2011 Louisville Preview – Offense
Louisville WR Josh Bellamy
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Louisville made huge strides in coordinator Mike Sanford's debut, leading the Big East in rushing and finishing second in scoring. How in the world do the Cards keep the momentum flowing this fall? A program that already has modest talent must find replacements for its entire backfield, last year's top two receivers, and four-fifths of the offensive line. All eyes will be on the quarterback competition, a study of contrasts. Junior Will Stein is a former walk-on. True freshman Teddy Bridgewater is one of the most decorated quarterback recruits in program history. There's decent skill position talent, like WR Josh Bellamy and backs Jeremy Wright and Victor Anderson, but it'll be devalued if the line is consistently getting driven backwards.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Victor Anderson
Passing: Will Stein
9-14, 72 yds, 1 TDs, 0 INTs
Rushing: Jeremy Wright
59 carries, 327 yds, 4 TDs
Receiving: Josh Bellamy
29 catches, 401 yds, 5 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior QB Adam Froman or Justin Burke
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Mario Benavides
Best pro prospect: Senior TE Cameron Graham
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Anderson, 2) Graham, 3) Senior WR Doug Beaumont
Strength of the offense: Depth at running back, size of the receivers, experience on the line
Weakness of the offense: Pass protection, the passing game, red zone scoring
State of the Unit: Last year's blessing has become this year's curse. Senior-laden in 2010, the Cardinals have been stripped down and left with little experience now that Adam Froman and Justin Burke have exhausted their eligibility. The result will be a closely-watched three-man battle that'll dominate the headlines around Louisville until Charlie Strong settles on his starter. Quarterback, more than any other position, will dictate Louisville's fate in 2011.
The veteran of the trio is 5-10, 185-pound junior Will Stein , a former walk-on with a couple of games of starting experience in 2009. He didn't play any meaningful minutes in 2010 and obviously doesn't fit the prototype, but the staff likes his leadership skills and competitiveness, and believes he has enough zip on his passes to move the team through the air. He'll escape pressure, but his line of sight is limited.
Regardless of what the depth chart looks like in September, the future behind center belongs to 6-2, 193-pound rookie Teddy Bridgewater . Already on campus, he was a coup for this staff, ditching his original commitment to Miami in order to be a Cardinal. A leader and terrific all-around athlete, he appears tailor-made for Mike Sanford's spread attack. Somewhat on the outskirts of the debate is 6-2, 221-pound sophomore Dominique Brown . Another good athlete, he was used in running situations, gaining 59 yards on 20 carries. However, winning this job will require him to sharpen his mechanics and ability as a passer.
Watch Out For .... Stein to be in the huddle when Murray State visits Sept. 1. The staff is genuinely comfortable with the junior, and it's not just coach-speak. Unless Bridgewater wows Strong during the summer, there's a very good chance that Stein will begin the season as the starter.
Strength: Mobility. By design, Sanford's last two quarterback recruits, Brown and Bridgewater, are terrific athletes, who avoid pressure, break containment, and pick up first downs with their legs. Plus, Stein isn't a stiff, giving the Cards a different wrinkle in the offense.
Weakness: A proven passer. A decent collection of receivers is going to suffer from playing catch with these quarterbacks. Stein has thrown one career touchdown pass and is well under 6-0. Bridgewater was in high school last year. And Brown is so raw as a passer that he was only permitted to tuck and run when he got off the sidelines.
Outlook: While it's not as if there isn't potential here, the program might not realize it until 2012. In the meantime, Stein is the favorite to keep the spot warm until Bridgewater is ready to go. He's not going to carry the Cardinals on his shoulders, striving instead to distribute the ball with as few mistakes as possible.
State of the Unit: Changes in the backfield won't be relegated to just quarterback. The Cards will also be looking for a successor to Bilal Powell, who erupted for more than 1,400 yards in his final season on campus. Fortunately for the program, it has a pair of players with the potential to cushion the blow.
Although injuries have kept 5-10, 189-pound senior Victor Anderson quiet the last two seasons, Louisville is aware of his vast potential when healthy. In his debut, he ran for more than 1,000 yards and scored nine times despite starting just three games. Since 2008, however, he's been in and out of the lineup, suffering from shoulder problems and other ailments. Last fall, he only managed 64 carries for 286 yards. At full strength, though, he's a slippery runner and a valuable weapon in the passing game and on special teams.
Anderson's competition essentially begins and ends with 5-11, 199-pound sophomore Jeremy Wright . He showcased breakaway potential in his first year, running for 327 yards and four touchdowns on 59 carries. Out in the spring due to a sports hernia, he's expected at 100% for summer camp. Sophomore Senorise Perry and redshirt freshman Kamal Hogan have ground to make up in order to crack the top two spots.
Watch Out For .... Anderson's health. One rough year is not uncommon, but two becomes a trend. It's incumbent upon Anderson, for his sake and the team's, that he makes like Powell and finish his career on a high note. The offense needs him to approach his freshman form.
Strength: Big-play potential. In Anderson and Wright, the Cardinals boast two backs capable of splitting a secondary and bringing the crowd to its feet. While not very big, both are explosive and able to make people miss in the open field.
