June 15, 2012
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - -
Shawn Watson was thrown into the fire last season after taking over the play-calling duties just four games into the 2011 season. The Cardinals were a young and inexperienced offense with at least eight true freshmen playing on the field at once during last season, but Watson persevered and helped the Cardinals win a BIG EAST title and a trip to the Belk Bowl.
Now, those players, are sophomores, but in the grand scheme of things, still very young. But after spring practice, Watson likes where the offense is headed as fall practices begin in the next six weeks, but they are still in a work in progress.
"We all walked out of spring ball feeling really good about the growth that had taken place in our program," said Watson. "We'll all tell you we're not a finished product. We have a lot of polish to put on our game. We want to see ourselves play a clean game. Consistency isn't quite there yet. We have a chance to be really good because we have some good, young players in the program. But at the same time, we have got a lot of work ahead of us. We have to keep pushing, and that's one of the things with young players. No matter how gifted they are, we have to keep developing. We can't rely on talent alone."
Watson understands the expectations are high heading into the 2012 season with a wealth of talent and experience returning, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where Louisville returns eight starters, including four starters on the offensive line. While the prognosticators will pick the Cardinals as the favorites to win the BIG EAST Conference, the coaching staff will drive this team to continue what's it has done over the first two years - work hard.
Watson said, "A lot of people are going to pick us to do well. We have talent, but we have to develop that talent. It's on players and coaches alike. We have to go to work. Just because of how we finished the season, what we did last year doesn't mean anything this year. We have to go out and humbly earn it. We have a saying around the office: Stay humble. Stay hungry. If you stay humble, you'll be hungry."
While the offensive line returns mainly intact, the wide receiver position is deep and talented. Led by Michaelee Harris and Eli Rogers, the Cardinals might have the best overall talent in the league, and Watson feels this unit might be the best he has ever been around.
"Overall it's one of the better groups I've ever worked with," said Watson, who begins his first season as the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. " DeVante Parker
, I hope that some day we all see him realize his full potential because he's exceptional. I call him ball fetcher because no matter where the ball is, he finds a way to go get it. He's got great hands, he's faster than what he looks. I think he can be a great player. He'll come into his own. Andrell Smith
really came through. Damian Copeland
had a good spring. He's had injuries a little bit, and he just has been working to realize his talent. He found it this spring, so the challenge will be to put it on film in the fall. Eli Rogers
had a good spring. Scott Radcliff
, I don't know what I'd do without Scott. He's my security blanket. He's what every coach needs. That group is in good hands."
Despite losing Josh Chichester, Watson thinks the tight end spot might be the one that has shown the biggest improvement with the development of Nate Nord, a senior who has battled injuries.
"Our tight position was the most improved position on our offense," said Watson. "Nate Nord had an outstanding spring. Nate has been injury plagued. The nice thing about Nate, he's really found himself. Ryan Hubbell's been a nice surprise for us and great addition to that room because he's going to be exactly what we hoped when we recruited him. Good run blocker, good pass receiver, embodies the whole profile at tight end. With Chris White, we'll have three really good ones, and that gives us a chance to be multiple with our personnel groups."
The Cardinals have an opportunity to be better on offense this year, as the players are a year older and more experienced. But one thing is for certain, the Cardinals are going to work hard every day in practice, and Watson will be the man overseeing that improvement.