2013 Louisville Preview – Offense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Offense
Preview 2013 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: As long as Teddy Bridgewater is healthy and calling out signals, Louisville's offense will be in very capable hands. The junior is one of the nation's premier quarterbacks, a steady-handed winner who has yet to even approach his full potential. Helping him get there in 2013 will be a deep and athletic collection of receivers that goes three-deep with weapons. Not only do three of last year's top four pass-catchers return, led by playmaker extraordinaire DeVante Parker, but Tennessee transfer Matt Milton, Florida transfers Gerald Christian and Robert Clark and five-star recruit James Quick are competing for reps as well. Always aiming for balance, the staff hopes to have leading rusher Senorise Perry back from an ACL injury in time for the opener. No matter when he returns, bruising 226-pound Dominique Brown is going to be a key part of the rotation. And the Aug. 2 addition of former Auburn star Michael Dyer could turn this once sore spot into a potential strength. The weakest link of the attack will again be the O-line. The unit isn't bad, but it isn't special either, and will play this year with a new center and left tackle.
Star of the offense: Junior QB Teddy Bridgewater
Passing: Teddy Bridgewater
287-419, 3,718 yds, 27 TDs, 8 INTs
Rushing: Senorise Perry
136 carries, 705 yds, 11 TDs
Receiving: Damian Copeland
50 catches, 628 yds, 2 TDs
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore LT Abraham Garcia
Unsung star on the rise: Junior TE Gerald Christian
Best pro prospect: Bridgewater
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bridgewater, 2) Junior WR DeVante Parker, 3) Junior LG John Miller
Strength of the offense: Quarterback, wide receivers, turnovers, third-down conversions
Weakness of the offense: Explosive rushing plays, the O-line, pass protection
Brian Brohm. Dave Ragone. Browning Nagle. Stefan LeFors. Chris Redman. Junior Teddy Bridgewater is well on his way toward surpassing all of his predecessors and becoming the best Louisville quarterback of all-time. There's something so special about No. 5 that transcends the simplicity of numbers. Oh, last year's stats were plenty good for the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, who went 287-of-419 for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and only eight picks. However, Bridgewater's intangibles are as important as his accurate throws and ability to prolong plays with his feet. He's poised well beyond his years, oozes toughness in the pocket and sees patterns develop about as well as any FBS peer. Substantially thicker than when he first arrived, the 6-3, 220-pounder is gearing up for a serious Heisman run, as he helps guide Louisville to even higher levels of national relevance.
With the graduation of Will Stein, Louisville needs to develop a new backup quarterback. Not only will that Cardinal serve as Bridgewater's caddy for a year, but he could be the successor in 2014 as well. Redshirt freshman Will Gardner has jumped out to a lead following a strong spring. The 6-5, 200-pounder, who turned down Alabama to play for Louisville, sat out last season to rehab a knee injury. He has a strong arm, throws a catchable ball and has very good fundamentals as a thrower. To further bolster depth, the Cardinals have signed 6-4, 220-pound lefty Brett Nelson out of Southwestern (Calif.) Community College. No, he doesn't have Gardner's arm, but a full spring of practice could keep him ahead of incoming four-star gem Kyle Bolin.
Watch Out For .... Bridgewater to remain in the Heisman discussion all year, but fail to ever truly break through. Is he one of the nation's premieres players? Absolutely. Will he be able to showcase those skills on a grand stage? Uh, no. The Cardinals might not face a Top 25 team all year, which, fair or not, will cap the quarterback's ceiling on individual awards.
Strength: Bridgewater. No. 5 brings an NFL skill set and demeanor to a college landscape. There's a reason why he's being discussed as the possible top overall NFL Draft pick in 2014. He's the total package, from his accuracy as a passer to the poise and clutch personality he brings to the huddle.
Weakness: Proven depth. Stein never looked the part, but he sure helped the coaching staff sleep a little sounder at night. The Cardinals no longer have the luxury of a veteran on the sidelines. Bridgewater isn't the thickest quarterback in America, and his apprentices have no combined passing attempts at this level between them.
Outlook: It's going to be a special year in Louisville for Bridgewater, who's helping bring all kinds of national attention to his school. At a program accustomed to great quarterback play over the years, the junior is on the verge of becoming the best to ever play for the Cards. He'll likely rank among the top 10 players nationally in passing efficiency, carving up defenses with his accurate darts. Just in case Bridgewater opts to cash in on his talent at the end of the year, Louisville would be wise to get as many reps as possible for at least two of the young backups.
