Team and individual improvement was evident throughout the 120+ plays during the two-hour scrimmage. While the offense highlighted the scrimmage with a number of big plays, the Cardinals defense made a few of their own.
The defensive line pass rush, the ability of the linebackers to play the run and pass and secondary all performed well on Saturday. However, the defense did allow a number of big plays, including a few on long third down situations.
"We're showing that we can really rush the passer, we're good at that," Bobby Petrino said afterward. "Some times there are sacks out there, but we continue to let the play go on, so other guys get work.
"One of the things I wasn't pleased with was giving up the long third down conversions," he said. "We had the offense behind the sticks a number of times. 3Rd & 15, 3rd & 14 and converted those downs. We can't do that defensively. We have to be able to get off the field on third down, but overall I was happy with it."
The first team defensive front – Sheldon Rankins, DeAngelo Brown and B.J. Dubose – were frequently in the offensive backfield, something that the players credited to added experience working in the 3-4 defense and time studying the new playbook.
"Last week was kind of whirlwind with a lot of things thrown at us, but this week guys really cracked down and got in the play book and really honed in on their craft and we came out today and showed it," said junior defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins. "We still have a lot we can still work on, but there were a lot of good things today."
Petrino credited defensive coordinator Todd Grantham for the improved pass rush of the line, saying on Saturday that "they've really improved."
"Those guys can come off the rock," he said. "They're really talented guys that know how to come off the ball. Their experience shows up."
Given more freedom to move around in the 3-4 scheme, the linebackers continue to shine.
"The defense knows the plays better," said sophomore middle linebacker Keith Kelsey. "Everybody has been in their play books and learning their assignments, so they let us play faster today.
"It was difficult the first couple of weeks because we had a whole bunch of things flying at us – different schemes, different names – but, now that we have become more comfortable with it we are playing faster as a defense."
Kelsey, along with junior James Burgess, have been two of the more active Cardinals behind the defensive front.
"They are very tough," Petrino said of the pair. "They know football. That's the thing that impressed me. They know football, they know blocking schemes, they know how to take on the blocks and they both run and play extremely hard. You can't take that away. They really, really play hard."
The change to Grantham's 3-4 scheme was welcomed, as it provides the opportunity for individuals to make big plays more frequently.
"It's very exciting," Kelsey said. "It lets you show your ability and play in space. It sets you up for a lot of plays."
"His defense isn't necessarily the easiest defense, but when you get it down pat it's a great defense to be in," added Rankins.
The Cardinals will return for their final week of spring practice on Tuesday afternoon at 4:00p.m. The Spring Game is scheduled for Friday evening at 7:30p.m.