Red-White: What to watch

Louisville coach Charlie Strong will get a chance to gauge his team's progress in front of the home crowd during Saturday's spring game. breaks down key Red-White questions and players to watch.

Spring practice concludes with Saturday's Red-White spring game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville coach Charlie Strong will get a chance to gauge his team's progress in front of the home crowd and the Cardinals players are looking forward to the opportunity.

"The spring game should be fun," said offensive lineman Jake Smith. "We've been working for it all spring. You go through three weeks and you finally get to show what you've been working on. Coach Strong said there might be 20,000 people there. Hopefully, we'll go out there and have fun and show the fans what they want to see."

Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is directing his first spring practice for the Cardinals after taking over play-calling duties from Mike Sanford four games into last season. Watson, who prefers a west coast offense that spreads the ball around to a bunch of playmakers, has been focused on eliminating mistakes and developing a more physical approach from his offense this spring.

"We've really focused on cleaning up our play," Smith said. "Coach Watson has been driving that point home - we really have to clean it up. We have to play a lot cleaner. We still have a long ways to go. He's always talking about how we want it [execution] to look like the drawings. And we've been trying to get more physical."

The spring game will be the last chance for players to stake claims to starting jobs heading into summer workouts. It's been a competitive spring, especially in the backfield where Jeremy Wright, Dominique Brown, Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb are battling for the right to be the Cardinals featured running back.

"It's super competitive," Smith said. "You see competition in the weight room, runs, especially in practice, even in grades. Everybody is trying to compete and get better. That's what you need to get a good program and Coach Strong definitely has us going in the right direction."

Key Questions

How much improvement has Teddy Bridgewater and the offense made this spring?
Teddy Bridgewater led Louisville to a share of the Big East title as a true freshman, earning Big East Freshman of the Year honors. Those were both impressive accomplishments, especially considering Bridgewater's lack of experience, newness to the system and a suspect offensive line.

By all accounts, Bridgewater has taken his game to another level this spring and his improvement will be on full display during the Red-White game. Louisville's offensive line is improved, which means that Bridgewater should have more time to use his natural ability to make big plays. Bridgewater has plenty of offensive weapons down field and the backfield, and combined with Bridgewater's dual threat ability, should make Louisville's offense one of the most explosive in the Big East.

"He's unbelievable the way he operates and manages the huddle and manages the offense," offensive lineman Jake Smith said.

Who will emerge at running back?
The competition in the backfield has been outstanding this spring. Shawn Watson has plenty of options behind Bridgewater, but wants someone to step up and become Louisville's go-to back. Veterans Jeremy Wright and Dominque Brown are the presumed frontrunners, but junior Senorise Perry and Corvin Lamb have made strong cases this spring.

Keep an eye on this key position battle during the Red-White game. Wright, a versatile and talented all-around back, took first team snaps in the open scrimmage two weeks ago. Can Brown, a physical running back who moved from quarterback last season, become Louisville's every down back? Or will he settle into a short-yardage role? And what about Perry? He's made a strong impression this spring with speed and breakaway ability. Could he be the dark horse in this race? Or perhaps ultra-talented redshirt freshman Corvin Lamb will surprise everybody and separate from the pack?

"They've really stood out on film the way they've been running," said Jake Smith. "There's not one person that can take down Dominique Brown one on one. He's been running hard and Senorise Perry has been running well and had a lot of breakout runs. Corvin Lamb has played well, too, and Jeremy [Wright] has it all. All four running backs have shown out and proved themselves this spring."

Can the offensive line provide Bridgewater more time in the pocket?
Maybe the biggest question mark heading into the spring, keep an eye on offensive line's play during the Red-White scrimmage, especially when the first units go head to head. Though starting center Mario Benavides is out, the Cardinals return four players with starting experience. Will that experience translate into better protection for Teddy Bridgewater and bigger holes for the running backs?

Sophomore tackle Jamon Brown has made significant progress this spring and has been called Louisville's most talented offensive lineman by coach Dave Borbely. Can the 6'5, 320 Brown go hard and be effective throughout the entire scrimmage? Mike Romano has done an admirable job stepping into Benavides' shoes at center this spring. Is there a drop off in production with Romano in the lineup? How much progress have returning starters Jake Smith, John Miller and Alex Kupper made?

The other key issue for the offensive line this spring is finding capable reserves. Redshirt freshman Ryan Mack made noticeable improvement at tackle this spring. Is he ready to contribute? Junior Kamran Joyer has game experience. Can he stay healthy enough to make a difference on the interior? Josh Stearns needs more strength, but received praise from Borbely for his play this spring. Can the Manual H.S. walk-on make an impact this season?

Has the secondary stepped up this spring?
Vance Bedford has plenty of talent returning in the secondary. Both starting cornerbacks and starting safeties return, including All-Big East performers Adrian Bushell and Hakeem Smith. Still, Bedford has challenged the group to step up its play this spring. This group has the makings of an outstanding unit, but there's a sense that Bedford wants more production - and big plays - from UofL's defensive backs.

Bushell and Andrew Johnson are returning starters at cornerback. Can youngsters Charles Gaines and Terrell Floyd push Bushell and Johnson for jobs this season? Smith, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and Calvin Pryor, who made a big impact as a true freshman, have the ability to be the best safety duo in the Big East. Have they stepped their play up this spring. And who will fill Mike Evans role as the nickel back? Jermaine Reve seems like a probable target for that job. Is the talented redshirt ready for action?

Ten players to watch

1. Jermaine Reve -- Louisville is looking for quality depth in the secondary, and Reve, a redshirt freshman, has played well at safety. Is he ready to make an impact?
2. Senorise Perry -- Jeremy Wright and Dominque Brown are the presumed frontrunners at running back but Perry, a junior, has the most big play potential. What will his role be next season?
3. Mike Romano -- With Mario Benavides out this spring, Romano, a redshirt freshman, has stepped in and performed admirably at center. He projects as Cards center of the future.
4. Damian Copeland -- You know about Andrell Smith, Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker, but Copeland looked good in the open practices/scrimmages and has made a strong impression this spring.
5. Jamaine Brooks -- Roy Philon's injury gave Brooks all the first team reps at defensive tackle this spring.
6. DeVante Parker -- Parker has the talent to be the best receiver in the Big East, and led the Cards in TD receptions as a freshman. Has he improved his route running this spring to become an even greater weapon in Watson's offense this season?
7. Nate Nord -- Injuries slowed the senior tight end last season, but Nord finished strong with a TD catch in the bowl game. Is Nord ready to answer the bell at tight end for the Cards offense?
8. Keith Brown -- An early enrollee, Brown had a lot to learn at linebacker this spring. Has he learned enough to make an impact for Charlie Strong's defense? (Out with knee injury)
9. Jamon Brown -- Brown showed promise last season after moving from defensive tackle to the offensive line. Is the talented sophomore ready to be a consistently dominant lineman for the Cardinals?
10. Gerald Christian -- The Florida tight end transfer can't play this season, but certainly looks the part. Is he one of the team's best athletes?

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