March 18, 2014
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While most people are working on their brackets and waiting for the NCAA Tournament to start, the University of Louisville football program was back on the field Tuesday for the start of spring football practice under head coach Bobby Petrino, who returns to the Cardinals after a seven-year hiatus.
Petrino, who coached the Cardinals from 2003-2006, led the Cardinals to unprecedented success, amassing a 41-9 record, which is the best four-year record in school history.
Because of wet conditions on the practice fields, the Cardinals worked out for over two hours on the game field in Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
A staple of the previous Petrino era was the pace that the Cardinals practice with, and that was evident today. The Cardinals went through a fast-paced, no-nonsense practice with no time to waste.
"I was encouraged out there today," said Petrino. "We made a lot of mistakes and we have to take care of the ball. Every quarterback that is out there has to take care of the football, but it was a good start overall. I was pleased."
The Cardinals, who return 11 starters, are trying to get acclimated to a new staff, learning new schemes and a different pace to practice. While practices were fast-paced a year ago, the Cardinals are adjusting to an even faster pace under Petrino, who believes that you condition yourself in practice, not with wind sprints.
"It was up-tempo out there," senior center Jake Smith said to the assembled media after practice. "We have to continue to improve on offense. Guys are still learning and we have to pick this up quicker. We are used to intense practices, but this was just a little different."
Senior Deiontrez Mount who also played three years under the former staff, also saw a difference in the pace of practice.
"It was tough out there today," Mount said. "The pace was quick and intense. The coaching staff has a lot of energy and it was definitely a different tempo to practice."
With the loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to the NFL, the focus by everyone in attendance was on the quarterback position that is wide open with no one person having an advantage because of playing time. Although seeing minimal playing time last season, sophomore Will Gardner is the only quarterback with playing experience. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin and senior Brent Nelson are also competing this spring and did well, according to Petrino.
"Will is ahead after today," Petrino said after Tuesday's practice. "He has a better grasp of the offense, but he does have to make better decisions, distribute the ball better and be more accurate on his passing. I do like that he is coachable. I like his understanding of the game of football and has the ability to make all the throws."
The Cardinals are loaded at running back this spring with senior Dominique Brown returning after leading the team in rushing a year ago with 825 yards. Brandon Radcliff, Corvin Lamb and Michael Dyer are also back there competing, which gives the Cardinals good depth at that position.
"It is going to be a good group of running backs," Petrino said. "I can't wait until we get the pads on. I think it's going to be very competitive. We have some speed there and some size. They are good learners and they are all into football. I think there will be good competition out there."
With Petrino back at the helm, the focus was on the offense, but the Cardinals are also learning a new defensive scheme under defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
"It's an NFL defense that we are learning," Mount said. "The terminology is different. The way we fend off blocks is different. They are expected us to learn it a lot faster, so it's tough right now. We are all playing fast so we are hoping for the best."
Although there is a lot to learn with an entirely new staff, the Cardinals look to be adjusting to the new staff and the pace of play. If they can continue to pick things up quickly, maybe things will slow down for them mentally, but under Petrino, it will never be slower on the field.
Practice No. 2 will take place on Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m.