Spring Football Preview

With the Cardinal football program set to begin preparations for the 2004 season, here's a glimpse of what to expect from each position during spring practice.

QUARTERBACKS
As has been true in recent years, the Cardinals enter the 2004 spring campaign without a question mark at quarterback. Stefan LeFors was an All-C-USA first team selection, his first as a starter, throwing for 3,145 yards and 17 touchdowns. His 3,145 passing yards was the third best in school history, while his touchdowns were tied for ninth.


Stefan LeFors (ITV)
The 6-0 left-hander rose from obscurity to become the focal point of the Cardinal attack. The native of Baton Rouge, La., led the league in total offense (273.1 ypg) and was second in passing efficiency (145.46). But more importantly, LeFors completed 61.3 percent of his throws and tossed just 10 interceptions. Teamed with standout senior wide receiver J.R. Russell, LeFors helps form one of the most dynamic quarterback-receiver combinations in the country.

LeFors also showed an ability to use his legs to get out of trouble, setting the school record for rushing yards for a quarterback, running for 405 yards and three scores.

Sophomore Justin Rascati earned the primary backup role as a red-shirt freshman last season, playing in five games. He's a strong-armed accurate passer, who saw limited action in 2003. Rascati completed 14- of-24 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 57 yards, including a 33- yard touchdown scamper against UTEP.

RUNNING BACKS
This group will definitely be one of the strengths of the 2004 squad and should be one of the positions of interest as the spring season unfolds.

The Cardinals return its top three rushers who helped set the school mark for the most rushing yards in a season (2,966). After finishing near the bottom in the nation in rushing in 2002, the Cardinals placed 10th in the country with an average of 228.2 yards a game. The trio of senior Lionel Gates, junior Eric Shelton and sophomore Michael Bush combined to run for 2,110 yards and 27 touchdowns.


Lionel Gates (ITV)
Gates, a big, powerful runner with breakaway speed, headlines a talented group of backs. Gates led the Cardinals in rushing with 817 yards and 11 touchdowns, and averaged 5.8 yards a carry. In a possible preview of things to come, Gates capped the 2003 season with an 88-yard touchdown run and 128 yards in the bowl loss to Miami, and also rushed for a career-best 140 yards and four touchdowns in a 66-45 win over Houston.

Shelton, in his first season with the Cardinals after transferring from Florida State, was the power back for the Cardinals. Despite missing three games with a neck injury, the 6-3, 245-pounder still managed 790 yards and 10 scores. The native of Lexington, Ky., recorded four 100-yard games, including a 151-yard performance in the season opener at Kentucky.

The wild card in the backfield is Bush, who lined up at quarterback, wide receiver and running back last season. Used mainly as a running back late in the season, the versatile Bush managed to run for 503 yards and six touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards a tote. Out of the backfield, the former Mr. Kentucky Football caught 17 passes for 240 yards and a touchdown.

With a mixture of power and outstanding speed, Bush is one of the top athletes on the team. He showcased some of that ability last season, running for 137 yards against Houston and 125 versus Cincinnati, including an 81-yard burst for a score against the Bearcats.

Sophomore Kolby Smith is another talented player that Petrino must find time for in a crowded backfield. Playing at the fullback position last season, Smith ran for 131 yards and a touchdown and averaged 7.3 yards a carry. He had surgery in the offseason and will stay out of contact.

Red-shirt freshman Reggie Bradshaw didn't see game action last season, but is a hard-runner with sprinter's speed, who will get a long look this spring.

D.J. Kamer and Smith split time at fullback last season, but Kamer has graduated and Smith will play more running back. Senior Adam McCauley was moved to fullback last season and will get a lot of reps this season, while James Jackson, who plahyed linebacker last season, will make the move to offense this spring.

WIDE RECEIVERS
The Cardinals are blessed at wide receiver with some of the best talent in the country. Fortunate to have everyone back from last season, the Cardinals add the likes of a major college transfer and a top-flight red-shirt freshman to a stable of outstanding pass catchers. The Cardinals have so much talent and depth at this position that the only problem facing the coaching staff is figuring out how to get so many talented athletes on the field at once.

Senior J.R. Russell, an All-America candidate, returns after posting one of the top seasons in school history. The 6-3 senior recorded 75 catches for a school-best 1,213 yards and eight touchdowns, closing the season with three straight 100-yard games. He ended the 2003 campaign with a sevencatch, 144-yard and three touchdown performance against Miami in the bowl game.

Russell enters his final campaign with 113 catches for 1,651 yards and 12 touchdowns in his remarkable career.

Senior Joshua Tinch is another talented receiver, who looks to improve on disappointing numbers last season. One of the fiercest competitors on the team and never afraid to make the tough catch over the middle, Tinch caught 26 passes for 401 yards and a score. He will miss spring practice due to his commitments on the men's basketball team.

Junior Broderick Clark hopes to use this spring to get healthy and improve as a wide receiver. Nagged by a high hamstring injury last year, Clark caught 23 passes for 313 yards, but seemed to be slowed down late in the year due to the injury. Clark, one of the top kick returners in the conference, is healthy again and hopes to regain his freshman form that saw him rank in the top five nationally in kickoff returns.

