University of Louisville defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has one hope for the secondary this coming season – make more plays on the ball.
Bedford pointed out several times during spring drills that the Cardinals only had 11 interceptions last season when the team finished 11-2 and won the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a victory over Florida, sparked by a Terrell Floyd pick six.
"We have to make more plays when the ball is in the air," Bedford said.
Bedford and several other coaches pointed to the confidence the entire defense picked up in the win over Florida after Floyd made the interception and scored on the first play from scrimmage in the game.
Now, heading into a new season the Cardinals have tons of expectations and will need the secondary to have a banner season to live up to the hype.
Both projected starters at safety – Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor – are on multiple preseason ‘watch lists' for Awards, while both projected starters at cornerback have a wealth of experience.
" We have a lot of guys coming back," Pryor said.
But Bedford said the challenges will be replacing two-time all-conference defensive back Adrian Bushell and building depth at cornerback.
"That's always a concern," Bedford said. "We need some guys to step up. I have let these guys they have to earn it. We need them to step up."
Pryor, who is on the watch list for the Bednarik and Jim Thorpe awards, is the starter at free safety and said the group knows what to expect.
"We have even higher expectations," Pryor said. "It makes it easier on everybody that we have so many guys coming back. We just all started getting a feeling for the defense as the season went on last year. We learned what to do."
Pryor and Smith, who is the free safety and on the watch lists for the Bednarik, Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski Awards, agreed and noted that Bushell will be tough to replace but as Smith said "we have some guys who can do it."
"Adrian was a key player for us," Pryor said. "But we have some guys that will step up. Look at guys like TFloyd, Andrew Johnson and Stephan Robinson and all of those guys have experience. If they just play with confidence, they'll be OK.
"We have guys with experience, it's just about being confident."
Floyd and fellow junior Andrew Johnson are projected as the starters at cornerback, while Charles Gaines – a converted wide receiver – is listed at No. 2 behind Johnson and redshirt freshman Kevin Houchins listed behind Floyd, while Robinson is a junior and listed No. 3 behind Floyd.
Gaines is "one heck of an athlete," according to Pryor. "If he can learn the defense all the way, you will see him out there a lot. He's so fast breaking on the ball, he's just so quick. We have some really good guys back there."
Bedford said he also has high expectations from the safety backups – Jermaine Reve and Gerod Holliman. Reve played a lot last season and will be a "key player" for the Cardinals defense this fall.
"Some guys need to take another step up," Bedford said. "We have guys with the physical tools, now they need the confidence to become big-time players."