Two weeks into spring practice, the Louisville football team gave fans a sneak peak at what they could see April 17th at the Spring Game as they conducted their first full scrimmage.
The team was in full gear Saturday morning, and there were positives, negatives, and several question marks throughout the hard-hitting exhibition.
Here are some takeaways:
Does Ferguson have the edge at QB?
Bobby Petrino was fairly cryptic following practice when discussing the QBs, but of the three spring contenders, former Penn State QB Tyler Ferguson shined brightest.
Ferguson has the size (6-4, 217 lbs.) and showed off impressive arm strength, completing multiple deep balls to various WRs down the sideline and leaving the scrimmage without throwing an INT. He has a quick release, throws with a tight spiral, and he was by far the most accurate of the three QBs.
Sophomore Reggie Bonnafon throws a pretty ball and has good throwing mechanics, but he made several errant passes and was inaccurate. He threw multiple INTs and misread coverages several times throughout the scrimmage. He made some great throws, too, but was just inconsistent. His biggest asset is that he is extremely athletic and is a gamer who will make plays when needed. If he wants to win the job, though, he is going to have to improve his accuracy, decision making, and work on not staring down his targets.
Sophomore Kyle Bolin, last year’s late-season game changer, was the starter for the scrimmage but threw a pick on the first series. He made several good passes, though, including a long TD to TE Keith Towbridge, but like Bonnafon, he was inaccurate, especially on the deep ball. Following practice, when speaking of the three QBs, the only ones Petrino mentioned by name were Ferguson and Bonnafon.
The job is still open, per Petrino, but Ferguson appeared to take a step forward. Come summer camp when highly touted freshman Lamar Jackson arrives on campus, he may shake some things up as well.
Jeremy Smith impresses
Louisville is going to have to replace both Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer at the RB position this season, and while junior Brandon Radcliff will all but certainly be the #1 back, JUCO transfer Jeremy Smith should provide production from the backfield, too.
Petrino was very high on the 6-2, 223 lb. sophomore after practice, calling him “big and physical.” He is a more powerful option to the low-to-the-ground, quick Radcliff, and did a great job hitting the holes hard and showed off good blocking technique as well. He was able to get in the open field and stiff arm defenders away multiple times, but his running technique needs some fine-tuning.
He runs a little too straight up with his shoulders over his hips rather than over his knees, and as a result, he took a few hard hits that put him on his back quickly.
Smith, Radcliff, LJ Scott, and Northwestern transfer Malin Jones should all help out in the backfield this season, but they could use another big-play RB who is a home-run threat in the open field. Corvin Lamb coming off of injury may be able to provide that burst, as may 4-star signee James Allen who is expected to arrive this summer.
WR corps has height and length
It will be impossible to replace a talent like DeVante Parker, but the transition away from him should not be too painful, as the WRs Louisville brought in to play this season all showed off playmaking ability.
6-5 UAB transfer Jamari Staples looks the part and made several great grabs. 6-3 Alphonso Carter, formerly known as Paul Harris, made some nice catches on deep routes, although he did lose some one-on-one battles he could have won. 6-4 Texas A&M transfer JaQuay Williams left the scrimmage early after getting his bell rung, but has impressive size and runs crisp routes. 6-3 sophomore Javonte Bagley has added some muscle over the offseason and appears confident catching the ball, too.
It is not all height and length, though, as true freshman Traveon Samuel made some nice plays both out of the backfield and from the slot, showing off impressive speed and juke moves. He is only 5-7 and south of 180 lbs., so he will have to stay healthy, but if he does, he can be a difference maker.
OL a bit shaky
Louisville has the unenviable task of replacing both Jamon Brown, Jake Smith, and John Miller on the offensive line, and so far this spring, their absence has been noticeable.
Petrino has tinkered with multiple OL sets, giving players like JUCO transfers Khalil Hunter and Kelby Johnson, redshirt freshman Lukayus McNeil, converted defensive linemen Pedro Sibea, and others shots in the rotation. So far, no one has distinguished themselves as a surefire starter, though, and several passes the Louisville QBs made would have not been thrown in a real game, as they would have been planted on their backs.
Incumbent starting RT Aaron Epps appeared to be the most consistent in Saturday’s scrimmage, although he also had his share of miscues. McNeil looks the part of a prototypical LT, but he had trouble containing his block at times and is still learning the system. The interior lineament looked a little stronger than the men on the outside, but it is still too early to make any kind of definitive statement.
As of now, though, there may be multiple positions on the line that will be open for the taking for several of the newcomers arriving this summer like Chandler Jones, Geron Christian, Kenny Thomas, and Kiola Mahoni.
Defense looks sharp
The Cards wearing the white jerseys looked tough during the scrimmage, delivering big hits and playing well in coverage.
The front seven looks like it could be just as good as last season, with players like Sheldon Rankins, DeAngelo Brown, and Keith Kelsey all making plays and taking it to the offense. Johnny Richardson, Kyle Shortridge, and Stacy Thomas are other names to listen for this season, as all made nice plays themselves and are fighting for playing time.
For being down Shaq Wiggins, who will miss the rest of the spring with a broken arm, the secondary looked surprisingly polished. De’Eric Culver, Trumaine Washington, and Zykiesis Cannon all made plays on the ball, and safety Chucky Williams continued to impress. Georgia transfer Josh Harvey-Clemens may be the best of the bunch, though, and will provide a huge impact from the safety position.
It’s just a spring scrimmage, guys
Charlie Strong was a defensive coach who liked to see his guys deliver big hits. Bobby Petrino is an offensive guy and would rather not see his unit on their backs too often at the hands of their own teammates. He not-so-gently reminded the defense of that late in the scrimmage.
Going over the middle, WR James Quick received a perfect ball from Tyler Ferguson only to be blown up by safety Kevin Houchens. Quick lost the ball and remained on the ground for a moment when Petrino called the defense to huddle up around him. His language he used was not exactly PG, and he made the point not to deliver those kinds of hits, as he seemed to believe it was a cheap shot.
Quick walked off with the trainers on his own power and appeared fine.
There are still a multitude of questions surrounding this team, but the bright spots are starting to show. Ferguson looks like he has a leg up in the QB race and appears capable of making the throws necessary in a Petrino offense. Both the WR and RB positions are not without talent and have several players who look ready to make an impact. The defense still looks sharp under Grantham. There is definitely caution tape surrounding the OL, but there is plenty of time to put in work.
Is this a team who right now looks capable of beating Auburn? Probably not. Yet, this team has the pieces to win a good portion of its games. They just have to continue to grow and understand the playbook.