The University of Lousville football team begins a new season as the Cardinals start spring practice on Wednesday, March 20. It's the first practice for the team since winning the Sugar Bowl over Florida.
Here is a position breakdown for the Cardinals heading into spring practice.
Second-year starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has developed into one of the best quarterbacks in the country and a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate. Bridgewater, a first team All-BIG EAST performer, was the league's Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 3,718 yards and 27 touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 signal caller was accurate in completing 68.5 percent of his throws. The Miami, Fla., product recorded a pair of 400-yard passing games and threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns to win the Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player Award in the upset of third-ranked Florida.
Redshirt freshman Will Gardner injured his knee in the summer and sat out the entire year. At 6-foot-5, Gardner has a strong arm and will have all spring to showcase his talents.
Junior Brett Nelson was rated one of the top junior-college prospects coming out of California and enrolled at Louisville in January.
Louisville lost its leading rusher Jeremy Wright but still has a stable full of running backs to be a productive group. Senior Senorise Perry rushed for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns before injuring his knee in a loss to Syracuse. Perry recorded three 100-yard games, including a career-high 118 yards in a win over Southern Mississippi. He was also valuable out of the backfield, catching 18 passes for 181 yards. Junior Dominique Brown redshirted after missing last season with a knee injury. He ran for 533 yards and four scores in 2011 in his first season as a running back. Brown was injured in preseason camp and never fully recovered to make it back into the lineup. In 2011, Brown ran for 91 yards in his debut and had three other games of 50 yards or more.
Sophomore Corvin Lamb showed flashes of brilliance last season running the football and catching passes out of the backfield. He will likely have an expanded role in 2013, but suffered a quad injury and will miss the first couple of weeks. Lamb caught a pass and took it 53 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Syracuse. Redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff worked on the scout team last season, but displayed good power and vision, and can add depth to this position. The fullback position played a larger role in the offense last season, and will be just as prevalent in 2013.
Senior B.J. Butler switched to the offensive side of the ball last year and made an impact in the Sugar Bowl win over Florida. Butler caught two passes from his fullback position and will make the move on a full-time basis. Sophomore Jalen Harrington moved to tight end last season, but will start the spring at fullback. A big and powerful player, Harrington filled in as a blocker at tight end last season when the Cardinals were thin at that position. Junior Jarel McGriff-Culver has experience at fullback and will add depth to that position.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
The wide receiver position might be one of the deepest in the nation with the most of the key components returning, and the addition of a couple transfers who sat out last season. Louisville lost one starter in Andrell Smith and another key contributor in Scott Radcliff.
On the outside, junior DeVante Parker continues to be the big-play receiver. Last season, Parker caught 40 passes for a team-high 744 yards and 10 touchdowns. The product of Louisville, Ky., averaged 18.6 yards per catch and had 13 receptions for over 20 yards. He recorded a pair of two 100-yard games, totaling 153 yards in a win at Pitt, including a 75-yard reception on the first play of the second half, and 120 yards in an overtime victory against Cincinnati.
Junior Matt Milton, a big target at 6-foot-5, sat out last year after transferring from Tennessee. He showed a lot of potential last year, but will miss the spring after having knee surgery on March 18.
Junior Kai DeLa Cruz will work his way into the rotation after seeing minimal time last season. He handled punt return duties a year ago and caught one pass last year. After missing most of his first two years because of injuries, senior Damian Copeland had a breakout season, catching a team-high 50 passes for 628 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was the Cardinals' most consistent wide receiver, recording at least two receptions in all 13 games.
Junior Robert Clark is another transfer who figures to crack the wide receiver rotation. Coming from Florida, Clark is a speedster who gives the Cardinals more ability to stretch the field.
Junior Eli Rogers has been one of the most productive wide receivers over the last two seasons, tallying a total of 87 receptions. He caught 46 passes for 505 yards last year and was the main target on third downs.
Junior Jarrett Davis caught seven passes for 54 yards last year and will compete to get on the field this year.
After suffering through a season with little depth at the tight end position, the Cardinals should be fully stocked at that position in 2013 led by another Florida transfer.
