Spring Breakdown

Louisville, the 2011 co-Big East champions, opens spring practice later this month. The Cardinals return 17 starters and should be one of the favorites to win the Big East in 2012. InsideTheVille.com examines what to watch from Charlie Strong's team this spring.

Louisville, the 2011 co-Big East champions, opens spring practice later this month. The Cardinals return 17 starters and should be one of the favorites to win the Big East in 2012.

InsideTheVille.com examines what to watch from Charlie Strong's team this spring:

Schedule: Louisville opens the first of its 15 spring practices March 21, leading up to the annual Red White spring game on April 14. The first three practices will be open to the public before Strong shuts out fans and media until the spring game.

New coaches: Charlie Strong will have a couple new faces on his coaching staff this spring, in addition to several early freshmen enrollees/transfers. Though he's not exactly a new face, Shawn Watson will open spring drills officially as Louisville's offensive coordinator. Watson replaced Mike Sanford four games into the 2011 season and will begin his first spring as coordinator with the Cardinals. Sherrone Moore is the new tight end coach. Expect Strong to announce one more staff change before spring practice gets underway.

Fresh faces: Louisville welcomes three highly touted early freshmen enrollees - LB's Keith Brown and James Burgess and DB Gerod Holliman, in addition to transfers Ryan Hubbell (TE), Gerald Christian (TE), Robert Clark (WR) and Matt Milton (WR). Hubbell is the only transfer eligible to play next season. Brown and Burgess are both four-star linebackers from Florida and should compete for starting jobs this spring. Holliman, a four-star defensive back who attended prep school last fall, should push for a spot at safety. Hubbell, a junior college transfer, is expected to compete for the job at tight end with Nate Nord and Chris White.


Charlie Strong's Cardinals are a favorite in the Big East entering spring practice. (Jim Davis)
Biggest shoes to fill: Dexter Heyman. Heyman, the leader of Louisville's nationally-ranked defense last season, won't be easy to replace. A second team all-Big East selection, Heyman started every game at middle linebacker last season, recording 83 tackles and team-high 15.5 tackles for loss. Freshman Keith Brown, a 6'1, 230 pound U.S. Army All-American, is the most likely candidate to emerge as Heyman's replacement this spring.

Position switch: Two position changes to watch this spring are Stephon Robinson's move from CB to WR and Aaron Epps, who will go from OT to TE. Robinson, who came to Louisville as a wide receiver from Central, was a reserve cornerback last season and forced a key fumble in the win over Kentucky. Though smallish, Robinson has good speed and elusiveness and could add a new dimension to Louisville's wide receiver corps. The 6'7 Epps, a redshirt freshman, has bulked up to 275 pounds and could provide vital depth and much-needed blocking at tight end for Louisville.

Question marks: Louisville's biggest question marks entering spring drills are at tight end, middle linebacker, offensive line, defensive tackle and special teams. Louisville struggled at tight end last season and must replace Josh Chichester. Nate Nord opens spring practice as the favorite but transfer Ryan Hubbell is a guy to watch. Finding a replacement for Dexter Heyman at middle linebacker will also be critical for Charlie Strong's defense this spring. Can freshman Keith Brown emerge as a starter and leader in the middle of the UofL defense? Louisville returns four starters on the offensive line, a much maligned unit last season. Keep an eye on redshirt freshman tackle Ryan Mack, who could challenge for a starting job, and the development of monster sophomore tackle Jamon Brown. Louisville also returns three experienced defensive tackles in Brandon Dunn, Roy Philon and Jamaine Brooks, but depth is an issue. Can Strong's staff develop someone like redshirt Dominique Dishmon during spring practice? Strong will break in a new kicker and punter this spring. Keep an eye on freshman John Wallace, who will audition as Chris Philpott's replacement.

Spotlight on: Teddy Bridgewater. The Big East Freshman of the Year established himself as one of the league's most promising prospects and opens spring practice as the leader of Charlie Strong's young team. After leading Louisville to a share of the Big East championship and the Belk Bowl, much will be expected of the talented 6'3, 210 pound sophomore quarterback. How will Bridgewater handle the pressure of the spotlight?


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