Here's a quick look at the top position battles to watch during spring practice:
Running Back: This is the battle to replace Kolby Smith, who led the Cardinals with 862 yards rushing last season. Smith, along with Michael Bush, is eagerly awaiting next month's NFL Draft. But the big question for Kragthorpe at running back might be this: Will someone emerge as the primary ball carrier this spring, or will the position evolve into a running back by-committee situation?
The battle for primacy figures to feature 6-1, 232 pound sophomore Anthony Allen and fleeted footed junior George Stripling, with junior wrecking ball Brock Bolen in the mix. Allen led U of L with 13 rushing touchdowns last season, while Stripling seemed to lose confidence as the season progressed after watching his playing time decrease because of fumbleitis. Can Allen become an every down back this spring? Will Kragthorpe's arrival breathe new life into George Stripling? Can Brock Bolen or someone else push either Allen or Stripling for carries? Those are, perhaps, the biggest questions facing the Louisville offense this spring.
Offensive Line: Eric Wood is a lock at center. George Bussey also appears a lock at left tackle, as does Danny Barlow at left guard. The situation on the right side of the line is up for grabs this spring, however. Gone are stalwarts Renaldo Foster and Kurt Quarterman. The question: Who will step in and fill their shoes this spring?
talented underclassmen at right guard?
Entering the spring, Marcel Benson appears the frontrunner to replace Quarterman at right guard, while Breno Giacomini seems Foster's probable replacement at right tackle. Though both are seniors with plenty of experience, Giacomini and Benson will receive stiff challenges from several youngsters. The battle at right guard could get interesting with three talented underclassmen vying for the job. The leading contenders are sophomore Mike Donoghue and massive redshirt freshmen Conrad Thomas (6-6, 320) and Jeremy Baker (6-5, 340). Redshirt Jeff Adams (6-8, 300) will push Giacomini at tackle.
Defensive End: Who will replace Zach Anderson, who started 11 games last season? Senior end Brandon Cox stepped in for Anderson last season when he missed two games because of injury, but he'll receive competition from sophomore Jonathan Holston (6-6, 250). Holston had a great spring last year, but was hampered by a leg injury most of the 2006 season. Can Holston return to his spring 2006 form? If not, keep an eye on 6-3, 245 pound redshirt Rodnet Gnat, considered one of the top defenders coming out of Florida two years ago.
Defensive Tackle: Replacing a first round NFL Draft pick is never easy, but if there's one position of the defensive where Louisville has ample depth and talent it's at defensive tackle. While Adrian Grady and L.T. Walker are slated at nose guard, Earl Heyman, Willie Williams and Aundre Henderson will battle it out at defensive tackle. Heyman, a former high school All-American, appears the frontrunner. But he figures to be pushed hard by Williams, a 6-3, 305 pound senior who had a solid junior campaign after transferring from Georgia Military College. And keep an eye on Henderson, considered the top defensive lineman in the state of Kentucky two years ago.
Cornerback: Rod Council appears set at left corner, but the battle will rage on the right side to replace All-Big East corner William Gay. Junior Bobby Buchanan is the frontrunner entering spring, but he'll be pushed by Lamar Alson, also a junior. However, whoever wins the spring battle will face another stiff challenge in the fall when JUCO all-american Woodny Turenne arrives on campus.
Safety: The fight to replace Brandon Sharp might be the best position battle of spring drills. Jon Russell had an outstanding junior season, intercepting three passes in 2006. Though he enters spring as the favorite, he'll be pushed hard by talented redshirt freshman Brandon Heath and heavy-hitting senior Deon Palmer. Heath probably would have seen time last year as a true freshman, but was injured during summer conditioning and was forced to redshirt. Even with his experience, Russell might not be able to fend off the hard-hitting Heath this spring.
Stay tuned to InsideTheVille.com for complete 2006 Louisville spring practice coverage.