Junior Gerald Christian is a highly skilled player who gives the Cardinals a big-time weapon. Sitting out last year after transferring from Florida, Christian is an athletic target who makes the offense that much more explosive. Christian was stellar on the scout team and showed glimpses of being a potent weapon in the passing game.
Senior Ryan Hubbell stepped in and filled a major role at tight end. A junior-college transfer, Hubbell caught 14 passes for 239 yards and a pair of scores. He averaged 17.1 yards a reception, including a career-long 72 yarder versus Temple. Redshirt freshman Zeke Pike worked out at tight end last year and is another good athlete that gives the Cardinals another weapon in the passing game. A transfer from Auburn as a quarterback, Pike was moved to tight end upon his transfer.
Red-shirt freshman Hunter Bowles worked on the scout team last season, gaining strength and learning the position at the collegiate level. He will add depth to the tight end spot this year.
The offensive line lost two starters in center Mario Benavides and tackle Alex Kupper, but the Cardinals have plenty of experience to fill the void left by the two all-conference performers.
Senior Kamran Joyer will get a shot at center this spring. He made a couple of starts last year at guard and has plenty of potential to fill that role. He has been slowed by injuries over his first three seasons and needs to stay healthy.
Redshirt freshman T.C. Klusman sat out last year and will work this spring at center as well and compete for the starting position.
The Cardinals return both guards in juniors John Miller and Jake Smith. Miller started 11 games at left guard and is an athletic performer who has been a mainstay the last two years.
Smith, a freshman All-American in 2011, has made 26-straight starts at right guard. He possesses the toughness and athleticism at the guard spot. Sophomore Josh Stearns will compete at left guard as will sophomore Chase Petersen.
Junior Chris Acosta has seen limited action over the first two years and will compete for time behind Smith, while redshirt freshman Sid Anvoots, who had back surgery last year, is recovered and will work at guard.
The right tackle spot has been held down by junior Jamon Brown, who made 12 starts a year ago. A former defensive lineman, Brown has made a smooth transition to the offensive line.
Sophomore Ryan Mack made a start at tackle a year ago and appeared on special teams. At 6-foot-5, 308 pounds, Mack gives the Cardinals a mammoth specimen on the offensive line.
Redshirt freshman Joe Manley is another big tackle who will add depth to the tackle spot.
Sophomore Abraham Garcia earned playing time as a true freshman and showed a lot of potential. Garcia moves very well for his size and gives the Cardinals athleticism at left tackle.
Sophomore Aaron Epps was injured all of last season and will need a good spring to work his way into the rotation.
When the coaching staff took over in 2010, the defensive line was thin and the staff didn't know how they were going to get through the season. However, four years later, the Cardinals tout tremendous talent along the defensive line. Senior fox defensive end Marcus Smith has been the best pass rusher over the last two seasons, recording 9.5 sacks. Beginning his third season as a defensive end, Smith has developed into a dominating pass rusher. He will be limited this spring after suffering off-season surgery.
Junior Deiontrez Mount, who will also be limited after surgery this spring, is another big, athletic defensive end, who continues to develop. Mount totaled 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks last year, and is poised to be a larger contributor this season.
Mid-year enrollee Finesse Middleton, a freshman from Gadsden City, Ala., will get a leg up on the competition with a chance to participate in spring practice. Because of a number of injures along the defensive line this spring, Middelton will receive a bulk of the snaps, which will benefit him as he tries to crack the lineup for the fall.
Junior Lorenzo Mauldin has the potential to have a break-out season at the other defensive end. He came on late in the season and was one of the best pass rushers, leading the team with 4.5 sacks.
Senior Brandon Dunn is the swing man on the defensive line, playing either defensive tackle or nose. The massive tackle recorded 28 tackles and two sacks last season and is a big run-stopper in the middle of the defense.
Junior B.J. Dubose is back after missing half the year last year. A 6-foot-5, 273-pounder, Dubose registered 15 tackles in limited action and will likely move inside. Redshirt freshman Pedro Sibiea is another big body on the defensive line who will add depth to the defensive front.
