Offensive line coach Dave Borbely, who coached at Virginia last season, has had several experienced returnees to work with this spring. Starters Greg Tomczyk (left tackle), Mark Wetterer (left guard), Mario Benavides (center) and Jeff Adams (right tackle) have all started at least 11 games during their careers. Tomczyk, Wetterer and Adams are seniors, while Benavides started every game last season as a redshirt freshman.
That experience has helped Louisville's offensive linemen pick up Mike Sanford's system quickly this spring and Borbely has been pleased with his units progress – a unit, it should be noted, that finished second to last in the Big East in rushing offense last season and last in sacks allowed.
"From day one to today I think we've made a lot of progress," Borbely said following Monday's practice. "They've done a good job picking up the system and we've started to play fast. We've played fairly physical and had out share of mental mistakes but nothing grotesque that can't be corrected pretty quickly. So I'm fairly pleased with that group."
"The thing I like best is their work ethic and attitude," Borbely said. "They want to be good. They want to be tough. I'm not sure they know how to be tough but we're making progress in that direction. Overall, their attitude has been fantastic."
"They've all had their moments good and bad but I'm not sure there's been a guy that's had enough consistency over the course of practice to say there's a standout player," Borbely said. "We've had guys who have had good practices but it's a different guy that shows up everyday. In one regard that's good. In another regard I'm looking for a lot more consistency from that standing five."
One area that has been problematic this spring have been a few wayward shotgun center snaps, something that Benavides didn't do much last year in former coach Steve Kragthorpe's offense. Some of those miscues have occurred in the red zone, preventing scoring opportunities for the offense.
"Sometimes the centers scoop the ball instead of the way they should but for a team that has been in as much shotgun as we have our snap miscues have been minimal," Borbely said. "Overall they've been pretty good. We had a couple the other day down in the red zone that were untimely because they squashed scoring drives. Benavides has a hand that Conrad [Thomas] stepped on a few days ago..it's his snapping hand. He knows he's got to be able to put that ball back there on the quarterbacks waist."
The only new starter to the group this spring, 6-foot-6, 345-pound senior right guard Conrad Thomas, has finally made an impact for the Cardinals. Thomas signed with Bobby Petrino out of high school but didn't see much game action the past three seasons. Now, he's being counted on to help pave the way for what's expected to be a strong rushing attack.
"Depending on how bad he wants to be good he could be a tremendous player," Borbely said. "He's got a lot of ability. He's got size, strength and he can run. I like what he brings to the table. [But] it looks like this is his first year with the ones. Whatever his situation was a year ago it looks like he really hasn't been coached. But I really like him because he's got a good tool set and I think he can be an excellent player if he wants to be."
Borbely also believes the Cardinals have started to develop depth up front this spring.
"I think we're going to be able to develop some depth," said Borbely. "I think guys like Hector Hernandez and Ryan Kessling at backup right tackle are coming long. I'm not sure about the backup center. Right now it's Alex Kupper and Mohamed [Kourouma] and they're both pretty solid players but there's a drop off from when Benavides is in there. They can hold their own but I'm not sure who is the best player. But if we keep heading in the right direction I think we'll have seven or eight guys that could go in the game."
Borbely has also been pleased with the progress of redshirt freshman Kamran Joyer. Joyer, 6'3, 292, originally signed with South Florida but was a late addition for Louisville last summer when his admission to USF was denied. Joyer is currently the backup to senior Mark Wetterer at guard.
"I think Cam is a good young prospect," Borbely said. "He looks like a freshman and the game moves a little fast for him right now. He's got a tremendous tool set and it's just going to be a matter of repetition and experience for him. I'm hoping that we can get him ready to get on the field a little next year. I don't know if that will be possible but I'd like to do that. I like what he brings to the table. He's a tough, hard nosed guy."