The wonderful spring weather brought out a nice size crowd for the Cardinals first simulated scrimmage of the spring practice period on Monday afternoon. The players - a few in particular - seemed to be taking their game to an all new level after just four days of practice!
I have attended so many spring practices over the years that I have lost count. I recall watching the team run through it's drills near Mt. Schnellenger in the early 90's. As I walked along the sidelines on Monday, I saw a team loaded with amazing ability at each position. I saw a team that continues to be hungry. I saw a team determined to once again prove to the country that they are one of the best in the land.
This is a team that has the look of a champion if it limits it's mistakes, such as fumbles and penalties, as well as installing the right plays for the Brian Brohm led offense - a task that Bobby Petrino excels at - come the start of the 2005 season.
"We still have to clean up some decision making," Petrino said on Monday about the offense.
As I watched the impressive play of veterans such as defensive end Elvis Dumervil, defensive tackle Montavious Stanley and linebacker Abe Brown, I - along with others on hand - took note of the great play of running back George Stripling, linebacker Malik Jackson, cornerback Rod Council and others.
"I'm encouraged by some of our young players," Petrino said. "George Stripling has had two really good practices. He has shown that he has speed and can break the long run."
However, the buzz name of the afternoon, which spilled over into the Inside the Ville radio show, was that of redshirt freshman receiver Mario Urrutia. The Fern Creek High School grad used his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame to his advantage. He did a great job creating seperation with the defensive back and running tight routes. Add him to a receiving unit that includes Montrell Jones, Joshua Tinch, Broderick Clark, Harry Douglas and others and you can make a strong argument that U of L has the best group in the country.
"I really like what I'm seeing out of Mario Urrutia," said Petrino. "He has shown that he is very hard to cover."
Despite how good the play on both sides of the ball looked to those on the sidelines, Petrino still see's plenty of room for improvement with the team's overall toughness.
"It was nice and hot and we had a good hour practice before the scrimmage," explained Petrino. "We got them nice and tired, so we could find out how tough we are. We definately have to get tougher. For four days we have accomplished a lot, but we still have a long, long way to go."
Itching To Play
One Cardinal, who has a name very familiar to the U of L football faithful and must be itching to put on the pads and get on the field, is Bobby Buchanan, younger brother of former Louisville All-American Ray Buchanan.
Buchanan, who committed to head coach Bobby Petrino in the same class as Brian Brohm, has been paying his own way to school for the past year and will suit up for the Cardinals at the start of fall camp.
During his time off the field, Buchanan has also found himself having surgery more than once. The Chicago area native had work on his left shoulder - which now contains a few permanent pins - as well as having his knee cleaned. ITV has learned that Buchanan is rehabbing from the shoulder surgery quickly, but that he may be limited in contact during the start of fall camp.
Buchanan isn't the only one that must have a strong desire to get on the playing field. Defensive lineman Shane Bailey is still on campus and watched Monday's practice from the sidelines.
It wouldn't surprise me if Bailey, who appears to have lost about 15-20 pounds, meets with Coach Petrino in the future about a possible return to the team.
While visiting with one fan, Bailey said, "this is my team!" Time will tell if the Louisiana native can prove to the Cardinals coaching staff that he's focused both on and off the field and worthy of another opportunity.
Coming To A TV Near You!
The Louisville football team has been one of the most nationally televised programs the past few years. The team has more often than not taken advantage of such a large stage.
National audiences on ESPN and ESPN2 have seen the Cardinals beat 4th-ranked Florida State in 2002, surprised most in 2003 by starting the Petrino era 2-0 with double-digit wins over Kentucky and Syracuse in, both on the road. This past fall, the Cardinals gained the attention of the nation when they fell just short against 3rd-ranked Miami in the Orange Bowl.
Now the Cardinals will accomplish a new feat when ESPN U - the new ESPN network dedicated to college sports - broadcasts the annual Red v. White spring game to a nationwide audience. (It's now available on satellite televisions, but Insight Cable in Louisville has yet to pick up the new channel)
Not only is it a testament about the how far the U of L football program has come over the past two seasons, but it is a perfect marketing and recruiting tool.
ESPN U will only broadcast a small handful of games and the Louisville coaching staff will be among the select few that will have the ability to inform recruits that they'll be able to watch them scrimmage while sitting in their homes. Imagine the effect the size of the crowd inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium for the game would have on prospects at home watching.
"Well, I can guarantee that we'd win," jokingly said U of L Director of Football Operations Greg Brohm while on Monday's Inside the Ville radio show.
Hopefully the fans will guarantee a crowded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.