At the nose position, junior Jamaine Brooks came on last season and was an impact player for the Cardinals. Another big body at nose tackle, Brooks totaled 19 stops and could be headed for his best season in 2013.
Sophomore DeAngelo Brown received playing time last season as a true freshman and gives the Cardinals another big, athletic body at tackle.
The linebackers will be solid with a good blend of youth and experience. Senior Preston Brown, the team's leading tackler, led the Cardinals with 109 tackles from his middle linebacker position. Brown registered double-digit tackle totals in six of his last seven games and was a key to the defense's turnaround late in the year.
Sophomore Keith Brown stepped in last season as a rookie and was fifth on the team with 57 tackles. A freshman All-American, Brown had 12 tackles in a win over Pittsburgh and 13 in a victory versus Cincinnati.
Redshirt freshman Nick Dawson sat out last year, but was a highly touted player and could be an impact player.
Senior George Durant stepped in as the starter at the strongside linebacker spot. Durant recorded 37 tackles and was a pleasant surprise.
Senior Champ Lee filled in at linebacker last year, but has been one of the team's most consistent special teams performers. Lee posted 15 tackles last year and received his first start against Syracuse.
Sophomore James Burgess filled in at weakside linebacker and played well as a true freshman. Appearing in 10 games, Burgess registered 28 tackles, but also recorded a pair of interceptions.
Senior Deon Rogers saw a lot of action last year and could be counted more in his final year. Rogers totaled 12 tackles and should deliver more production in 2013. Redshirt freshman Lamar Atkins sat out last year and could provide depth at that position.
The secondary lost a key component in cornerback Adrian Bushell, but the rest of the unit returns intact.
Junior Terell Floyd is back at the boundary cornerback position. Floyd became famous when he returned an interception for a touchdown on the opening play of the Sugar Bowl versus Florida. The product of Fort Pierce, Fla., tallied 34 tackles and led the team with three interceptions.
Junior Stephan Robinson has an abundance of experience at cornerback and will compete for playing time. Robinson had eight tackles last year, but filled in regularly at cornerback and on special teams.
Junior Andrew Johnson and redshirt freshman Devontre Parnell will battle to replace Bushell at the field corner position.
Johnson has the most experience, appearing in 23 games with 15 starts. Last season, Johnson recorded 26 tackles and registered an interception in the Sugar Bowl against Florida, while Parnell redshirted, but has the talent to compete.
Sophomore Charles Gaines, who played wide receiver last year, will likely move to cornerback this spring to add depth to that unit.
The Cardinals likely have two of the best safeties in the nation in free safety Hakeem Smith and strong safety Calvin Pryor. Smith, a three-time All-BIG EAST performer, recorded 73 stops from his safety spot.
Pryor had his best year to date, posting his first 100 tackle season and was one of the national leaders with five forced fumbles. The duo has been one of the most productive tandems in the nation and are poised to be stronger in 2013.
Sophomore Jermaine Reve had a solid year, playing both cornerback and safety. He was the Cardinals' main nickel back, registering 32 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Junior Kamal Hogan also will see a good portion of time this spring at safety. Sophomore Gerrod Holliman played in three games last year as a freshman, but injuries ended his season early. He is healthy and will compete at free safety.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Houchins is highly-regarded and will also be in the mix at free safety.
The Cardinals received a major surprise when sophomore kicker John Wallace and junior punter Ryan Johnsonburst on the scene. Wallace was 16-of-21 last season, which was the second-most field goals in school history. He was 14-of-14 inside of 40 yards, including 7-of-7 from 30-39 yards.
Johnson handled the punting chores all year long and was consistent, averaging 39.5 yards a punt and placed 20 inside the opposition's 20-yard line.
De La Cruz will return as the team's punter returner after averaging 4.7 yards a return, while Clark and Parker also will get an opportunity.
Lamb and Clark are slated to get the first crack as the primary kick returners, while Dominique Brown and Radcliff will get a chance to showcase their abilities.