Louisville unearthed two quality running backs in 2012. Jeremy Wright has left the program, leaving senior Senorise Perry to shoulder a larger share of load … provided his body can handle it. The 6-0, 198-pounder was enjoying a breakout year when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in the tenth game. At the time, he'd come off the bench to rush for 705 yards and 11 scores on 136 carries, operating with nice vision and strength between the tackles. He also caught 18 balls for 181 yards. Perry did not participate in spring drills, but he's ahead of schedule in his recovery, and the school is cautiously optimistic that he'll be available for the start of fall camp.
In Perry's absence this offseason, junior Dominique Brown has assured himself of no less than a significant role in the rotation this season. He sat out last season to fully rehab his own knee injury, a move that's going to pay off for the 2013 team. At 6-2 and 226 pounds, he's an extremely physical converted quarterback, with a vastly improved knowledge of the nuances of the position. Brown is eager to become the downhill runner that this offense needs him to be.
Pending Perry's recovery, 5-9, 216-pound junior Corvin Lamb could wind up being an important cog in the ground game's wheel. Able to work between the tackles like Brown, he operates with ideal leverage, rushing for 50 yards and a score on 13 carries to go along with three catches for 58 yards and another touchdown.
Senior B.J. Butler is nothing if not versatile. The 6-2, 275-pound former defensive end was moved to tight end late last year. He emerged as a battering ram fullback in the Sugar Bowl upset of Florida, a position he plans to play in his finale.
Watch Out For .... the impact of new addition Michael Dyer . It was announced on Aug. 2 that the former two-time 1,000-yard rusher at Auburn—and 2011 BCS National Championship Game Offensive Player of the Game—would use Louisville to seek redemption. Dyer had been booted from the Tigers and later Arkansas State, showcasing an inability to stay out of trouble. The talent is undeniable, but he's running out of chances to prove that he can finally make good decisions away from the field. If Charlie Strong is successful in preparing Dyer for an NFL career, just imagine how that might resonate with future wayward stars seeking a second chance.
Strength: Physical running backs. Brown, Dyer, Lamb and even fourth-stringer Brandon Radcliff will hammer opposing defenses, dragging tacklers for additional yards. All four weigh at least 210 pounds, which is just south of most linebackers on the schedule. Perry, too, can be a north-south runner, so the Cards don't waste much movement getting to the hole.
Weakness: Durability. Will Louisville have access to the same Perry who ran so unexpectedly well a year ago? Time will tell, but he suffered an ACL injury last November that can sometimes take as long as a year from which to recover. The Cards' backfield depth is going to take a hit if No. 32 isn't himself, and Brown has to shoulder.
Outlook: Can Louisville duplicate the one-two punch it had in 2012, when it produced 23 touchdowns on the ground? It's absolutely possible, especially now that Dyer is in the fold and Perry is ahead of schedule with his rehabilitation. A healthy Perry and Brown plus a focused Dyer would give the Cardinals a very interesting trio to balance out the passing of Teddy Bridgewater. Heck, the mere presence of Bridgewater will create holes for this year's backs.
Three of Teddy Bridgewater's favorite targets are still student-athletes. None strikes fear into opposing defensive backs more than junior WR DeVante Parker. The quintessential homerun hitter on the outside, he's caught a touchdown pass every 3.6 receptions over his first two seasons. In 2012's All-Big East First Team campaign, he parlayed 40 catches into 744 yards and 10 scores. At 6-3 and 204 pounds, with great wheels, he's physically superior to most opposing defensive backs. And with big mitts and a habit of securing the acrobatic grab on jump balls, Parker is halfway toward a shot at continuing his career on Sundays.
Senior Damian Copeland was the epitome of a breakthrough performer in 2012, going from eight catches in his first two years to a team-high 50 for 628 yards and two scores last season. Healthy for the first time in his career, the 6-1, 188-pounder gave a taste of his potential at "Z" when able to perform at full strength.
In the slot, or "H", Bridgewater will once again be looking for shifty No. 82, Eli Rogers. The 5-10, 185-pound junior has started just four games since arriving, yet has been consistently clutch, making 46 grabs for 505 yards and four touchdowns. Quick and elusive, he has the reliable hands and tight routes to bail out the quarterback when a play breaks down.
The Cardinals will plenty of options at tight end this year. Senior Ryan Hubbell showed flashes in his debut from Iowa Western Community College, starting four times and catching 14 balls for 239 yards and two scores. However, the athletic 6-5, 225-pounder will take a backseat to Florida transfer Gerald Christian, a former four-star recruit from the 2010 class. The 6-3, 260-pound junior is such a good athlete and such an assertive blocker that he's liable to explode on to the scene for the Cardinals, attracting the attention of pro scouts.
