Going into camp it was believed that the running back position would be the strength for the Cardinals this season. In fact, the running backs were so strong that second leading rusher Darius Ashley was moved to cornerback in the Spring. Since then, Charlie Strong has even gone as far as to say that Bilal Powell will be the face of UofL football.
I don't think for one second that Victor Anderson is going to take a back seat to anyone. Coming off of an injury Anderson provides the biggest home run threat in the UofL arsenal. For a small back Victor has shown a great knack for running between the tackles, albeit at the expense of his health in 2009. I'd look for Anderson to see more touches in space to increase his chance at the big play and try and keep him from taking the pounding inside.
Powell is the most experienced back and perhaps the most hungry. Powell has shown flashes of brilliance during his career at UofL, becoming more consistent would be great news.
Jeremy Wright was playing off the charts in the spring (prompting Ashley's move to CB) until he was injured. Since then we haven't heard much about the young freshman. I would expect a lot of running the football for the Cardinals this season. Keeping the stable of running backs healthy is going to be absolutely essential. After Wright the next logical guy is senior walk-on Blayne Donnell.
Behind Locke are a lot of unproven talents, but don't let that fool you. The guys I am pegging to watch out for are Donald Russell and Brandon Gainer. Russell played well with limited touches last season, and by all account Gainer could be the next big thing. There are other possibilities here for UK, but mostly it will be the "Locke Show" for UK tailbacks in 2010.
At fullback, I don't know if it can be realized enough how important John Conner was to running the football for UK in 2009. Now in the NFL, Conner was instrumental in creating holes and gaining the edge for Locke and Cobb. Now , Moncell Allen steps in at FB and honestly could only hope to be as capable. Allen played tailback last season and was difficult to bring down. Fullback is probably his best position for his skill set, but he won't be Conner.
The Edge: Louisville. Derrick Locke is a magnificent tailback but there is no proven depth and John Conner can't be replaced. Victor Anderson and Bilal Powell are a potent one-two attack with varying styles that are sure to keep defenses on their toes. Couple that with the emergence of Jeremy Wright and the running back position has to tilt towards the Cards.
In 2009 UK's top 3 tacklers were the linebackers. In 2010, UK is replacing both Micah Johnson and Sam Maxwell. Replacing Maxwell and Johnson won't be that easy for UK, but bringing Danny Trevathan back at WLB is certainly going to soften the blow (82 tackles). Stepping in the shoes at MLB will most likely be either Qua Huzzie or Ronnie Sneed. At this point I am thinking Sneed would likely get the start but whether or not he can replace 104 tackles remains to be seen. At SLB it is Jacob Dufrene's job with Ridge Wilson in waiting. Dufrene only managed 2 tackles last season playing behind Maxwell.
To me, UK is short on experience outside of Trevathan but the UK defense just isn't going to be completely changed due to a lack of experience. The replacements have been on campus and been given time to learn and develop. I would expect these guys to be capable, albeit inexperienced. They will be leaned on heavily regardless.
The only position we really knew for sure was Brandon Heath at WLB. As a senior, it is Heath's time to shine and be the player everyone thought he would be when he arrived on campus. Last year was a nice step forward, this year it's time for him to make a leap. By all indications from the coaching staff Heath is ready to be the star we all hoped for. From what I hear, Mike Privott is also seeing time at WLB in a move that could get him on the field next season, and also provide depth behind Brandon Heath.
At MLB, Preston Brown shocked Cardinal fans by being listed #1 on the depth chart beating out senior Antowne Canady. Is Preston Brown getting the nod at MLB an indication that Canady can't get the job done or is Brown that good?
The question about the Sam position is that Dexter Heyman played defensive end last season and Daniel Brown had only 2 tackles in his freshman season. So do the coaches go with the unproven newcomer or with the out of practice and oft-moved Dexter Heyman? Physically Heyman looks the part, we'll see who the coaches trust to do the job, though Brown is listed as the starter heading into the season opener.
The Edge: Louisville. There are questions on both sides and both linebacking corps will be asked to do quite a bit in 2010. The edge goes to Louisville because there is better overall depth at the position and more proven talent. UK has questions at two LB positions, UofL really only has questions at one.
Part One of a five-part breakdown of the Governor's Cup game. Stay tuned for Part Two.