University of Louisville football coach Charlie Strong made it perfectly clear early in fall camp there was one person he wanted to keep healthy.
And that was quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
"We don't need any injuries to Teddy," Strong said with a smile. "There won't be any hitting Teddy, none of that."
Nothing has changed in that regards as Strong doesn't want his Heisman Trophy candidate getting injured. But at least heading out of fall camp the Cardinals' staff know they have a capable backup if he's needed Will Gardner.
"He's going to be a good one," U of L offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said of Gardner. "He struggled at the start of spring because it was his first time through it. Now that he's gone through his second time actually participating in it, he's been very, very good. I've been very impressed with him in fall camp.
"We'll be just fine as an offense with Will in there."
A 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman from Douglas, Ga., Gardner had a knee injury in high school and missed all of last season after another knee injury.
Watson and Strong agreed that Gardner has improved just because he's been watching Bridgewater perfect his craft in front of him.
"He has progressed, and part of his progress has been his example in front of him," Watson said. "He gets to see it being done right – the way the coach wants it done – the vast majority of the time."
In a news conference heading into spring practice, Watson said the biggest priority on offense was finding a backup for Bridgewater. Will Stein, now a graduate assistant helping the quarterbacks, was that guy last season
But it didn't take long for Gardner to stick out.
"Will is a very, very talented thrower," Watson said. "The kid can pass the football. He's still gaining confidence, but he's one of the best that I have worked with, just the skill of passing the football."
Bridgewater said Gardner is "transitioning into a great quarterback," while running back Senorise Perry said he's "no Teddy Bridgewater, but he could be better than Teddy Bridgewater in the future."
Strong said it's been fun to watch the growth of Gardner, who had an offer from Alabama early on in the recruiting process.
"Just from spring to now, he has made giant improvements," Strong said. "It's just fun to watch him now have total command of the offense."
Per a team policy of not being able to talk to the media before playing in a game, Gardner was unavailable for comment.