new face of Louisville football, Anderson's work ethic, academic discipline, and consistent production on the field epitomizes Charlie Strong's program.

Though he's expected to share carries with talented soph. Jeremy Wright, Anderson could post freshman-like rushing numbers if Louisville's inexperienced offensive line gels quickly.

6. Secondary Concerns: Louisville has no concerns at safety, where returning starters Hakeem Smith and Shenard Holton, and veterans Mike Evans and Terrence Simien return. That group, in fact, could be the best safety unit in the Big East this season.

As promising as the outlook is at safety, cornerback is definitely a concern. Senior Anthony Conner has had a solid preseason camp and will start at one corner. The other corner position is less certain.

Andrew Johnson, a talented true freshman, could emerge from a host of inexperienced, but talented youngsters at the other cornerback position.

True freshmen Charles Gaines and Terrell Floyd have also received a long look during camp, and redshirt freshman Jordan Paschal, who has missed practice time recently with a hamstring injury, and sophomore Titus Teague are also in the mix.

While there isn't much experience at the position, there's plenty of talent. How quickly Louisville's inexperienced cornerbacks develop will be a crucial for the Cardinals defense this season.

7. Depth Needed At Linebacker: Louisville's starting linebackers – Dexter Heyman, Daniel Brown and Preston Brown – form a solid group.

Heyman, a senior, provides strong leadership and appears poised for a breakout season after recording a career-best 49 tackles last year.

Daniel Brown, an athletic outside linebacker, is expected to be a playmaker on defense for the Cardinals after a career-high 55 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three sacks last season.

Preston Brown, an imposing 6-1, 252-pound sophomore, gained valuable experience as a true freshman and has solidified his position this fall.

Depth behind the Cardinals starters, though, is questionable. Louisville expected Brandon Golson and Tarik Rollins to provide depth, but Golson left school this summer and Rollins, a transfer from Clemson who battled knee injuries, quit the team during camp.

Sophomore Deon Rogers received significant action on special teams as a true freshman and has the athleticism to contribute this season. Sophomore Mike Privott played in two games last season and needs to step up behind Heyman in the middle. Sophomore Tyon Dixon was a special team's contributor last season and will be counted on to provide depth at outside linebacker.

Vance Bedford said after last Saturday's scrimmage that Louisville is looking to sign four linebackers in this recruiting class, making this the Cardinals top remaining recruiting priority.

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