Petrino found a way last season to utilize junior Robert Haskins into the offense, and the 5-6 wideout didn't disappoint. Arguably one of the fastest players on the team, Haskins made big plays, catching eight passes for 115 yards, but also rushed seven times for 93 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown run on a reverse against Houston.

Senior Tiger Jones is a possession-type receiver who has plenty of game experience and has shown through the years that he's capable of making plays.

The Cardinals red-shirted a talented group of wideouts in junior Montrell Jones and red-shirt freshman Harry Douglas. Jones transferred last year from Tennessee and worked with the scout team. The coaching staff is excited about getting Jones out on the field with the first unit and getting him involved in the offense.

As a freshman with the Volunteers, Jones, caught 22 passes for 306 yards in 2002, and is an explosive, big-play receiver, who will no doubt give the Cardinals one of the deepest units in the league. Douglas posseses sprinter-type speed and owns great hands. He had a solid red-shirt season, and is ready to fight for playing time.

The big loss for the Cardinals comes at tight end where four-time All-C-USA performer Ronnie Ghent and Richard Owens have graduated, leaving the Cardinals with one tight end with game experience in sophomore Wayne Riles. Used mainly in a blocking role and in certain short-yardage situations, Riles must be a factor in the Cardinals precision passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN
The biggest question mark and problem area for the Cardinals heading into the 2003 season was the offensive line. However, ask the coaching staff what the biggest surprise was, and they would say the offensive front. After yielding 46 sacks in 2002, the Cardinals front five allowed just 13. This group also helped the Cardinals set the school mark for rushing yards in a season and average yards per carry (5.7).

The Cardinals lost two starters in the trenches in center Dan Koons and guard Jerry Spencer, and will have to make some changes this spring.


Jason Spitz (UofL)
However, the good news is the Cardinals have two All-Conference performers on the line to build upon. Junior weak tackle Travis Leffew and junior Jason Spitz each earned second team All-C-USA honors and are two of the most talented linemen in the league.

Leffew has made 26 straight starts and is one of the most athletic linemen on the squad. Spitz has started 14 straight at weak guard and is one of the toughest and most skilled players upfront.

The other returning starter is also a solid player in sophomore Renardo Foster. At 6-6, Foster is a mammouth specimen who made a successful transition to the offensive side of the football to start 13 games at tackle. A former defensive tackle, Foster was named to the All-C-USA Freshman squad.

Junior Kurt Quarterman, who weighs in at 360 pounds, will take over at strong guard and junior Bubba Marshall will also compete there for playing time. Junior-college transfer Jeremy Darveau is another 300- pounder who'll get time at tackle, but could other positions if needed.

Former offensive guard Will Rabatin will move this spring to the center position after spending most of his career at guard. Rabatin is a technically-sound lineman and will compete with sophomore P.J. Tavarczky for the starting nod this spring. Red-shirt freshman Danny Barlowe is a hard worker and will likely backup Spitz at the weak guard.

DEFENSIVE LINE
The defensive line lost just one player on the line in defensive tackle Scott Lopez and have a great deal of talent and potential upfront, and could be a much improved unit.

Heading this group is senior defensive end Marcus Jones, one of the top pass rushers in Conference USA. Jones, a second team All-Conference honoree, led the team in sacks with 10 and had 17 tackles for loss. Jones is a high-energy player who provides relentless pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Jones was fifth on the team in tackles with 62 and could be in for a big season in new defensive coordinator Mike Cassity's scheme.

Junior Elvis Dumervil is an athletic defensive end who is coming off a 28-tackle season and could be even better as he enters the spring. He also added six tackles for loss and two sacks. Chad Rimpsey played in a reserve role in 2003, but is expected to be a consistent performer along the line this year. Playing in 12 games, Rimpsey registered 23 tackles and two tackles for loss. Red-shirt freshman Shane Bailey is a gifted youngster who expects to compete for playing time and will use this spring to learn the defensive system. Senior Bobby Leffew will also be at tackle, but will likely miss spring drills due to offseason surgery. Converted tight end Chad Jorgensen is a quick rusher off the edge and should use the spring to continue his development.

Junior Montavious Stanley, who started the year at defensive end, was moved to defensive tackle in the bowl game and will likely stay there for spring practice. The 6-4, 290-pounder might be more efficient inside with his size and speed.

Senior Tyrone Saterfield needs to rebound from a disappointing second half of the year. At 311 pounds, Saterfield could be a major factor upfront to reverse the fortunes of the Cardinal defense. Last season, Saterfield recorded 31 tackles and four tackles for loss, and failed to record a sack.

Sophomore Amobi Okoye, who was the youngest player in football last season, will be a player to watch this spring. Having had a full season and a winter workout session, the 6-1, 317-pounder could be a player to watch out for after a year of maturity. Playing in 13 games, Okoye tallied 17 tackles playing limited time.

LINEBACKERS
If Louisville is going to improve this year on defense, the Cardinals need the linebackers to step up and have a big season. This unit lost one senior starter in Rod Day, but returns two other starters in senior Robert McCune in the middle and junior Brandon Johnson at outside linebacker.

