A common concern for fans prior to the start of preseason camp was whether or not a serviceable backup quarterback would emerge in the event sophomore star Brian Brohm went down with injury this coming season.
Well, based on his performance last spring and so far during fall camp, 6-4, 230-pound redshirt freshman Hunter Cantwell has put those worries to rest with his play on the practice field.
Cantwell, who arrived at U of L last fall as a walk-on from western Kentucky football hot-bed Paducah Tilghman, solidified the No. 2 spot behind Brohm with a solid effort last spring and he's done nothing since practice resumed last Saturday to lead on-lookers to surmise he won't be ready for action this fall if needed.
"I feel really good about how I'm playing," Cantwell said following a strong-outing during Tuesday mornings practice. "I think I've progressed a lot since being here. Coach Petrino and Coach Brohm have really brought me to this level right now."
Quarterback coach Jeff Brohm has been pleased with Cantwell's improvement from last spring.
"I think Hunter has done a good job so far," Brohm said. "He's a big strong kid who has a good arm and he keeps getting better everyday. He's got a little ways to go but he's getting the ball out of his hands."
Though he still admits to making some mistakes on the field, Cantwell has displayed a strong, accurate arm this fall. He's been particularly effective throwing the deep routes and his touch appears improved since last spring.
Cantwell talks with quarterback
coach Jeff Brohm during practice.
Cantwell credits Petrino and Brohm for his rapid improvement and says that his constant study and enhanced knowledge of opposing defenses has helped him feel more comfortable at the reigns of U of L's precise, and potent offense.
"I think just my understanding of the defensive side of the ball has improved greatly," explained Cantwell. "Coach Petrino's offense is insane – it's just a great scheme. Just learning about the different types of defenses has helped me find the open man."
Brohm credits Cantwell's dedication during the summer for his improved understanding on the field.
"He's gotten better at [reading the defense] every day," Brohm said. "He worked really hard during the offseason. He knows he's one play away from leading this team and he's got to be at his very best."
That understanding has provided Cantwell the confidence that he can move Petrino's offense if and when he's called upon this season.
"I definitely think I have the confidence [to lead the offense]," Cantwell said. "I've still got things to work on, but I feel that if something were to happen to Brian – God forbid – that I'd be able to go in and keep this team moving."
Brohm said the coaching staff also has more confidence that Cantwell will be ready to play this season, though there's currently no plan on when or how they would use him in game action.
"I think we would," Brohm said when asked if the coaching staff would feel comfortable with Cantwell operating under center during game conditions. "Obviously he needs game experience to get where he needs to be. So right now we've got to get him as well prepared as we can in practice and then come the first game we'll see where he's at. Hopefully he'll be ready."
"Right now we don't have a plan for how we'd use him," continued Brohm. "We're going to see how much progress he makes this fall and see if he's ready to go that first game. It's always tough to step in against Kentucky in the first game unless you've had a little experience. That's one of those things we'll just have to wait and see until the week of the first game."
Though Cantwell says his understanding and reading of opposing defenses has improved since arriving at U of L last year, he admits to having a continual learning curve on the finer points of his important position. He also knows he needs to continue getting quicker and more mobile outside the pocket.
"I think I have to continue to get faster and quicker," admitted Cantwell, "and become more decisive with some of my decisions, and just keeping learning about the blitzes and different defensive schemes that other teams use. It's more of a mental thing that I need to improve."