An obvious sign of the continued growth of interest in Cardinal football was the impressive showing of fans for each practice session throughout the week. It all culminated on Monday afternoon when over 100 fans found time to sneak out of the office to catch the Cardinals last open practice session. Talk among the fans ranged from the play of both the veterans and rookies to the upcoming season, as well as the bright future as Big East Conference members.
Matt Sanders Return
It's probably felt like forever to redshirt freshman Matt Sanders, but his return, following two successful knee operations, has been nothing short of impressive. The 6-foot-2, 245-pound middle linebacker was highly sought after prospect as a senior at Male High School prior to his knee injury. While other programs, such as Tennessee and Ohio State backed off, Louisville stayed with him and that decision will likely begin to play dividends this fall. Sanders played quite a bit with the first team throughout the first week and should be one of the many signs of the future this fall as frequent presence on the field during the 2004 season.
When the returning players took to the field for the first time over a week ago it was clear that the hiring of Jason Veltkamp as the Cardinals Strength & Conditioning Coach was one of the best moves by Bobby Petrino during his tenure as head coach. The improved conditioning has resulted in increased strength, better speed and endurance throughout the team.
Despite missing spring practice due to a broken bone in his left foot, Michael Bush started fall camp strong and improved daily. Instead of spending time working at multiple offensive positions like last year, Bush has focused at running back for the majority of each practice. Bush did spend a few minutes, 15-20 per day, working on the defensive side of the ball as well, playing a position similar to former Cardinal rover Michael Brown. His ability to make a difference on both sides of the ball was evident during last Sunday's scrimmage, as he made a couple of open field tackles, while also running strong each time he had the ball.
While some expected some sort of quarterback controversy between LeFors and freshman Brian Brohm, LeFors displayed exceptional leadership and played very well, while also ignoring the constant questioning from the media and fans about the possible quarterback battle. His off season work is paying off as the returning Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year seems to be seeing the field better and improved throwing the ball down the field, as well as across the middle.
What a difference a year makes. The Cardinal defense now has valuable experience and increased depth, as well as a new coordinator in Mike Cassity. All three have made a difference thus far. The intensity among the defensive players, as well as coaches, is clear to the many fans that attended practices. This years defense will be much more agressive and do a better job of getting to the ball and team tackling. The secondary appears to be developing into a unit that could eventually rival some of the better defensive backfields in the school's history. Both the defensive line and linebacker units have played better than anticipated by some outside observers, including myself. In addition to Sanders play previously mentioned, linebacker Abe Brown has played very well. Defensive end Marcus Jones' increased strength and weight is making a difference as well as his pass rush has continued to get better. Defensive tackle Amobi Okoye has shed some unneeded weight and because of it may find himself alongside Bobby Leffew as a starter. As a entire unit and without question, the confidence and swagger on the defensive side of the ball is greatly improved.
A handful of players from the 2004 recruiting class have quickly made an impression and have all but secured playing time this fall.
The senior tight end really played well over the course of the first week. Despite seeing very limited action during his previous years at U of L, with most coming on special teams, McCauley has looked very comfortable at the tight end spot and could remain the Cardinals first team tight end all season.
It's rare that a walk-on grabs anyone's attention during their first week of practice on the college level, but a couple stood out during the first seven days.
Ben Brooks from Ballard and Chase Floyd from Boone County also played well.
Showing no effects from the injury that sidelined him late in the season last year, Shelton entered fall camp in great physical condition and is now proving to have the ability to elude defenders, as well as overpowering them.
The senior receiver from Mobile, Alabama continued where he left on in the spring, making one impressive reception after another. With one of the most talented and deepest receiving corps in the country at U of L, Jones could be playing his way into the first rotation.