With departure of seniors Ronnie Ghent, Rod Day, Richard Owens and Josh Minkins, a new group players are poised to grab the headlines and spotlight as the University of Louisville football program continues its rise to national prominence.
As spring practice opens on Thursday, new names will begin to surface, as fans and media alike begin giving their attention to those athletes who are expected to make an impact this coming fall.
Last fall, it was players such as Michael Bush, William Gay, Brent Moody, Gavin Smart and others that became immediate contributors during Bobby Petrino's first season at the helm of the Louisville football program. This fall will likely see a couple incoming freshmen display the ability to play their first season and earn game time, but during spring practice, a handful of players will rise to the surface to claim starting and vital reserve spots.
After redshirting a number of true freshmen last fall, Petrino has an impressive stable of athletes that will push upperclassmen at a number of spots. In addition, two transfers, who used their redshirt seasons last fall as well, are gearing up to jump into the spotlight.
Two of the biggest names this spring are Montrell Jones and Antoine Sharp, who both garnered prep All-American honors as seniors in 2000. Following their impressive high school careers, both committed elsewhere, Jones chose to attend Tennessee, while Sharp pledged to Florida. Jones will challenge for a starting receiver spot, while Sharp will compete for starting cornerback.
For both, the year off was both a difficult, but rewarding experience.
"It was pretty unusual for me," Jones told ITV. "I haven't been used to sitting out, but I have gained a lot from it mentally and football wise."
"It was pretty rough sitting out that first year," added Sharp. "Right now though, it is paying off for me."
|# 49 | Shane Bailey | Defensive End|
|Shane Bailey has the attributes that every head coach wants in a defensive end...great size and speed. At 6'3, 277-pounds, Bailey can match up well with opposing offensive tackles. Along with Marcus Jones, Bailey is listed atop the depth chart heading into spring practice. Should he continue to improve and learn the new defensive scheme quickly, Bailey will help the Cardinal defensive front become more consistant with its pressure on the opposing backfield.|
|# 63 | Danny Barlowe | Offensive Tackle|
|Danny Barlowe, also known as 'The Joker,' enters spring practice behind Travis Leffew as the left tackle spot and will likely fill a reserve role as a redshirt freshman this fall. Barlowe spent the majority of his redshirt season, as well as the off season, in the weight room improving his strength. He could also be found frequently staying after practice last year working on techniques. As a future starter, there will be little if no drop-off when Barlowe enters the game.|
|# 85 | Harry Douglas | Wide Receiver/Kick Returner|
|Think back to the days of Arnold Jackson and Zek Parker and you'll have a good idea as to what Harry Douglas can bring to the Cardinal offense. Douglas exhibits great hands, speed and awareness, which makes him a threat as both a receiver and kick returner. The redshirt freshman will enter spring practice on the 2-deep chart.|
|# 11 | Malik Jackson | Strong Safety|
|Like Bailey, Malik Jackson will enter spring practice atop the depth chart at his position. Jackson has great size (6'2, 220) and speed (4.4) to go along with impressive strength, which will allow him to close quickly on passing routes, as well as in safety blitz packages. His ability to learn defensive coordinator Mike Cassity's secondary schemes will solidify him as a starter heading into fall camp later this year.|
|# 86 | Montrell Jones | Wide Receiver|
|If you follow Louisville area high school football, you are very familiar with Montrell Jones. Jones, who earned SuperPrep All-American honors as a senior at Male High School, will give the U of L offense another talented receiver. While redshirting last year, following a transfer from Tennessee, Jones worked with the scout team, displaying great hands and having the ability to elude opposing defensive backs. Jones will enter spring practice as a reserve receiver, but should push for a starting position.|
|# 8 | Early McCray | Cornerback|
|Strength and speed are what make Early McCray a strong candidate to grab the starting cornerback position. Working with the scout team during his redshirt season last fall, McCray also displayed great cover skills. The competition at left cornerback, which is McCray's expected spot, with Antoine Harris, should be one of the biggest battles this spring.|
|# 5 | Antoine Sharp | Cornerback|
|After transferring from Florida prior to the start of the 2003 season, Antoine Sharp spent time working at the receiver position. However, as ITV reported a few weeks ago, Sharp will now join his brother Brandon in the Louisville secondary. He will enter spring practice as a reserve cornerback behind William Gay. Sharp's size and speed will give defensive coordinator Mike Cassity an athlete to face up against the taller receivers. His conversion during spring practice is also an area to watch.|