Young guys get reps for Cardinals

NEW ORLEANS – The University of Louisville football team arrived in the Big Easy on Thursday afternoon for the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl. But since the regular-season ending win at Rutgers, there has also been some focus on younger guys in the program. Cardinal Authority has a look at some of the guys who got extra reps.

There are a bunch of reasons that college football coaches like bowl games, besides the fact that it means your program is winning.

And one of the top reasons is the extra practice.

The University of Louisville football team had over a dozen days of extra practice since the regular-season ending win at Rutgers and leaving town for the Jan. 2 Allstate Sugar Bowl against Florida.

"That's great time to get some young guys some reps (in practice)," U of L coach Charlie Strong said, who has his team in a third straight bowl game.

With so many younger guys in the lineup and so few seniors on the roster, Strong said he didn't get to scrimmage as much as he normally would have with redshirt guys but the staff did get a chance to look at some younger players.

"We used it like a spring ball period," offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. "We kept running our base stuff and worked a lot of younger guys in.

"It's a great chance for us to watch those guys who will help us next year."

Cardinal Authority talked to every position coach and has the following updates on some guys who stood out or who might be stars down the line:

QUARTERBACK

Sophomore Teddy Bridgewater and senior Will Stein have taken all the snaps for two seasons and Watson will search for a backup in the spring.

The staff is expected to bring in two quarterbacks in the recruiting class and another that will compete for the job has been working out recently.

Freshman Will Gardner (photo) used his redshirt year this season because of a knee injury but started throwing last month and was doing 7-on-7 drills during the bowl practice. He would stay after practice nearly every day.

Watson said he expects Gardner, who picked U of L over Alabama but missed his senior season with a knee injury also, is "going to be a really good one."

RUNNING BACK

Running backs coach Kenny Carter said he's "really pumped" about the future at his position, including the return of juniors Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright.

Carter said redshirt freshman Corvin Lamb, who has played limited time this season, "has a bright future with the U of L offense."

And then there are two guys who sat out this season.

Freshman Brandon Radcliff (photo) is from Miami and came into the program as a standout from Columbus High School and has impressed the coaches.

"He's still young but he's going to be a good one," Carter said. "This was a really good shot for Brandon to learn our system more and work our system instead of just working the scout team."

The other is junior Dominique Brown, who missed the season with a knee injury but has been practicing in the last part of the season and looks like he's well on his way to mending. He is a former quarterback who rushed for 533 yards as a sophomore, which was second on the team.

Brown was in the running for the starting job this season before his injury.

"He's had a phenomenal attitude," Carter said. "He's not all the way back but his attitude has been tremendous and we're excited about how he has progressed. He never jumped off the boat. He kept working hard.

"I really like how (the future) looks for us."

WIDE RECEIVER

The top three wide receivers on the roster return with a handful of other young guys returning to the position next season.

But wide receivers coach Ron Dugans said there was one player sitting out this season he's excited about – Matt Milton (photo).

The 6-foot-6, 208-pound transfer from Tennessee played in 10 games for the Volunteers before leaving the program. Dugans said, "It was good to get (Milton) some good reps," during the bowl practice.

"We just need to get him caught up," Dugans said. "He's been a little up and down but when he's working with the ones, he's done a really good job. He just needs more reps with the ones."

Florida transfer Robert Clark and injured sophomore Michaelee Harris are the only other wide receivers who haven't played some this season.

"We have a lot of these young guys coming back with a lot of experience," Dugans said. "They played in some big-time games, and that's what you love about this group is they don't panic. They stay poised."

TIGHT END

The Cardinals have used three tight ends this season and have two waiting in the wings – Hunter Bowles and Gerald Christian (photo).

Bowles is a freshman from Glasgow High School and came to the Cardinals' after an All-State high school career.

"Hunter still has a little ways to go, but he will get better," tight end coach Sherrone Moore said. "He just hasn't had the reps."

Moore called Christian, a transfer from Florida, "a very talented kid." The 6-3, 260-pound Christian played in eight games for Florida in 2011, including the Vanderbilt game when he graded out as a champion on the roster.

"He has all the potential in the world," Moore said. "He's just a natural football player, all the instincts you cant teach. He's just a really powerful kid, strong kid who plays like it. His hands are so big and so powerful. He'll help us right away."

OFFENSIVE LINE

Offensive line coach Dave Borbely will lose two seniors off the starting offensive line – Alex Kupper and Mario Benavides – but has young guys to work with.

Borbely said the most promising younger player appears to be true freshman Nacho Garcia, who has seen some playing time this season. The 6-5, 345-pound Garcia was forced into action because of some injuries.

"Nacho is a guy we decided midway through the year that we had to play because we were starting to get beat up and he was getting pretty close," Borbely said. "We had to accelerate that process a little bit. So he has played some snaps and I am excited about the future with him."

Borbely also mentioned redshirt freshman Aaron Epps as a guy he was "really excited about." He likely would have seen time this season but has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Freshmen Joe Manley of Bowling Green and T.C. Klusman of Cincinnati Elder both used their redshirt and are likely to see action next season.

"Joe Manley (photo) is a guy from here in Kentucky, I didn't know what to expect from him but I like him and I really like his work ethic," Borbely said. "T.C. Klusman will bring a lot to the table for us down the road. He's very intelligent and a very bright and extremely tough."

Sid Anvoots is a freshman who was sidelined all season with an injury.

Borbely said he and defensive line coach Clint Hurtt spent some extra time scrimmaging with the younger guys in recent weeks.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Defensive line coach Clint Hurtt used true freshmen Sheldon Rankings and DeAngelo Brown during the season. Both suffered injuries and missed some time but he said both have had reps during bowl practice.

"Everyone for us is pretty much playing," Hurtt said. "When we were totally healthy we were playing eight or nine guys. It's crazy that we say this year after year, but the young kids are playing.

"Now, we just have to get those kids ready to go again."

LINEBACKER

Linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary played a pair of true freshmen – James Burgess and Keith Brown – this season and a third is close behind.

Freshman Nick Dawson traveled to every game and "was treated like a starter," according to Jean-Mary. He never had his redshirt removed.

"He got a lot of first and second-team reps, even though we knew he wasn't going to play," Jean-Mary said. "He's a guy that next year comes in and shouldn't miss a beat. He practiced like a second-team linebacker all season.

"I think this will be huge for him next season."

The 6-foot-3, 250-pound Dawson was a U.S. Army All-American and was ranked as the No. 13 outside linebacker by Scout.com.

DEFENSIVE BACK

Another position where there wasn't a ton of guys sitting out, but defensive backs coach Tommy Restivo said he used the extra practice to get freshman Jermaine Reve some "extra reps."

"He's played a lot and playing multiple positions," Restivo said.

Restivo also mentioned freshman Devontre Parnell (photo), a 5-foot-11, 165-pound cornerback from Winnsboro, S.C.

"We threw Parnell in and got him some reps," Restivo said. "Spring will be big for him. He could be a good player for us but the offseason is huge."

SPECIAL TEAMS

Special teams coach Kenny Carter said the kickers always get the same amount of work but was asked about punter Josh Appleby.

A scholarship kicker, Appleby only punted twice and was used on 17 kickoffs early in the season. John Wallace now kicks off and Ryan Johnson is the punter.

"Josh is going to be just fine," Carter said. "He's just young. But he's fine."


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