March 26, 2013
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's hard to get a gauge on the University of Louisville football team's offense after two practices in full pads, but offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is pleased with the progression of his veteran unit.
"The good thing is that there is a lot of talent there that has to be developed," Watson said. "We aren't playing team football with our second unit, but no one in the country is with their second unit. The first group is playing well. DeVante Parker has really flashed. Damian Copeland has flashed. Gerald Christian has flashed. B.J. Butler has really played well and, at times, Jalen Harrington has really shown up well."
One weapon Watson wasn't able to unveil last season was running back Dominique Brown, who missed the entire season with a knee injury. Brown gives the Cardinals a powerful back in short-yardage situations and is another pass catcher out of the backfield. He ran for 533 yards and four scores and caught 16 passes for 98 yards two seasons ago.
"Dominique is playing really well," Watson said. "He is actually heavier, but he actually has it packed it right. He is really playing well. He looks really good. (Brandon Radcliff) is like Will Gardner. There is a lot of talent there, but it has to be developed. He flashes some things, but we still have work to do with him."
Redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff is receiving second-team reps behind Brown.
"Brandon Radcliff is getting a lot of time because Corvin is down right now," Watson said. "He has talent but there's a lot of learning curve he has to overcome. When he's assigned and just trusts his technique, he's really impressive. You can't catch him. He's really fast, quick, explosive. He can finish runs. But he's got a lot of work to do to catch up to everybody else."
The main focus this spring is on the offensive line, where the Cardinals need to replace a pair of starters, including the center position that was anchored by four-year starter Mario Benavides. The person getting the opportunity to step in is Kamran Joyer, who has received plenty of playing time at guard and center.
"He's done a nice job," Watson said. "He's done an excellent job captaining our cause. There have been no wears in his game. So he's got that part down. He's getting used to working with the two guys on each side in a different role. That's our learning curve with the inside combination working together. But they've done a nice job. I'm really encouraged. With Kam, we feel like we have a veteran player. He's been assigned well."
The other starting position needing to be replaced on the offensive line is at left tackle, where Alex Kupper manned the position for the last two seasons. Abraham "Nacho" Garcia played a lot as a true freshman last season and will get a bulk of the reps this spring.
"Nacho flashes [potential]," Watson said. "He's a big man who can really move his feet. He can run. He flashes but he's got a lot of technique work to do. He too, like the other freshmen, even though he has played some, has to become more assured of his assignments. He has too much error in his game right now."
Ryan Mack and Aaron Epps are two others who have caught the eye of the coaching staff this spring, and will be fighting for the starting job and playing time.
"It's getting competitive," said Watson. "Ryan Mack has had a really good camp so far. At times, the other guys - Aaron Epps, who is coming off surgery, he's flashed and done some good g things. Aaron is still a work in progress getting the strength back in his shoulder, but he's shown some good things."
Despite being a back-up, Will Stein played a large part in the offense and as a leader. However, the 5-foot-10 signal caller has graduated, leaving a huge void behind junior Teddy Bridgewater. The Cardinals are untested at the back-up position, but have talent at that position in case of an injury to Bridgewater.
"Will Gardner has done well , but he and Brett Nelson are in China right now," Watson said. "Will less than Brett because this is the first time Brett has been through it. Both of them know what to do but they're getting so many different looks from our defense because they're so aggressive with their install. They're not quite up to speed with everything yet. So there's a lot of work left to do."
Watson had extremely high praise of Gardner, who is getting his first action at Louisville after suffering a severe injury last year in fall.
"He's a very talented thrower," Watson said. "The kid can pass the football. He's one of the best ones I've worked with just his skill throwing the football. He's really good. He's still gaining confidence. I don't know his full arm talent nor his 'get it' factor, which is what Teddy brings to the table, until he really feels comfortable with what we're doing. That's part of the process. It took Teddy roughly 10-12 weeks of work. That's what he needs before he'll really feel comfortable."
Watson also had high praise for junior wide receiver DeVante Parker, who U of L defensive coordinator Vance Bedford called the best wide receiver in the nation last week.
"He's really good," said Watson. "He and Teddy are an unbelievable combination. They know each other inside and out and make plays all over the place. Teddy knows where to put it and he knows how to go get it. He looks awesome out there."
While early in spring practice, Watson, who is in his second year as offensive coordinator, has plenty of weapons at his disposal. He will continue to look for different ways to get his play makers the football, and when he does, the Cardinals are going to be tough to defend.