Heisman Trophy winning quarterback returns to lead the Cardinals in 2017

Louisville junior quarterback Lamar Jackson is preparing to improve on his stellar sophomore campaign

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson has kept a hectic schedule during the offseason making trips to different locales around the nation to be honored as 2016's top college football player.  The stops included festivities for the Heisman Trophy and Maxwell Award, honors given to the nation's top player, along with the Davey O'Brien Award that is handed out to the country's top quarterback.

"I think its been a grind on him," U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said on Monday.  "It's been good that he's been able to get it over with and get back to work with his teammates."

In addition to picking up some impressive trophies, Jackson has also kept busy readying himself to improve on his award-winning performance of a season ago.

He's spent considerable time in the weight room and working with team trainers to improve his overall strength and endurance.  The goal is for him to reach 208-210 pounds on the scale before the start of fall camp and he's nearing that without adding any fat to his frame.  While he's increasing in size, Jackson also exceeded prior performances during player testing two weeks ago.

"We do have his weight above 200-pounds, but he still has a ways to go," said Petrino.  "He's stronger and tested better than he ever has.  He's not where I want him yet, but he's better than he has been."

As a sophomore, Jackson established a number of new school and ACC records, including conference records for most rushing yards (1,571) and rushing touchdowns (21) by a quarterback.  His 5,114 yards of total offense established a new school mark, which included an ACC-record setting performance of 610-yards in an eye-popping performance at Syracuse. 

As impressive as that sophomore season was for the Pompano Beach, Fla., product, changes and improvements are on tap in 2017.

Petrino anticipates the more frequent use of a traditional power running attack this fall and will take measures to improve that area of his high-powered offense during spring drills.

Previewing his team's spring practice, Petrino said that "not relying just on the quarterback and the quarterback options on trying to run the football" was among the key areas of improvement.

"I think that will help Lamar," he said.  "I think it'll take some pressure off of him.  He's making a decision on every play on who he throws the ball to, and also if he's handing the ball off or keeping it."

Much of that begins with helping  Jackson become more comfortable working under center, an aspect that Petrino labeled as enhancement "number one" when addressing his quarterback's areas of improvement.  Working on his progressions and comfort in the pocket are also areas they'll address during the coming weeks of spring practice.

"We'll spend some extra time this spring on doing that," he said.  "I think its real important for him to continue to get better at progression reads - going from one, to two, to three - and I really felt like early in the year and mid-year he was doing a good job with that, and then he got a little greedy down the stretch and didn't get to number two or three like he should.  He tried to force to much to number one, so we have to do a better job at that.

"He has to do a better job of setting every time in the pocket.  Getting back, getting set and standing tall, and then his accuracy rate is real high.  When he starts moving before he sets, his accuracy went way, way down."

Petrino also addressed helping Jackson develop a better understanding of when to get rid of the ball instead of being stopped behind the line of scrimmage, an area that became a cause for concern during the later stages of the 2016 season.

"He needs to make a transition into knowing when do I throw the football away," Petrino said.  "How do I not take negative yardage when I'm outside of the pocket.  That's a huge step because that hurt us a lot down the stretch."

Jackson, who is the reigning ACC Player of the Year, enjoyed the post season accolades that the attention that came his way, but he's always preferred to be on the field improving his game.

"I think he's anxious to get back on the practice field," Petrino said.  "He's a kid that loves going to practice and enjoys being back out there."

The Cardinals begin spring practice on Tuesday.


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