Steve Kragthorpe is worried about his team's depth – and health – heading into Friday night's annual spring game. In fact, the injury situation has hurt his team so bad in recent weeks that Kragthorpe has been forced to make some late changes to Friday's contest.
The problem for Kragthorpe – a defense that has been decimated by attrition and injury. In particular, Kragthorpe has some big problems from a numbers standpoint at the linebacker position and in the secondary. Already thin at linebacker, late spring injuries to Mozell Axson, James Bryant and Chris Campa, have cause major disruptions for the Cardinals.
"We just don't have any linebackers right now and we're down right now," Kragthorpe said. "Mozell Axson will probably get a couple series (but) he's been out the past ten days. Chris Campa had surgery the other day – he had a torn labrum – and he'll be back when we report June 2 for voluntary workouts.
will hold their annual spring
game at 7:30 Friday night at PJCS.
"So we don't have very many players out there right now. In fact, what we're doing a lot of times on defense is playing nickel defense against regular offensive substitution packages which puts us in a little deficit against the run."
That means Kragthorpe and the Cardinals won't put the team through a truly game-like spring game Friday night at PJCS, opting instead for a more limited – and scripted – format.
"We'll go 12 series but it won't be like a typical game where you're changing field position," said Kragthorpe. "We'll have the 12 series scripted in terms of where we'll start. We will, as always, go one's on one's and two's vs. the two's. We'll go best on best and let those guys go out and compete. But we don't have enough players to go out and have a normal spring game."
Kragthorpe said he's hoping to get 50-60 snaps Friday night during the annual spring game. In two previous scrimmages this spring, Kragthorpe put his team through 84 and 94-play scrimmages. "I'm disappointed we don't have enough players to go out and have a true game," he said.
On the injury front, Kragthorpe said there were about nine players who are currently out with injury. "We're thin right now," said Kragthorpe. "I'd love to have 105 guys out there right now. Right now, we've got about 65-66 guys available tomorrow night that will actually play."
The biggest problems for Louisville all spring have been on the defensive side.
Kragthorpe said he's been pleased with his first unit defensive line but has concerns about the numbers beyond the first four or five players on the depth chart up front. The coach said Earl Heyman, Adrian Grady, L.T. Walker and L.D. Scott have all had solid efforts this spring.
"We've got to find depth," Kragthorpe said. "I feel good about our starters but ideally I'd like to have between 8-10 defensive linemen that you feel comfortable putting in the game. Right now we've got five defensive linemen."
While Kragthorpe feels relatively good about the situation on the defensive front, he's not as optimistic about the linebackers and safeties.
"Linebacker is a big need area for us," Kragthorpe said. "In the secondary we feel good about our corner play. Woodny has made a lot of strides and Johnny Patrick is doing a good job. The safety position is an area of need for us and we're going to have to have guys come in and play. When I look at the defense, I feel good about the frontline guys but I'm concerned about our linebackers and secondary."
On offense, Kragthorpe said he was concerned about the offensive line going into the spring because of the losses of three starters, including starting tackle Breno Giacomini and guard Danny Barlow.
"I've seen some guys step up there," Kragthorpe said. "Jeff Adams has done a nice job for us at right tackle. Abdul Kuyateh has done a nice job for us at the right guard position. And Mark Wetterer has stepped up and done some great things at the left guard position."
"The thing that will be a challenge before the Kentucky game is to find more backups," added Kragthorpe.
While the depth situation on offense is much better than on defense, Kragthorpe is still concerned about the tight end position, where the Cardinals must replace Gary Barnidge and Scott Kuhn. Johnnie Burns, a converted defensive lineman, and Pete Nochta, are the two leading candidates at the position this spring.
"We've got to continue to improve at tight end and find guys that will step up and make plays," Kragthorpe said. "Pete and Johnnie are doing good jobs for us. We've got some guys coming in the fall that we think can jump into the mix also."
At wide receiver, where Louisville is looking for replacements for Harry Douglas, Pat Carter and Mario Urrutia, Kragthorpe said that Doug Beaumont and Trent Guy have had good springs and that Josh Chichester is "coming along and making progress."
Kragthorpe said he feels good about the depth situation at running back and that he likes the versatility that Brock Bolen provides the team. "He's a guy that provides us a lot of flexibility because he can do so many things," Kragthorpe said. Kragthorpe said he'll even look at playing Bolen at tight end in special situations. "If you talk in run and shoot terms, he'd be called the Super Back."
Kragthorpe said Bilal Powell has enjoyed a good spring but that the player that has impressed him has been redshirt freshman Victor Anderson. "I thought Vic would be an excellent runner outside the tackles but some of his best runs in the spring have been four and five yard gains where he's hit it up inside (and made plays). I've been really pleased with the physicalness that he's playing with right now."
Kragthorpe has also been pleased with quarterback Hunter Cantwell and looks forward to seeing the 6-5 senior operate under center during Friday's spring game.
"Hunter has good command of what we want to do offensively," Kragthorpe said. "We need to put a little pressure in his face Friday night and see how he responds."
Kragthorpe said that Cantwell is clearly the No. 1 quarterback heading into the fall but that the battle to backup Cantwell between Tyler Wolfe and Matt Simms hasn't been decided. "They're both doing a good job and a lot of that will be determined by what they do tomorrow night," Kragthorpe said.
Kragthorpe said he will make a decision on suspended running back George Stripling's status with the team next week.