U of L football: Position by position

ORLANDO – It's game day and the University of Louisville football team will play Miami, Fla., in the Russell Athletic Bowl this evening. Cardinal Authority interviewed each position coach at U of L and has the grade for their respective positions this season and any thoughts on young guys to watch out for in the future:

University of Louisville football coach Charlie Strong is pleased with an 11-1 mark, including 22-3 in two seasons, for the Cardinals.

And he's also "very excited" about the future but noted his program "still isn't where we need to be. We have some work to do."

In the time between the final regular-season game and the Russell Athletic Bowl game, Cardinal Authority spoke with each of the position coaches on the U of L staff. The coaches talked about the season, a grade for their position, and the future.

Here's a breakdown of what each had to say:

QUARTERBACKS

Well, there's not much of an issue on this position and the grade as offensive coordinator Shawn Watson praised Teddy Bridgewater for having "an all-around great season and being such a great leader."

"What more could we ask from him?" Watson said.

Bridgewater will make a decision on his future in the coming weeks and even if he turns pro as many expect Watson said the position is "in good hands."

Redshirt freshman Will Gardner saw limited action this season and is "ready to take over. He's going to be just fine in that position."

RUNNING BACKS

The season started with five running backs in the fold and for a long time it was a three-headed monster that held down the position.

Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer rotated series for a while before Perry and Brown took over. Brown has 783 yards and eight touchdowns, while Perry has 631 yards and six TDs.

The Cardinals have rushed for 1,802 yards and 4.2 yards a carry.

"I am really proud of how they came together as a unit," running back coach Kenny Carter said. "They have been really productive and we have had multiple 100-yard rushers. All you care about is the production and it's been good."

Carter said he's "really excited" about getting Brown another spring and fall training camp heading into his senior season.

Dyer, who recently had surgery to repair an undisclosed injury, is expected to be a key player next season.

Corvin Lamb tore a ligament in his knee during the second game and is expected back for spring practice, while freshman Brandon Radcliff is still coming along.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Wide receiver coach Ron Dugans noted his group has been "up and down" this season but they've also been banged up.

DeVante Parker is the leader with 743 yards and 11 touchdowns and he missed a game and then wasn't the same for a few games with a shoulder injury.

Kai De La Cruz has been out since the Rutgers game and is only now getting back for the bowl game, while Damian Copeland has been dinged up some this season along with Michalee Harris, who is just getting totally healthy, and Eli Rogers and James Quick have both been limited at times in practice.

"It seems like we have a lot of depth but we don't," Dugans said. "We've just been moving guys around, trying out different positions.

"We had a couple of games when we kind of had the drops but they have bounced back and the guys have come through."

Parker is expected to return, while Copeland also can come back after being granted a sixth season of eligibility.

De La Cruz, Rogers and Robert Clark will be huge returnees, while Dugans said the freshman Quick is at the end of the season "started to get it."

TIGHT ENDS

Tight ends coach Sherrone Moore at times has had four guys on the field and noted his group this season has "done very, very well."

"There have been times when we lacked a bit in certain areas, but those guys work so hard and have done a nice overall job," Moore said. "We move those guys around a lot, so they have to know their roles and they've played them.

"I'm happy and excited about the future."

Ryan Hubbell will graduate and has been "such a key" performer in two years for the Cardinals, while Gerald Christian will be back for his senior season and "has a lot of talent and should have a great season."

Moore said he's also excited about the potential of freshman Keith Towbridge, one of only three freshman who won't be redshirted this season.

"We have some talent in the room," Moore said.

OFFENSIVE LINE

The offensive line has taken some shots in the public this season but line coach Dave Borbely said it's been a "steady climb."

Borbely has three guys – Jake Smith, Jamon Brown and John Miller – who have started every game but the other two positions have been injury-plagued.

"We've had our fair share of nicks," Borbely said. "But we just have to keep working and try to make sure we improve each week. It's been a steady improvement. One thing you don't see much of on our film is there's not a lot of guys just coming free. The kids have been locked in."

Smith, Brown and Miller will be back for another season. Borbely said in the Connecticut, Memphis and Houston games those guys accounted for 217 snaps and have "so much experience for us."

Kamran Joyer, now sidelined after knee surgery, played on the right side with Ryan Mack, Nacho Garcia and Chris Acosta. Joyer has received a sixth year and could come back, while Garcia is also out with a knee injury.

Borbely said Joe Manley is a guy who should be in the mix next season, while freshmen Cameron Fraser, Chandler Bridges and Skylar Lacy are "guys who have an opportunity to become really good players for us."

DEFENSIVE LINE

Maybe the best overall position for the Cardinals this season as far as exceeding expectations and getting production.

Marcus Smith has been one of the nation's leaders in sacks the entire season, while Lorenzo Mauldin is also right there. Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon have been solid in the middle, while Deiontrez Mount, Sheldon Rankins, Nick Dawson and B.J. Dubose have been key performers for the season.

"It's been a fun group to work with," defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said. "There's a lot of competition and a lot of talent. We had to build the depth up on the line and now you see that's what we have done."

The Cardinals will lose Smith, Dunn and Philon but Hurtt noted the room has "a bright future with some talented kids," waiting in the wings.

Mauldin should have a big-time senior season, while Jamaine Brooks and DeAngelo Brown will both be back after missing this season with injuries. Hurtt also said true freshmen Finesse Middleton, Kyle Shortridge and De'asian Richardson are going to be key factors next season, while Pedro Sibiea has been forced to play late this season and has a "bright future."

LINEBACKERS

Preston Brown has been the leading tackler for two seasons, while James Burgess has also been a standout this season for the Cardinals.

Linebacker coach Brian Jean-Mary said the group has been "above average" throughout the season for U of L.

"We left some plays on the field," Jean-Mary said. "But we have been steady and above all we have done a good job. We've had a good season."

Jean-Mary is excited about the future with Burgess back for two seasons, along with the return of Keith Brown. He was a freshman All-American but missed most of this season with a knee injury and is expected back for spring practice.

Keith Kelsey is a freshman who played a lot of snaps this season and along with two guys who redshirted – Lyn Clark and Stacy Thomas – will provide the Cardinals with some "big, athletic kids" in the fold next season.

"We're starting to build some depth in that room," Jean-Mary said.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said he wanted to be more aggressive on defense and needed more turnovers.

The defensive backs and safeties have helped in both categories with some big plays, including Calvin Pryor's big hits, and 16 interceptions.

Pryor, a junior, who could turn pro after the bowl game has been a standout with three picks and 69 tackles. Hakeem Smith is a senior and will start his 52nd career game – a school record – and has three picks.

The rest of the group is back.

Charles Gaines is a sophomore who has five interceptions, while junior Terell Floyd has four interceptions.

Sophomore Jermaine Reve has also been a key performer, while junior Andrew Johnson missed much of the season with an injury. Sophomore Gerod Holliman is expected to take over at safety.

Bedford said it's still a group the staff needs to "add more depth" too in recruiting.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker John Wallace and punter Ryan Johnson have been solid this season for the Cardinals and Carter said they "couldn't ask for much more."

Johnson has punted 39 times and averages 41.2 yards a punt with 11 of his punts landing inside the 20-yard line.

Wallace has made 49 of 50 extra points and is 17 of 21 on field goals. He had two blocks and has been "automatic from the 30 in," according to Carter.

Carter said the special teams ended the season No. 3 in the country in punt yards defended, No. 2 in kickoffs and had three special teams touchdowns.

"We made a tremendous improvement from last year," he said.


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