Every year as spring practice begins, there are always a number of players that see their stock rise due to their improved play. Below are just some of those that I have taken notice of and will likely become common names among the Cardinal faithful:
WR Tiger Jones: Jones is a player that many have anticipated having a break out season since he arrived. Now a senior, Jones appears to be ready to meet those expectations. Through the first fives day of spring ball, Jones has had sure hands, pulling in a number of difficult receptions. Problem for Jones, the receiver spot is loaded to the point that it may just be the top group in the country.
CB Antoine Sharp: Making the switch from receiver, for which he received prep All-American honors, to cornerback just prior to spring practice, I anticipated a gradual learning process for the junior transfer from Florida. Sharp, however, has looked very impressive during the first week of practice. He has displayed the ability to stay stride-for-stride with opposing receivers and has made a number of pass breakups. With his size (6'1, 200), Sharp could become a permanent fixture in the Cardinals secondary, often matched up against bigger receivers.
S Malik Jackson: Next to Bailey, Jackson has impressed me the most during early portion of spring practice. At 6'2, 220-pounds, Jackson may seem like a great candidate for linebacker, but he seems at home in the secondary. His play in the secondary has been nothing but impressive each day out and he gives the coaches a physical player to utilize for saftey blitz packages. Likely starter on opening day.
K Arthur Carmody: Through five days, Carmody has missed three field goal attempts, one from about 30 yards out hit the upright, while the other two were from more than 50-yards out. He more often than splits the uprights, no matter the distance. His last time out on Tuesday, he converted two from 52-yards.
S Jon Gannon: Gannon's mere presence in pads rises his stock to entire new level. The possibility that he may see action this fall is nothing short of a miracle. If Gannon should return to see frequent action, his leadership, as well as his knowledge of the defensive schemes and the ability to read opposing offenses will greatly benefit the Louisville secondary.
RB Reggie Bradshaw: Seemingly stuck in a log jam behind two of Conference USA's top rushers, Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates, Bradshaw will likely see very limited game action in 2004. However, his performance to date has grabbed everyone's attention, even the local television news crews who recently interviewed him Tuesday to talk about his 100 plus yard scrimmage this past Sunday.
LB Abe Brown: If you listened to this past Monday's ITV Radio program, you are already aware that I have been impressed with Brown's play following his position change from safety to linebacker. Similar to Antoine Sharp, I also expected to Brown to need extra time to learn the new spot, but Brown is playing better than I ever saw from him while playing safety. He'll face a challenge come fall when three talented freshmen report, but I anticipate Brown securing a spot on the first unit prior to the first game.
DE Josh Williams: Shhh. I almost feel as if I shouldn't mention Williams. He has seemed to be 'under the radar' since he arrived on campus as a true freshman last fall, but he is quickly proving that he can make a solid contribution this season. He has decent speed and impressive strength and is likely climbing the depth chart. Will likely be a solid reserve during the 2004 season.
WR Montrell Jones: Believe me, Jones is legit! Big, physical, elusive and great hands all describe Jones' play through five days. He can be counted on to rack up yards after the catch. He also appears to have matured from his prior experiences and enjoys being on the field. He's a starter come opening day.
DE Shane Bailey: Listed atop the depth chart entering spring practice, Bailey has shown to those who attend practices that he is very well deserving of the spot. One fan in attendance on Tuesday, described Bailey as the next Dewayne White and he could very well be right. Great size, speed and strength, Bailey is poised to become the next great Cardinal defensive end. Starter on opening day.
WR Harry Douglas: There is a buzz among those attending practices regarding Douglas. He is one of the quickest players on the team, has great hands and is a very elusive receiver who has the ability to create yards after the catch. The question that keeps surfacing is, how will he squeeze into the first unit of receivers? Continued strong play is the answer. Douglas may become a featured kick returner and will, without question, have a number of balls thrown his way this fall.
TE Wayne Riles: Seeing limited action as a true freshman, coupled with constant work in the weight room has greatly benefited Riles. He has developed into a nice pass-catching tight end. He runs crisp routes and has soft hands. His run-blocking is solid as well. Riles will be the first unit tight end when the Cards open play in the fall.
Offensive Line: I have said it before and I'll say it again...the first team offensive line is the strongest at Louisville in over a decade. Like last year, the Cardinals quarterback will feel very little pressure and running backs can expect to find some gapping holes this fall.
Others of Note: While not listed among the players above, basically due to the prior play, the following players continue to look solid: RB Lionel Gates, RB Eric Shelton, WR J.R. Russell, CB William Gay and QB Stefan LeFors.
Pressure Defense a Reality
Like pressure defense? You'll like the new Cardinal defense. Due to lack of experience and depth during the 2003 season, U of L was limited in what defensive packages it could utilize, but a year later, with an influx of talented redshirt freshmen now available, new U of L defensive coordinator Mike Cassity is staying true to his word and wokring on improving that aspect of the Cardinal defense. Frequent drills include jamming the opposing receiver on the line of scrimmage and man coverage.