Day 2 of open practices was hot, humid, and the fans simply did not care. About 1,700 of them came out to watch the team practice, and if you did not get there at or before 11:00, then chances are you did not have the best view. The fan support was outstanding and is exactly what the team needs to see when the season begins: great numbers, coming in early or on time, and cheering them on. This team is going to do big things this season, let’s show them the respect they deserve.
I was unable to attend Friday night’s session unfortunately, but made it to Saturday’s practice and came away very impressed. The team looks disciplined, focused, and ready to get to work. There was no lounging around, and if there was, the coaches
kindly reminded them to knock it off. There were several standout moments of the day.
-First off, Teddy Bridgewater looks the part, acts the part, and plays the part of an elite quarterback. I know it is just a practice, but he has the confidence and poise that every team wants in a leader. His passes were on point in both short and deep routes, he spread it out, and as already reported by several others, he has definitely added quite the bit of muscle to his frame. I think I saw him throw behind a receiver once. Not a whole lot to complain about here.
-One of the more impressive offensive players of the practice was one who is not even able to suit up this year. Tennessee transfer Matt Milton is going to be an excellent receiver once he is able to wear his game jersey. He has great hands, runs good, crisp routes for a person as tall as he is (he is a good three inches taller than Devante Parker), and played with no fear going over the middle. He also made a beautiful over the outside shoulder catch on an equally beautiful pass down the sideline from Bridgewater. He is fundamentally sound. One thing he could add to make him even more effective would be a bit of weight, as he is pretty thin. With a deep and talented receiving corps coming back next year, and potentially (and HOPEFULLY) adding James Quick, he could potentially move to tight end due to his size (purely speculation on my part). If so, he would need to put on a bit more muscle, especially for blocking purposes, and he would have the tools to be a potentially elite tight end.
-In my breakdown of wide receivers, one name I did not spend any time on was Damian Copeland. I simply did not expect much from him this year, but after Saturday’s practice, maybe I should have. Out of all the receivers, he was arguably running the best routes and looked very fast. He missed most of last season due to a knee injury, but if it looks like he has been fully rehabilitated and ready to go. He did drop a couple of easy passes, though, and with such a deep and talented receiver unit, he cannot continue to make those mistakes. He is somebody to keep him an eye out for regardless, as he may make some big plays. He also has a nice Honey Badger hair-do going on.
-It was my first opportunity to see Charles Gaines in action and he definitely has some skills. He is fast, shifty, and can get open. He did drop a couple of passes and made up for it with some pushups and up-downs.
-Ryan Hubbell looks significantly bigger than he did in the spring. Credit Coach Moorer for that, as the tight end looks as if he has packed on a good amount of muscle. He did not necessarily stand out on Saturday, but he has definitely been putting in time in the weight room.
-There were back-back-fumbles in the running back drills, and hopefully they are getting it out of the way before the season starts. One player who appeared to fumble (could not read the number) was Jeremy Wright, who had fumbleitis last season. That has to stop. The other player who fumbled was freshman Brandon Radcliff, who looks huge. He does not look like your average freshman running back and if he sees the field this season, he is currently able to bowl over some people. Corvin Lamb stood out as the only player I witnessed to break past the line during running back drills. He is undersized, but if he gets past the linebackers or anywhere in the open field, it might as well be game over. He is that fast. He could prove to be a deadly receiver out of the backfield in the same mold as Percy Harvin.
-BJ Butler looks like he is 35 years old. He is gigantic and his Kimbo Slice-like beard makes him pretty freaking intimidating. Something tells me he would never get carded for a drink (I’d say moreso due to the intimidation factor rather than age, though). He is currently lining up behind BJ Dubose and Marcus Smith (who has put on a great amount of muscle and looks great), and the way they looked, he will have his work cut out for him. It does the seem the coaching staff expects as much from him as well, as Coach Hurtt was spending extra time with him making sure he understood a mistake he made during a drill with his footwork.
-The starting linebackers were Preston (SAM), Keith (MIKE), and Daniel (WILL) Brown. Daniel is the senior, but definitely looks like he will be pushed by freshman Nick Dawson. Coach Strong said after practice that he coaches guys to the level he expects them to play, saying, “If a player is an All-American, you coach him like he’s an All-American.” This also can be translated to, “If you’re an All-American, I expect you to play and put forth effort like an All-American.” Dawson, a high-school All-American, was definitely getting special attention from the coaches, who were on him hard. You can tell they expect a lot out of him.
-Gerrod Holliman was lining up in some nickel packages and will likely see the field during games in the same manner. He is quick and athletic and appears to be quite the ball hawk. However, he will really have to work to unseat Calvin Pryor, who looked good, and has no shot of unseating Hakeem Smith, who looks primed again to be All-Conference and then some. There was one point it looked like there was a bit of miscommunication between Holliman and a DB on one play, as Milton was left wide open on a quick pass.
-None of the players had an easy, and I do mean NONE of the players. DB Jordan Paschal was on crutches and in a walking boot, but still dressed in pads and a helmet. As you can see from the picture below (taken by yours truly), he was assigned the unenviable task of digging a hole towards back and away from the endzone. As linebacker Daniel Brown put it after practice, “Yeah…you don’t want to get hurt on this team.”
-Speaking of Brown, he is going to be one of the easiest guys to cheer for on this team. Despite admittedly being a non-vocal player, he looks to be a leader on and off the field and truly embraces the team concept. He told me after practice when I asked him about his personal goals for the season that he just wants to “go out with a bang.” He said after being here five years, he really feels he owes a lot to the program and wears the name of Louisville across his chest with a special sense of pride. He said he wants to go out, work hard, and set an example for the young guys on the team.
-When asked who the face of team was, Brown had an interesting answer. While most would expect that to be a guy like Teddy Bridgewater or Hakeem Smith (who Brown raved about as a great team leader), Brown instead said it was center Mario Benavides. Coming from a guy on the opposite side of the ball, that shows a ton of respect that both Brown and the rest of the team has for Benavides. As an offensive linemen, he will not be as noticeable visibly as the skill position players, but it is refreshing to see just how respected and admired he is amongst his teammates. He is going places in both football and in life.
-Coach Bedford coming up to us after interviewing Dominique Brown was one of the coolest things ever. He actually made physical contact with Brent, so it will be interesting to find out when and if Brent will wash that shirt again.
-The defensive line is BIG. It is night and day to what we saw two years ago. Brandon Dunn is listed at 285 lbs (and looks every bit of it), and whereas two years ago, he would have far and away been the biggest DL, he is not even the third biggest now. Jamaine Brooks looks like a giant and will be a quality back up to Dunn. This is a group that the coaching staff clearly expects a lot of as they were being worked hard. Say what you will about Coach Hurtt, but he was all over these guys trying to make them better. You can’t hate that.
-QB recruit Kyle Bolin made it into town for camp and looked visibly pumped up as he was watching practice. I asked him if he was ready to suit up, and he replied, “Can’t wait. Absolutely cannot wait.” This is gonna be a good one, folks, and we are lucky to have him. He really wants to be a Card.
-When asked why he was wearing a long sleeved t-shirt in over 90 degree weather, Coach Strong said it was out of habit. “I don’t want to get sunburned.” In related news, Coach Strong is awesome.
Overall, it is stupid to make season predictions based on one practice, but this team is talented and focused. They appear ready to live up to the hype. The one thing that scares me is that this is still a young team and could easily get caught up in early success. Fortunately, we have a coaching staff who will keep their heads on straight. Nothing is guaranteed yet, but this looks to be an extremely bright season.