Offense shows toughness in first scrimmage

Louisville coach Charlie Strong wanted to see toughness from his team during Saturday's first spring scrimmage. When the dust settled, it was the Louisville offense that carried the day. BONUS: Video Highlights of Louisville's 'Circle of Life' toughness drill.

Charlie Strong wanted to see some toughness when Louisville put pads on and scrimmaged for the first time this spring Saturday morning. The Cardinals practiced for about three hours, including a lengthy situational scrimmage, mostly consisting of short yardage situations.

When the dust cleared, the Louisville offense clearly won the day.

"Today was the first day of pads and what was good about it is that the offense came out [strong]," Strong said. "Yesterday I kind of put it on the offense and asked them if they were going to come out and move the ball against the defense, which they were able to do. It was great to watch them run the football and run down hill."

Behind five returning offensive line starters, Louisville's running backs found plenty of holes to run through and more often than not moved the chains in short yardage situations. Sophomore running back Darius Ashley had the highlight run – a 12-yard touchdown which he powered through a defender at the goal line to score.

"What we tried to was fourth down in the red zone and we just let guys know that on fourth down or third and short you've got to be able to stop people," Strong said. "The defense didn't do good at all but it was good to see the offense have success converting those short yardage situations.

"Defensively, there are some things we have to get done. We've got to work on just our overall toughness. Guys getting in gaps, somebody just being a football player and a leader of the defense."

Brandon Heath could become one of those leaders. The senior outside linebacker had a solid scrimmage that included an interception of Adam Froman in the end zone.

"We've got a lot of young guys on defense and some injuries so far," Heath said. "We've just got to get better as a defense. We've got to run to the ball and be more physical. Today we just let the offense do whatever they wanted on short yardage. We've got to figure out something."

One of Strong's main goals this spring is to build team toughness. Before Saturday's scrimmage, Strong circled the team, then pulled out one offensive player and one defensive player to get after each other with the goal of getting the other player on the ground first. It resembled a cage match, but Strong called it the "Circle of Life."

"We're always going to do a toughness drill," Strong said. "That's what it's all about. The game of football is just toughness. The guys got to circle up and go one on one. That's what we needed. We need that in the program right now."

It certainly got the juices flowing on a cold March morning.

"That's just something we use to get amped up for practice," Heath said. "Two people get in the ring and it builds toughness on the team."

"That was fun," junior outside linebacker Dexter Heyman said. "There's no other way to put it. It was just good to get the thundermakers back on and go tattoo somebody. Everybody had some juices flowing and that was fun."

Now, with the first week of spring practice complete, Strong hopes to see continued improvement from his team the rest of spring practice.

"I'm just trying to get this football team ready and each day looking for some improvement from each group," said Strong.

He's also looking for someone to step forward at quarterback. Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein have shared reps so far during spring practice but no one has distanced themselves from the pack. Saturday, Froman threw the interception to Heath, but came back with a touchdown pass to Troy Pascley in the corner of the end zone. Burke threw for two touchdowns – one to tight end Pete Nochta and the other to tight end Cameron Graham. Stein scored on a keeper and was aided by a Eugene Sowell block.

"We're going to continue to rotate the quarterbacks and sooner or later somebody will step up and become the guy," "But it's all about getting reps (now)."

Watch UofL's 'Circle of Life' drill

Scrimmage Notebook

Brandon Heath on his interception of Adam Froman: "I just jumped the route and made a play on the ball when it was in the air like I did in my safety days," Heath said...Dexter Heyman shot through the line to blow up a running play in the backfield for a loss of yardage...More than 100 high school prospects and their parents attended the scrimmage...Junior Day, which ended about 2:00, appeared to be a success...

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