The staff is eager to unleash two more SEC imports on AAC defenses, 6-5, 208-pound junior Matt Milton and 5-9, 182-pound junior Robert Clark. Milton began his career at Tennessee as the nation's 17th-rated wide receiver. He sat out last year, and is itching to use his long and lean frame to deliver the occasional long ball as Parker's backup. Clark comes by way of Florida, a burner who's capable of stretching the field from either "H" or "Z".
Watch Out For .... the other guys. You want deep? How about the addition of blue-chip rookie James Quick, the nation's third-rated wide receiver, and the return of 6-2, 192-pound junior Michaelee Harris ? Quick turned away offers from the likes of Oregon, Ohio State, Michigan and Alabama to play at Louisville. Harris missed all of 2012 following an ACL injury, but started 12 games as a rookie in 2011, making 37 grabs for 455 yards and two touchdowns.
Strength: Options. The Cardinals may be as deep and as talented as they've ever been in the receiving corps. This unit was solid a year ago, led by Parker, Copeland and Rogers. The additions of Christian, Clark, Milton, Quick and Harris just gives Bridgewater more exciting toys to play with this fall.
Weakness: Consistency. This group is no doubt improving, but still has a way to go in terms of the little things. The staff wants to eliminate drops and poorly run routes, providing Bridgewater with even better targets than he had a year ago. For the receivers, it's all about taking the raw talent and making it a little crisper in 2013.
Outlook: After building last year, the corps of receivers and tight ends appears ready to erupt in 2013. Louisville is flush with enough size, athleticism and depth to create weekly mismatches with opposing defensive backfields. This unit was going to be fine with the holdovers. Adding transfers, coveted rookies and veterans off IR will make it downright scary.
No offensive unit is getting more well-deserved offseason attention than an O-line looking to replace two key starters, LT Alex Kupper and C Mario Benavides. Benavides was a four-year starter who'll be supplanted by 6-3, 282-pound senior Kamran Joyer. The versatile veteran started two games at guard last year, one on the left side and one of the right, and has the smarts to handle the pivot. He'll have to remain healthy, which has been a factor during his college career.
All eyes will continue to be on sophomore Abraham Garcia, the likely sentry in charge of protecting Teddy Bridgewater's blindside. He played some as a rookie, but not enough to feel supremely confident that he's ready for this promotion. The coaches like the way he moves, which is saying something since he's 6-5 and 345 pounds.
Garcia will have a budding veteran next to him in 6-2, 313-pound LG John Miller. The junior started 11 games a season ago, and has now been in the opening lineup for 21 of his 22 college games. He's arguably the Cards' most complete blocker, excelling in pass protection, while getting out to the second level in a hurry.
The right side will be anchored by underrated junior G Jake Smith, a third-year starter who only missed the Sugar Bowl because of an illness. The tough and physical 6-3, 314-pounder is at his most effective when plowing forward on running downs, but has been exposed on occasion as a pass protector. Smith brings a welcomed blue-collar demeanor to the front wall.
Back at right tackle is massive junior Jamon Brown, who continues to evolve after arriving on campus as a defensive tackle. He continues to gain confidence as an edge protector, aided by last year's 13 starts. Despite being 6-6 and 340 pounds, he has surprisingly good balance, leading the staff to feel that he's nowhere near his ceiling as a blocker.
The Cardinals' most valuable lineman off the bench will be 6-5, 308-pound sophomore RT Ryan Mack. He played in every game of his rookie season, even starting against South Florida. He can play multiple positions up front, which means he's liable to fill in at either tackle or guard in 2013.
Watch Out For .... Joyer's comfort level at the pivot. In theory, he makes a lot of sense. In reality, he suddenly has one of the most important jobs on the offense, getting the ball in the hands of Bridgewater as cleanly and as consistently as possible.
Strength: To the right of center. The Cards will be strongest to the right of Joyer, where Smith and Brown are on the verge of becoming anchors. Both players are big, strong and experienced, having started all but a single game in 2012.
Weakness: Pass protection. This area of the O-line has been an issue for the last two years, and needs to be addressed quickly. Bridgewater is the franchise, and must be protected accordingly. In 2011, Louisville ranked 110th nationally in sacks allowed, and only elevated to 85th last year. This season, the Cards are breaking in a left tackle with minimal experience.
Outlook: If anything holds back this Louisville offense in 2013, it'll be the play of its own O-line. From a unit that performed sporadically last fall, the starting left tackle and center must be replaced. The Cards need to mesh and overachieve in a hurry, because Bridgewater is far too talented to be bounced around in the pocket. Joyer and Garcia, in particular, will be under the microscope from Week 1 on, needing to play as if they've been in this position before.
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