The University of Louisville entered spring practice a month ago without a clear first team quarterback, with the trio of Reggie Bonnafon, Kyle Bolin and Tyler Ferguson listed as equals on the depth chart that was released the day before practice began.
As the first week of spring practice rolled into the second, each quarterback was receiving equal reps with the first team offense and each displayed strengths and weaknesses. As week three progressed, separation began to become visible.
When the team conducted its final scrimmage prior to the spring game, it was a moment when Bonnafon appeared more confident and consistently effective in and out of the pocket. He completed 64 percent of his 28 pass attempts for just under 300 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for around 150 yards and two touchdowns.
That performance, along with his continued play during the final week of practice, earned him the starting first team spot in Friday's Red-White scrimmage. The true sophomore from Louisville Trinity used the opportunity to cap off an excellent end of spring practice. He guided the Red team to a 38-0 halftime lead, throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing 37 yards and a score. He completed 79 percent of his throws, including a number of deep balls, but he was also sacked four times and threw an interception.
“I was happy with some of the deep balls that he threw,” head coach Bobby Petrino said afterward. “I wanted to make sure we got enough throws and challenged him. He threw the ball down field and I thought he made some accurate throws.”
Bonnafon's progress during the off season and throughout spring has been noticeable. He's added 15 pounds to his frame and he's had a year to learn not only the Petrino offense, but also the speed of college football. In addition to his accuracy being much improved, Bonnafon is also proving more effective when leaving the pocket. Of the six times he crossed the line of scrimmage, the bulked up Bonnafon gained 48 yards, including three runs that went for more than 10 yards and first downs. His shortest rush was a two-yard burst through the middle for a touchdown.
His greatest area for improvement, is also an area that he has significantly improved since his brief appearance in the Belk Bowl.
“Decision-making,” Bonnafon said of his area of focus. “There's a lot of things that will show up on the film that I can improve on and correct.”
“He's way ahead of where he was last year,” Petrino said. “I think he has a better understanding of the offense.”
Bonnafon credits the bumpy freshman season experience for his progression since the end of the 2014 season.
“I had the opportunity to play as a true freshman and I think that worked to my advantage,” he explained. “This spring, coming in, we knew the things that I needed to work on to improve my game and I think the coaching staff really helped me to take that next step.”
Bonnafon's fellow quarterbacks also improved this spring.
Redshirt sophomore Kyle Bolin, a Lexington Catholic product, has also benefited from the experience of last season and working with the first team this spring.
He started as the second team quarterback, throwing for just 20 yards on seven attempts while splitting time with Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson. He assumed the role as first team quarterback in the second half and competed 8 of 11 for 169 yards and two touchdowns. While he struggled connecting with receivers on deep routes, he did finish off his final series with a 34-yard strike to Dontez Byrd for a touchdown.
“I think Kyle has the ability to make good decisions, but he missed a couple deep throws and that's what we've been working on the last two scrimmages with Kyle, is completing the deep ball,” Petrino said. “It's really a matter of overthrowing it.
“I think the only way to continue to get better at it is to keep calling those plays. It was nice to see him hit the last one where Byrd made a real nice catch.”
Working only with the second group, Ferguson finished the spring game with 47 yards and an interception on 7 of 13 passing.
“Tyler has a big arm, but he's not quite where he needs to be as far as his decision-making and understanding the offense,” said Petrino.
Following the spring game, Petrino wasn't ready to single out a first team quarterback.
“I do think all three of them improved this spring,” he said.
As anticipated, the competition at quarterback will continue into at least the early stages of fall camp, when junior Will Gardner, who returns after recovering from an injured knee, and incoming freshman Lamar Jackson will join the race.