On Saturday, at 2:00 p.m., the University of Louisville football program will begin it's quest for the 2005 BIG EAST Conference title and a spot in the Bowl Championship Series, when Bobby Petrino and his staff begin practice at the U of L football complex.
The Cardinal coaches welcome back a solid group of starters from their 11-1 squad of 2004. Eight starters return from last fall's top-rated offense, while seven return from a defense that finished 15th in the country. However, with six players drafted in the NFL Draft, Coach Petrino does have some holes to fill.
"Although we had six guys drafted and another three guys go to NFL free agent camps, I like the team that we have coming back," said Petrino, who has compiled a 20-5 career record at U of L. "I think we can replace the guys we lost very well."
While a number of starters do return, fans attending the practice session will see great competition, the rise of new team leaders, the raw abilities of the true freshmen and more.
One competition that has remained a hot topic throughout the off-season is the middle linebacker spot vacated by Washington Redskin rookie Robert McCune.
"One of our best competitions at camp will be at the middle linebacker spot," Petrino said. "It'll be a great competition between Matt Sanders, Lamar Myles and [Nate Harris]. The three of them will battle it out until we find out who the starter is."
However, that expected competition isn't the only spot in the linebacking unit to keep an eye on during the first week of practice. Sophomore Malik Jackson played mostly on special teams in 2004, but Petrino says the 6-foot-2, 230-pound outside linebacker could challenge Abe Brown for the spot.
"We thought he might play as a true freshmen two years ago," he said. "He didn't quite understand the tempo of the game and all the different things you have to learn, so we redshirted him. He played a lot last year on special teams and now I think he is ready to make a run and get in a lot of the reps at linebacker."
While senior Elvis Dumervil, who's 12 career sacks ranks 11th in school history, doesn't risk losing his starting spot at defensive end, he is still one to watch, as he as has used the summer months to become one of the team's new leaders.
"Elvis is a very unique defensive end because he's only about 5-foot-11, but he has the arm reach of a guy that is 6-foot-5," Petrino said. "That makes it very difficult to block him. He did a great job rushing the passer for us last year and he has done an excellent job this summer taking over the leadership role for the defense."
Offensively, Coach Petrino is blessed to have the talent available to replace three players - Stefan LeFors, Eric Shelton and Lionel Gates - that accounted for 66 percent of the team's total offense in 2004.
Bush rushed for 734-yards &
seven touchdowns in 2004
"Michael Bush might be the best athlete that I have ever been around and that includes my three years coaching in the NFL," Petrino said of the junior running back. "He can do so many different things. The thing that he has over everybody else is that he can do it at 250-pounds."
Brohm, who threw for 819 yards and six touchdowns as a true freshman, has looked that part of a an experienced veteran throughout the spring and summer months.
"I think Brian's performance last year was overshadowed by how well Stefan played," Petrino said. "There's not a lot of true freshmen in the country that could have come in and complete over 64% of their passes, only throw two interceptions, take you when you are behind in the Miami game in the fourth quarter - in one of the most hostile enviroments that you could be in - and take you down for a touchdown and give you a chance to win that game."
Protecting Brohm all year will be what many consider the program's best group of offensive linemen. Seniors Travis Leffew and Jason Spitz, both of who have garnered numerous preseason accolades, have started next to each for every one of the 25 games that Bobby Petrino has coached.
Always one of the most exciting units to watch during practice is the receivers. Offensive Coordinator/Receivers Coach Paul Petrino is always active and never stops pushing his receivers to improve. With athletes such as Joshua Tinch, Broderick Clark, Montrell Jones, Harry Douglas, Mario Urrutia and others, the competition is sure to high and intense.
With the high number of experienced and quality athletes, it is no surprise that the BIG EAST Conference media voted the Cardinals as the favorite to win the league crown this fall.
"I like the fact that we are going in as the favorite," Petrino said. "I think it shows that we were a good football team last year and that we finished the season strong."
Practice will remain open to the public through Saturday, August 13th. Be sure to remain logged on to InsideTheVille.com for complete coverage of all Cardinal football action.