While the college basketball season is enjoying its annual madness, the world of college football is beginning its preparations for the 2015 season. In Louisville, that begins on Tuesday with the start of spring practice.
With few starters returning on each side of the ball, there will be plenty of areas of interest throughout the month of spring ball. Here's a few topics of discussion as practice nears:
Due to a mix of injuries and inconsistency, the Cardinals had three different players – Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin – start at quarterback last fall. Add redshirt junior Pat Thomas and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, to the mix and the competition to for the top spot on the depth chart will be exciting to watch.
Gardner, who started seven games and led the team in passing yards (1,669) and touchdowns (12), will miss spring as he continues to recover from surgery to repair his left knee. He completed 57.5 percent of his 221 attempts, with just three interceptions in 2014.
Bonnafon started five games as a true freshman before being sidelined with a knee injury suffered early against Kentucky in the last game of the regular season. The Louisville Trinity product finished second in passing yards (864) and was fifth in rushing yards (164).
A product of Lexington (Ky) Catholic, Bolin replaced the injured Bonnafon against Kentucky and performed well in the victory, throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns. He started and threw for 300 yards against Georgia in the Belk Bowl.
Prior to spending a year at Penn State, Ferguson, a native of Bakersfield, Calif., was one of the nation's top-rated junior college quarterbacks in the nation after throwing for a school record 2,614 yards as a freshman at the College of the Sequoias.
Thomas transferred to Louisville from Georgia Military College and spent last season as a redshirt. The Georgia native totaled 1,695 yards and 17 touchdowns, while helping lead Georgia Military College to the 2013 NJCAA championship game.
Considering that Gardner won't return until the start of fall ball in August, expect the competition for the starting quarterback spot to continue into the weeks leading up to the season opener against Auburn.
New Look Receivers
Not only is DeVante Parker gone, but so is nearly everyone else. There are a total of two receivers that hauled in a pass in 2014 that are present on the new roster. Junior James Quick finished third on the team with 36 catches, while sophomore Javonte Bagley saw limited action in four games and totaled two receptions for 18 yards.
However, the Cardinals have a talented group of incoming receivers that should allow the passing game to overcome the lack of experience. Texas A&M transfer Ja'Quay Williams has the potential to be an immediate impact performer and fellow newcomers via transfer – Paul Harris (Tennessee), Gio Pascascio (Glendale CC) and Jamari Staples (UAB) – should all become key figures in the Cardinals passing game during spring drills.
The Cardinals also have an impressive group of freshman receivers joining the roster that will strengthen competition not only in the spring, but also when fall camp opens.
New Look Secondary
Due to a trio of early NFL departures and graduation, Louisville also nearly lost its entire secondary, but there is plenty of talent to fill the void. Among those vying for the open spots are former Georgia Bulldogs Josh Harvey-Clemons and Shaq Wiggins. The pair spent last year practicing while sitting out due to transfer rules and are expected to alleviate the loss of experience. In 2013, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Clemons started 11 games at safety for the Bulldogs, while Wiggins led Georgia with a pair of interceptions as a true freshman cornerback.
In the Trenches
New faces along the offensive line and the departure of two of the team's top three rushers from a season ago will have an impact on the Cardinals rushing attack. The rebuild begins this spring as the newcomers, along with returning veterans work to make the ground game an even more consistent threat in 2015.
Returning to the backfield is junior Brandon Radcliff, who led the team with 737 yards and 12 touchdowns, and sophomore L.J. Scott. Fresno City Community College running back transfer Jeremy Smith solidifies a depth chart that also includes Malin Jones, who sat out last season after transferring from Northwestern. Senior Corvin Lamb continues to recover from knee surgery.
Each of the Cardinals spring practice sessions will be open to the public. The team will scrimmage at least three times prior to the spring game, with the first set for Saturday, March 28. Additional scrimmages are slated for Saturday, April 4, and Friday, April 10. Times for each practice have yet to be announced. The spring game is scheduled for 7:00p.m.
To view the spring practice schedule, click here.