The No. 20 University of Louisville football team has not had to rely too heavily on its receiving corps in any of its 10 wins this season. But that's not to say that the group hasn't been extremely productive for the Cardinals this season.
Though DeVante Parker is far and away the team's leader in touchdown receptions with nine on the season, the group's production has mostly been equally distributed. Five receivers have hauled in three or more touchdown passes, while six have caught 20 or more passes.
With the season winding down, wide receivers coach Ron Dugans said that he's mostly happy with the way his group has played this year- and especially happy with the way his role players stepped up in the wake of injuries to the likes of Parker and Damian Copeland.
"Kai De La Cruz was (one player who stepped up)," Dugans said Tuesday. "He came in and did a good job for us. He really surprised a lot of people. He's worked his butt off in the offseason and he's come back showing it."
Before going down with an injury of his own, Cruz, a 6-foot, 186-pound junior, was having a career-best season. In six games of action, De La Cruz caught 15 passes for 271 yards and three scores. His best performance came in the team's opening week, when he caught four passes for 116 yards and two touchdowns. He is expected back for the Cincinnati game.
Dugans also singled out Michaelee Harris, who after a handful of knee surgeries is finally at full strength and contributing. Harris has caught 11 passes this season for 141 yards and a score, but his importance can't be expressed through statistics.
"He's been through adversity, he's started as a redshirt freshman, he's been where (these guys) are trying to go," Dugans said of Harris. "He's good for our group."
Though the Cardinals have received contributions from those mentioned by Dugans, it would still be a great aide to have their biggest weapon, Parker, back from his shoulder injury. Although the junior caught a 39-yard touchdown pass in last Saturday's win over Memphis, Parker may still be on the mend.
"At times it looks like he's back and ready to roll, and at times it looks like he's favoring something," Dugans said. "But I think right now he's close to being 100 percent."
The Cardinal receiving corps got some good news for the long run this week when it came out that senior Damian Copeland would be granted a sixth year of eligibility. Copeland said that he will decide the return to school or test the professional waters at the end of the season, but the idea of getting such a key player back sounds good to Dugans.
"It's always good to get a guy back that's been in the trenches," he said. "A guy that's played the game, battled, and had some good moments for us.
"He knows the offense. He knows the expectations. He's a veteran."
With a bye this week, the Cardinals will close out their regular season with a trip to Cincinnati next Thursday. The Cardinal receivers will have their work cut out for them, as the Bearcat pass defense ranks in the nation's top 30.