With Louisville's spring game right around the corner, it's time to take stock of which players made the biggest impressions during spring practice. InsideTheVille.com identifies thirteen 'risers' - players who improved their stock - this spring.
Though he burned his redshirt last year, most Louisville
fans probably don't know Andrell Smith. They soon will. The sophomore has a shot to become the Cardinals next big play receiver. Smith had a good spring and proved capable of making plays down field in the passing game. He passes the look test and possesses all the assets of a great receiver. Now he just has to produce.
The redshirt freshman made a name for himself before suffering an injury that kept him out of the last two weeks of spring practice. A former prep standout from Orlando, Wright was so good early this spring that the coaching staff moved Darius Ashley
, UofL's second-leading rusher last year, to defensive back. Wright took advantage of Pat Moorer's conditioning program this winter and looks like a sure-fire contributor next season behind Bilal Powell
and Vic Anderson if fully healthy.
Another injury casualty, Ball emerged this spring before tearing up his right knee last week in practice. The 6'4 sophomore appeared a perfect fit in Louisville's spread-attack, catching passes over the middle of the field and making plays after the reception. He would have made a significant contribution next season.
It appears Louisville found a future playmaker in the defensive backfield this spring with Smith. The redshirt freshman stepped in for Terence Simien
, who was withheld from contact because of a kidney injury, and proved he's capable of making plays at free safety. Long and rangy, Smith showed a knack for breaking up passes and made a few interceptions, too.
The junior kicker struggled with his confidence his first year or so at Louisville but those mental issues are now behind him. Philpott has been outstanding all spring and program insiders believe he compares favorably to former greats David Akers
and Art Carmody
. Philpott, a former prep standout, has been accurate all spring and has shown tremendous range, connecting from 57 yards. Charlie Strong
is not afraid to call on Philpott with the game on the line.
Bilal Powell, Sr., Running Back
After three years of unrealized potential, Bilal Powell emerged this spring as Louisville's best offensive weapon. The senior RB dropped 15 pounds during the offseason and the result was a much quicker Bilal Powell. That was bad news for the Louisville defense, who struggled to tackle him all spring. Powell, who has struggled during his career hanging onto the ball, only put the ball on the ground one time during spring practice – and he recovered his own fumble. If he runs the way he did this spring next season he'll be an All-Big East selection.
The monster offensive lineman languished under Steve Kraghtorpe, but emerged this spring as the starting right guard. Thomas, 6'6, 345, signed with Bobby Petrino but didn't crack the lineup his first three seasons. Now, though, with a coaching change, Thomas has a fresh start and appears headed for a solid senior season for the Cardinals. How much did Thomas' emergence this spring impact Bilal Powell's performance? The running lanes, at times, were gaping with Thomas in the lineup.
Tatum got his feet wet last season after transferring from junior college, but really started to come on this spring. Tatum showed an ability this spring to beat his man and get to the quarterback. He likely led the team in sacks this spring and appears a lock to start at one defensive end position. If true freshman B.J. Butler earns significant playing time at the other end, Tatum's maturity and experience will be crucial up front for the Cardinals defense.
Shenard Holton, So., Strong Safety
Holton played sparingly last season as a true freshman, but showed this spring that he's ready for a bigger role next season in the secondary. Holton can lay the wood from his strong safety spot, something he did several times during spring drills. A big-hitter, Holton exits spring ball as a clear-cut starter.
Dexter Heyman, Jr., Linebacker
Heyman started his first career game as a true freshman at linebacker but was moved to defensive end last season and played sparingly in the Cardinals 4-8 season. Now back at linebacker for Charlie Strong, Heyman has run with the first team defense all spring and has been solid. He's in fantastic shape and certainly could be poised for a big junior campaign.
Randy Salmon, Jr., Defensive Tackle
Salmon arrived in January from junior college and opened spring practice behind Tim High on the depth chart. But the promising junior has jumped into the picture with the starting unit because of High's durability issues and has shown nice progress this spring up front. Don't be surprised if he's a starter in the fall in the middle of Louisville's defense.
Adam Froman, Sr., Quarterback
Froman started several games as a junior after transferring from Santa Rosa College. Like the other quarterbacks on Louisville's roster, Froman has had to learn a new system this spring and appears the best fit of the current group in Mike Sanford's spread-option attack. Froman has been accurate on short and medium passes and has made plays with his legs this spring. Still, he'll likely share time with Dominique Brown next season, a gifted freshman with tremendous running ability.
Cameron Graham, Sr., Tight End
Graham played a reserve role behind Pete Noctha last season and showed flashes of promise. This spring, Graham's off-season work paid off as he's grabbed hold of the tight end position. Louisville's tight ends have seen plenty of passes their way this spring, and Graham has been on the receiving end a majority of the time. Don't be surprised to see Graham's numbers, including touchdowns, rise sharply next season.