Weakness: Size and durability. As it stands now, Louisville doesn't have a back north of 200 pounds, who can wear down a defense with 20-25 bruising carries. The primary members of the backfield are a little undersized, which becomes especially evident in short yardage and near the goal line.
Outlook: At this time last year, no one envisioned Powell blowing up the Big East, so there's hope for 2011. Still, there's even more concern, particularly with the uncertainty in the passing game and along the line. Even more than needing to remain healthy, Anderson and Wright will have to make their own yards as defenses stack the box to stop them.
State of the Unit: As if the passing attack needs more hurdles, Louisville must replace two of its most reliable receivers, WR Doug Beaumont and TE Cameron Graham. The quarterback's best friend over the last couple of seasons, they'll be sorely missed. The staff will spend the next few months sorting out the holdovers and trying to develop a two-deep capable of elevating the play of the passers.
Senior Josh Bellamy is the team's leading returning receiver and the frontrunner at "X" receiver. A key contributor in his second season out of Butte (Calif.) Community College, he caught 29 balls for 401 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-0 and 206 pounds, he's a thick and powerful target who can beat the jam at the line of scrimmage and win the battles for jump balls in the air.
At the other outside position, the "Z" receiver, junior Andrell Smith is hoping to hold on to the starting job. A 6-4, 212-pound load, he caught 25 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns, now needing to improve his ball skills. In the slot, or "H" receiver, there's an interesting competition brewing between redshirt freshmen Michaelee Harris and Stephan Robinson . Harris has four inches on the 5-8 Robinson, and was making plays on the Cardinal secondary before hurting his knee.
A year ago, senior Josh Chichester moved from wide receiver to tight end. This season, he replaces Graham. One of the biggest targets in America, the 6-8, 240-pounder caught 22 passes for 317 yards and five scores, creating matchup nightmares for defenders. He'll be backed up by junior Stephon Ball , the 6-4, 231-pound athlete who missed 2010 with a torn ACL.
Watch Out For .... true freshman Charles Gaines . An exciting playmaker out of Miami, he's already on campus and bucking for playing time from the second team. Atypical compared to the balance of the Cardinal receivers, he's just 5-10 and 176 pounds, but can turn a short hitch into a backbreaker.
Strength: Size and physicality. Depending on the lineup at the time, the Cardinals have the bid bodies to manhandle opposing defensive backs and dominate on jump balls. Plus, with so many imposing athletes, the receivers and tight ends are capable downfield blockers in the running game.
Weakness: Consistency. Not quite fully polished, the Louisville receivers drop too many passes and could do a better job of running routes. They need to come together in the offseason and give the quarterbacks more reliable targets before the opener.
Outlook: Raw is the best way to describe the Cardinal pass-catchers. While they look good coming off the bus, that doesn't always translate to Saturdays. The measurables are fine, particularly their size, but the receivers and tight ends need to play with a greater degree of consistency. Bellamy has go-to potential once he acclimates to the new quarterback.
State of the Unit: If the backfield is the No. 1 priority on offense, the line is No. 1A. From an underrated veteran unit that quietly did an outstanding job in 2010, Louisville is being forced to replace four starters and a total of six experienced lettermen. It'll be a closely-watched work-in-progress for the holdovers and assistant Dave Borbely.
The undisputed leader of the front wall will be 6-4, 300-pound junior C Mario Benavides , the lone returning full-timer. He's now started 24-of-25 games during his career, displaying outstanding leadership and the strength to create space for the backs and time for the quarterbacks.
The ensemble flanking Benavides will be a topic of heated debate around campus for the next couple of months. At the all-important left tackle, 6-5, 294-pound senior Hector Hernandez and 6-3, 295-pound junior Alex Kupper are the chief competitors. This would be a huge step up for Hernandez, who has not logged significant minutes during his career. The team's most versatile lineman, Kupper started the Arkansas State game at center and can play just about anywhere.
The opening at right tackle is expected to be filled by 6-5, 304-pound senior Ryan Kessling , second only to Benavides in terms of snaps and experience. At the guards, the favorites to start are 6-3, 299-pound sophomore Kamran Joyer and 6-3, 315-pound redshirt freshman Jake Smith . Joyner is a terrific athlete for his size, and can get to the second level in a hurry. Smith is a name the locals will hear a lot over the next few seasons. A powerful run blocker, he's surprisingly light on his feet and agile. Senior John Clark and sophomore Hunter Stout are interior blockers determined to keep Joyner and Smith out of the lineup.
Watch Out For .... an extremely fluid situation. Benavides aside, no one is locked into a starting job, meaning the competition will rage on right into the start of the season. Every linemen ought to be on his best behavior because with Strong around, there'll be little margin for error.
Strength: The pivot. The situation certainly could change, but right now, Benavides is head and shoulders better than his teammates. He has the reps, the fundamentals, and the system know-how to finish the season on the All-Big East team.
Weakness: Inexperience. Not only will four new starters be cutting their teeth in 2011, but the backups are going to be green as well. While the Cardinals should have success running the ball thanks to sheer strength alone, uncertainty at the tackles could make pass protection a weekly nightmare.
Outlook: The hurdles are growing for the Louisville offense all at once. If the line was intact, there'd be hope for the skill position players. However, that's not the case. There are question marks everywhere and just one lineman who can be counted on to perform at high level and on a consistent basis.
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