With the loss of Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL Draft, all eyes will be on the quarterback position for the University of Louisville this season.
And Will Gardner is expected to be the man.
Gardner was the backup to Bridgewater last season and had a sensational spring before what U of L coach Bobby Petrino recently called a “solid” fall camp.
Petrino said last week he hasn’t named a starter because “that’s not how I do it,” but Gardner will be the starter on Sept. 1 against Miami on Labor Day.
But Gardner is still young and unproven along with every player behind him, Petrino noting none of the backups have taken a college snap.
The 6-foot-5, 225-pound Gardner – a redshirt sophomore – gives the Cardinals a lot of hope because of his raw ability and talents. He committed prior to his senior season at Coffee County High School in Douglas, Ga.
”Will understands what it takes to be a quarterback and that’s what I like,” offensive coordinator Garrick McGee said. “He understands how much you have to work to be successful as a quarterback. Not just studying what we are doing, but different defenses and he’s shown he’s willing to put the work in.
”Now, we understand he’s young and he makes some small mistakes but that’s what we’re trying to clean up. It’s just the little things.”
Gardner has been running with the first team since Bridgewater left and Petrino said the most impressive thing was that he “jumped right out there” in spring practice when they called for the first team offense.
”We didn’t tell him, he just did it,” Petrino said. “He’s just that type of kid and I like it, that’s what you need from your quarterback.”
True freshman Reggie Bonnafon of Trinity High School has pushed Gardner a bit and is clearly the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart heading into the season.
Bonnafon has been a little of s surprise at how quickly he has adjusted to the college game and how impressive his skills have been this fall. Bonnafon enrolled in June but only played on season of varsity quarterback at Trinity.
”Really impressed,” McGee said of Bonnafon this fall.
Senior Brett Nelson, a former JUCO transfer who didn’t play in his first season at U of L last year, is expected to be the third-string quarterback for the Cardinals.
”We feel pretty good about the quarterback room,” Petrino said.
Added McGee: “We want to make sure everybody is developing, You have to make sure at that position, everybody developing. In order to keep the program stable, you have to make sure to have enough capable quarterbacks.”
Will Gardner, Sophomore
A lot of chatter in the fall camp about Gardner and how he started a bit sluggish or rusty in his return with the team.
But I’m not fretting. Gardner is a talented kid with a nice work ethic and he’s now getting tutored by one of the best offensive minds in the game.
Gardner has a big arm, a lot of weapons and better running ability and speed than most people believe. He’s going to be just fine and have a banner season.
If he stays healthy, Gardner will post monster numbers.
Reggie Bonnafon, Freshman
I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t think he would be able to come in right away and get into the mix for playing time. I thought it would take a year or two.
But after fall camp, Bonnafon is pushing for playing time. It could be that Petrino uses him for a series or two in the games to get him some reps.
Bonnafon is smart, athletic and really has caught on in a hurry. It’s probably not a coincidence that he ran a similar offense at Trinity and I think the biggest things that folks forget is that even though he didn’t enroll early, Bonnafon was around the football complex a lot during the spring and summer.
***Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin and true freshman Pat Thomas are the other two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
***Tyler Ferguson and Tyler Bruggman are two quarterbacks on the roster who are sitting out this season after transferring. Ferguson came from Penn State and Bruggman from Washington State. Both are practicing with the Cardinals.
***All five eligible quarterbacks on the roster this season have a combined 12 pass attempts and eight completions. All of those come from Gardner.
***Watch later today for a video about the quarterback position and features on Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon.
***Our final day of the position series comes tomorrow with a look at the wide receiver position.