Kragthorpe talks spring storylines

Louisville finished 5-7 last season but returns 49 letterwinners, including 16 starters. When Louisville opens spring practice Sunday, Cardinals coach Steve Kragthorpe says there will be three major storylines to follow in the next few weeks.

Kragthorpe is doing spring practice a little different his third time around at UofL. The Cardinals will conduct four practices then go on spring break before resuming March 24 for the final 10 practices, culminating in April 17's Red-White Spring Game. Louisville's first six spring practices will be open to the general public. The Cardinals first day in pads will be practice #3 on March 11.

"We'll start Sunday afternoon and get four days in before we head to spring break," Kragthorpe said. "I've always liked to split the spring practice up – started doing that at Texas A&M when I was with Coach (R.C.) Slocum. We'll be very physical after our first two non-padded practices. We'll be very physical in practices three and four and that will give us some time to heal up and then head into the last 11 days."

The first big storyline this spring is who will replace Hunter Cantwell at quarterback. Kragthorpe says the competition is "wide-open" between Tyler Wolfe, a junior, Adam Froman, a junior college transfer, Justin Burke, a transfer from N.C. State, and Zack Stoudt, a redshirt freshman. Wolfe is the only quarterback on the roster who has taken a snap in a game at UofL.

Tyler Wolfe

"No. 1 is quarterback. I think that is the storyline coming into spring practice," Kragthorpe said. "We have a quarterback battle on our hands for the first time in quite a long time. It's going to be interesting to see how those…guys take control of the team and operate. Everybody is even."

Kragthorpe said a leader might emerge at quarterback coming out of spring practice but reiterated that a starter wouldn't officially be named until about 10 days prior to the 2009 season-opener against Indiana State. "Fifteen days gives you a good barometer of where you're at but it doesn't solidify (it)," Kragthorpe said.

Kragthorpe will also look to shore up a defensive line that lost three starters – tackles Earl Heyman and Adrian Grady and end Maurice Mitchell.

"I think the second storyline is defensive line," said Kragthorpe. "We're replacing a number of very good players. A couple of guys – Joe Townsend and Malcolm Tatum – are in from the junior college ranks. So they're going to have to step up into a couple of those positions."

The third big task for the Louisville coach will be breaking in a largely new coaching staff. Gone from last year are coordinators Jeff Brohm and Ron English, plus key assistants Bill Miller, Tony Alford and Eric Lewis. Kragthorpe will replace Brohm as offensive coordinator and plans to call the plays next season. Former Utah State head coach Brent Guy replaces English.

"The third storyline is the changes in the coaching staff to see how quickly we can mold together on the field," Kragthorpe said. "I think it's gone great so far. We've had great meetings now we get a chance to go out and work with the players."

Kragthorpe said there have been quite a few changes in the offensive playbook since Brohm's dismissal. "We're going to be a little bit more of a progression passing team than we have been in the past," Kragthorpe said. "We're going to try to make it a little more concise and consistent for the quarterback, and the offensive line and wrinkle off of that."

Louisville returns three starters on the offensive line but must replace All-Big East performers center Eric Wood and tackle George Bussey. Mario Benavides will open spring practice at center, replacing the All-American Wood. He'll be backed by Josh Byrom. "He was here for spring ball last year and I think he had a great mentor in Eric Wood," Kragthorpe said. "I think it has been very beneficial for Mario to see how a guy like Eric carried himself and led our team."

Kragthorpe also hopes some new leaders emerge this spring to replace the leadership void created by the losses of Heyman and Wood, last year's team captains.

"We lose great leaders like Earl and Eric," Kragthorpe said. "Those guys were our team captains last year and I'm interested which guys step up. I think guys like Scott Long are excited about that opportunity and I know Victor Anderson has taken on more of a leadership role."

Kragthorpe also singled out Johnny Patrick, Richard Raglin and Jon Dempsey as potential team leaders.

Long, the Cardinals top wide receiver, won't participate in spring practice. He's still recovering from knee surgery that prematurely ended his junior season.

"We anticipate that he'll be 100 percent by the time we start practice in the first week of August," Kragthorpe said. "We're taking our time with him. Obviously, an ACL injury is a major injury. He's doing great and has a great attitude. He deserves to have a big year."

Kragthorpe said Long would do a lot of straight-line running during spring practice but will do "no cutting." Offensive guard Mark Wetterer is also still recovering from injury.

With an 11-13 record in two seasons at UofL, Kragthorpe hopes to turn things around after dropping five straight games to end the 2008 season.

"It's a work in progress," Kragthorpe said. "We still have some depth deficiencies. We've got to find more quality football players who can step up and play."

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