McCune, a third team All-C-USA selection, posted a career-high 143 tackles in 13 games. He posted eight games of 10 or more tackles, including 19 in an overtime loss to USF. McCune is one of the strongest and fastest players on the squad, and will need to have another big year for the Cardinals. Johnson's a tall-lanky backer who was used a lot as an outside rusher a year ago. He recorded 50 tackles, but was also third on the team in sacks with three.

The weakside linebacker spot will be wide open with a pair of youngsters competing for time this spring. Sophomore Deriontae Taylor was a factor last season on special teams as a freshman, but will get a long look this spring to win a job at linebacker.

The coaches are extremely high on converted quarterback and red-shirt freshman Preston Smith. Recruited to play quarterback, Smith was moved to linebacker midway through the season and will see a lot of action this spring. Senior Jonathan Jackerson and red-shirt freshmen Willie Johnson and Matt Sanders will use this spring to compete for playing time next fall.

SECONDARY
Louisville boasts a solid nucleus in the secondary with three starters returning to the lineup.

Senior Antoine Harris, who converted from wide receiver last season, emerged early in the season and played well in his first go round on defense. Boasting excellent speed, Harris posted 51 tackles, had six pass breakups and tied for the team lead in interceptions with three. Still learning the position, Harris will benefit from having a full spring at that position and could be ready to emerge at this spot when fall camp begins.

Sophomore William Gay received a lot of experience last season and has the potential to be a dominant corner for the Cards for the next three seasons. The native of Tallahassee, Fla., played in 11 games, including four as a starter, recording 33 tackles and one interception.

Transfer Antoine Sharp, who worked out at wide receiver last year, will make the switch to corner this spring. An excellent athlete with good speed, Sharp could throw his name in the mix and add depth to this unit with a good spring. Sophomore Gavin Smart opened the season as a starter, but played mainly in nickel situations after suffering a shoulder injury that cost him his starting position. Playing in nine games, Smart recorded 17 tackles, but helped the Cardinals open the season on a positive note by returning an interception 41 yards that helped set up a Cardinal touchdown in a 40-24 win over Kentucky. Smart will likely miss spring practice due to injury. Senior J.T. Haskins is a valuable special teams player, but also filled in on nickel and dime situations a year ago.

Red-shirt freshman Early McCray is also someone to keep an eye on this spring. A talented youngster from Douglas, Ga., McCray is an intriguing prospect and has the potential to step right in and be a very solid cover cornerback.

Safety was a big question mark for the Cardinals heading into the 2003 season with youth and experience fogging up the picture. In 2004, this group looks to be pretty solid with both starters returning and a key player returning from an injury.

Senior Brent Johnson emerged last season, leading the club in tackles with a career-best 116 stops. A hard hitter, Johnson closed the year in impressive fashion, averaging 14.0 tackles in the last four games, including 14 in the loss to Miami. Johnson was also third on the team with eight tackles for loss and also added four pass breakups.

Senior Kerry Rhodes posted a careerhigh 82 tackles in his first season as a starter. Rhodes recorded three interceptions, returning one for a touchdown. Rhodes, at 6-3, is a big target in the secondary and had a solid year. Sophomore Abe Brown is built in the same mold as Rhodes and could see more action this year, especially on special teams. Brown played sparingingly in 2003, but will need a good spring to crack the rotation.

Red-shirt freshman Malik Jackson is a hardhitting strong safety that the coaching staff expects big things from in 2004. Jackson showed on the scout team last season that he'll deliver a big hit on anyone, and is expected to be a factor this spring for playing time. Junior Jon Gannon is another talented player, who is trying to rebound from injuries. Gannon sat out all of last year, but will go full go this spring to see where he is physically. If healthy, Gannon's toughness and knowledge of the game will be a welcome addition in the secondary.

SPECIAL TEAMS
The Cardinals will have to replace one of the school's and conference's top placekickers with the graduation of Nate Smith. Spring practice will be an open competition for the kicking job between four players with no game experience.

Arthur Carmody is an untested youngster who red-shirted last season, but has plenty of potential. Carmody is an All-State performer who is one of the team's most accurate kickers, and will use the spring to garmer much-needed experience.

Todd Flannery is another player with potential, and will get a long look this spring. Flannery is valuable because he can kickoff, kick field goals and handle the punting chores. Rob Zarrilli is also in the mix, which will create a competitive battle this spring.


Brent Moody (ITV)
Sophomore Brent Moody will resume his duties at punter after a solid first season. Kicking in 12 games, Moody averaged 39.5 yards a punt and placed 12 inside the 20-yard line. Flannery will also compete at punter this spring.

Broderick Clark will continue his role at kick returner. Slowed by injuries last season, Clark's numbers dipped to 19.5 yards a return after finishing second in the nation in that category in 2002.

Douglas, Montrell Jones, Bush, Bradshaw, Gates and Antoine Sharp will each get a look returning kicks this spring.

Robert Haskins took over the punt retun duties and did a solid job, averaging 7.7 yards a return. Petrino and his staff will also look at Montrell Jones, Gay, Harris and Douglas this spring as punt returners.


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