Strong's passion fueled Freeze

The media freeze is officially over, so says Louisville coach Charlie Strong. Now, it's time to focus on Saturday's Red-White game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. InsideTheVille.com has the scoop from Strong's spring game press conference.

The big news from Charlie Strong's spring game press conference Wednesday wasn't about his third football team. Instead, the topic that dominated Strong's 40 minute media gathering was his decision to freeze out of local television stations and other established media outlets, like the Louisville Courier-Journal, the state's largest newspaper, from covering the last two weeks of spring practice.

"My actions were blown way out of proportion," Strong said. "This [decision] wasn't a personal attack, but I do believe in order for our program to take the next step our relationship with the media has to be outstanding. I know this, I need you as much as you need us."

Strong's decision to deny post-practice interview requests from established television and newspapers for the final weeks of spring practice was made because those outlets failed to send reporters to provide coverage Louisville's opening practices, which coincided with the Cardinals run to the Final Four. Strong said he felt those media outlets could have sent junior reporters or interns to cover spring practice during March Madness.

"In no way was this football vs. basketball," said Strong, who hopped a plane to attend Louisville's Final Four game after his team's scrimmage two weeks ago. "I'm not asking for special treatment for our football program. I have passion for this program and we are an elite BCS program. That's what I want to see from this community and we want to make it happen. Our guys work hard and I just want recognition. I think they deserve that."

"The media freeze is over," Strong proclaimed. "I know where I'm at and I'm not discouraged. If you look at the continuity of our coaching staff we have guys that had an opportunity to leave and didn't because we have a mission here and we're going to get this mission accomplished."

Now that the media freeze is over, Strong is ready to showcase his team during Saturday's 1 p.m. Red-White game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. Louisville is expected to be the preseason pick to win the Big East largely because the Cardinals return 18 starters from a squad that claimed a share of the 2011 league championship.

"I haven't said much about [expectations], but what I told the team is the last two years they had us picked last and you didn't buy into it, so let's not buy into it now and stay focused and continue to work hard," Strong said. "They deserve to be picked where they are because they've worked so hard, but it comes back to us working hard enough to get it accomplished."

Louisville finished 7-6 in Strong's first two seasons. Now, Louisville's coach wants his program to take another major step.

"If you look at our team from last year, we felt that we got the ball in the red zone but we didn't create enough touchdowns and prevent touchdowns from being scored against our defense," said Strong. "So that's something we worked very hard on this spring.

"We are 14-12. If you look at the 12 games that we've lost the average margin of loss is 7.3. A play on offense or a stop on defense and who knows where you would be right now. It's amazing to see how far this team has come and how much better this football team can get."

Optimism for the current team stems from the return of eight starters on offense and ten on defense. The offense is under the direction of Shawn Watson, who assumed play-calling duties midway through last season and will utilize a wide-open, west coast approach.

"We're very balanced on offense, we want to run and play-action with the boot-legs and stretch the field with our passing game," Strong said. "We want to attack the open zones and get the ball in the hands of our playmakers."

Teddy Bridgewater, the Big East Freshman of the Year, returns to lead the Cardinals improving offense.

"We have an outstanding quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. He's still young, but he can take this football team and lead it and move the chains," Strong said. "Teddy Bridgewater wants to be the best in the classroom and an All-American player. He's studying the game and now he can walk up there and the flow goes. He make the checks and get us in the right play."

As good as Bridgewater has looked this spring, Strong said the running back position could be the strength of the offense this season.

"We have Dominique Brown, Senorise Perry, Corvin Lamb and Jeremy Wright," Strong said. "You have four running backs you can put the ball in their hands and they can make it happen. They can make you miss, they're beginning to run behind their pads and run over people. I would love to find one and give him the ball, but we feel comfortable with any of those four guys in the game."

Though starting center Mario Benavides has missed spring practice due to injury, Strong sounded pleased by the progress of returning starters Alex Kupper, Jake Smith and John Miller, along with the continued development of sophomore tackle Jamon Brown, who has been called the most talented offensive lineman by assistant coach Dave Borbely.

"I really like our offensive line," Strong said. "That line has come together and is playing very well in spring practice. The issue is we have to find depth. We're going to run the ball and those guys are going to have to move people and open seams for our running backs."

Preston Brown returns to lead a defense that ranked in the national Top 25 last season.

"On defense, we're very aggressive, very multiple," said Strong. "We will attack and play man coverage. We're going to blitz."

While the front seven, led by Brown and junior defensive tackle Brandon Dunn, should be the strength of the defense, cornerbacks Adrian Bushell and Andrew Johnson, and safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor should also be strong.

"Our four starters are back in the secondary and we feel like we can play man coverage because we're going to be able to [apply] pressure," Strong explained.

With 18 starters returning, Louisville's first team should be tough. Now, Strong is looking for more depth behind his starters.

"My biggest concern is probably depth," Strong said. "We've got five guys on the offensive line that we feel comfortable with now we need to find two more and the defensive line is probably a concern. Running back we're solid, but we still need a playmaker at wide receiver. DeVante Parker is probably that guy, but we need those guys to come on at wide receiver. It's just a matter of developing and growing."

Spring Game Notebook

Louisville only has nine seniors on the roster and Strong said leadership will be an issue for his team. Strong pointed to several seniors, including Will Stein, Alex Kupper and Adrian Bushell who need to show good leadership for his young team.

Strong said Louisville's schedule would be demanding this season despite having seven home games. Strong pointed out that the Cardinals will have three 'short' weeks against Missouri State, Cincinnati and Rutgers.

A big special teams key is finding a kicker to replace Chris Philpott, says Strong. Andrew Fletcher and John Wallace are competing for the position.

Strong said his offense is searching for playmakers at wide receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays.

Strong on freshmen linebackers Keith Brown, James Burgess and Nick Dawson: "We feel like we really helped ourselves at that position." Brown and Burgess took part during spring drills, though Brown will miss the spring game with a knee injury.

Charlie Strong said that Jamon Brown will stay at offensive tackle and has a bright future.

Who had outstanding spring practices? Strong signaled out Teddy Bridgewater, Will Stein, Jamon Brown, Alex Kupper, Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright, Senorise Perry, Corvin Lamb, DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers, Keith Brown, Preston Brown, Jamaine Brooks, Brandon Dunn, Adrian Bushell, Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. Strong said Dunn, a junior defensive lineman, has a "special spring."

Strong said that fourteen players will miss the spring game with injury, down from 24 last year. Among the injured out for the Red-White game: C Mario Benavides, WR Michaelee Harris (knee), CB Charles Gaines, WR Kai Dominquez, LB Keith Brown and DB Zed Evans.

Strong said Preston Brown has done an outstanding job moving from outside linebacker to middle linebacker this spring. "He understands that position should be the leader on defense and get most of the tackles if you play right," Strong said.

Deiontrez Mount will play a hybrid role on defense. In the base package, the 6'5, 245 pound Mount will line up at outside linebacker; in pass situations he'll be on the defensive line. "He has speed and quickness and can outrun people," Strong said. "He's put on weight and done a good job this spring."

Strong said he's focused on recruiting offensive and defensive linemen, skill guys and linebackers in the Class of 2013. The Cardinals have five commitments in the class.

Strong said Michaelee Harris will have a good chance to be ready for fall practice.

Strong said he has not had contact about the Arkansas job when asked by a reporter.


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