Competition brews during first two-a-day

The University of Louisville football began two-a-day practices Thursday morning, and U of L coach Bobby Petrino hopes to find out whether or not his team can execute during the grueling - and hot - double practice sessions.

Bobby Petrino's Louisville Cardinals concluded their first of two practices Thursday around noon.

With unrelenting heat [temperature are expected to soar into the mid 90's today] and a nice crowd of fans once again looking on, Petrino drilled his troops in full pads for nearly two and hours this morning.

What the third-year coach hopes to accomplish during two-a-days is to separate the men from the boys.

"What we're really finding out is who can practice and do what they're coached to do when they're tired," Petrino said following Thursday mornings practice. "We want to run them real hard, get them tired and they see how we execute as a team."

Petrino has to be pleased with his teams focus and energy on the practice field the past week, but he's looking for his players to cut down on some of the mental mistakes.

"We've got a ways to go," admitted Petrino. "If an individual breaks down here, breaks down there, you're not going to be very strong. We've just got to keep learning and bringing some young guys around."

Several true freshmen, particularly at cornerback, have made immediate impacts since Saturday's first practice. Though Petrino used a total of 15 – eight in 2003, seven in 2004 - true freshman his first two seasons, he said Thursday he doubted that many rookies would see action this season. He's also hoping another youngster in the secondary will emerge, and want to find one or two defensive linemen to provided depth upfront.

"I'm not sure if we're going to get to that number this year," Petrino said. "We were looking at it the other night who might have the opportunity and who might not. I think maybe we'll play somewhere between five and seven [true freshmen]. I would hope we wouldn't get to eight."

Thursday's first of two practices proved
intense as the competition for playing
time heated up.

Petrino singled out five freshman who might be pressed into early action.

"Travis Norton and Bobby Buchanan are doing a nice job at corner right now," said Petrino. "We need another young guy to come up in the secondary and help our depth. And Scott Long is doing a real nice job for us. It's really a good group. We need a defensive lineman to step and we're looking for a freshman to provide some quality depth right now. It looks like it would be either Earl Heyman or Jonathan Holston right now."

Petrino's also happy with the competition for playing time at several positions on defense, particularly at linebacker.

"That's what you want to see," Petrino explained. "You want to see a lot of competition and mix guys in an out. If one's guy's not doing his job we want to get another guy in there."

Perhaps the most intense battle is outside linebacker between returning starter Abe Brown and sophomore Malik Jackson. Though Brown made 55 tackles and 6 sacks last season, Jackson has been impressive sine camp opened. Thursday morning, Jackson was all over the field and made a bone-crunching hit on Michael Bush.

"Malik is a young man that came in with all kinds of talent," explained Petrino. "It's taken him a little while to learn what we're doing but right now I think he's got it figured out. He's one of the strongest guys on the team and one of our fastest at linebacker. I'm sure you'll see them both on the field, but right now I couldn't tell you who the starter would be."

There's also a good competition brewing at middle linebacker, where JUCO All-American Nate Harris is trying to oust Matt Sanders for the starting job.

"Nate's struggling a little bit right now," Petrino said. "We've thrown so much defense at him and he gets so many different looks from the offense that it's taking him a little bit of time. But Matt Sanders is doing a good job and Lamar Myles continues to be a real good tackler and real fast to the football. There's going to be good competition. We've still got 23 practices to go before the first game and we'll keep the competition open."

Petrino's also hoping the team's leadership improves before the first game at Kentucky September 4.

"Right now the coaches are providing too much of the leadership, and we need the players to do it," Petrino said.

The Cardinals will return to the practice field at 4 PM this afternoon.

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