Louisville opens fall camp looking to fill multiple voids
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville has moved on from losing Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson and other key contributors toward seeing what the next chapter brings.
The Cardinals' task as fall camp begins is filling huge voids on both sides of the ball while building on the adjustments last spring.
Besides replacing the dynamic Jackson — the 2016 Heisman winner who compiled 13,175 yards and 119 touchdowns on offense along with a truckload of records and awards — the Cardinals must develop backfield depth. Louisville's defense meanwhile lost seven starters and nine regulars from a unit that struggled and breaks in its third coordinator in as many years.
Rather than focus on what they lost, the Cardinals see an opportunity to move forward with new faces.
"Every year we've got something to prove when it comes down to doing better than we did last year," senior safety Dee Smith said of the defense.
"We kind of fell off at the beginning of the year and toward the end we picked it up and showed what we're capable of doing. Now, we pick up where we left off."
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino was encouraged by spring drills and has been more pleased with his team's offseason effort. While acknowledging that the Cardinals' Sept. 1 season opener against defending national champion Alabama might have provided motivation, the coach sees players eager to establish continuity.
"We want to see better execution and carry-over from spring practice," said Petrino, 75-27 in two stints with the Cardinals.
Sophomore quarterback Jawon "Puma" Pass will obviously draw the most attention taking over the offense after spending the past two seasons backing up Jackson before the junior entered the NFL Draft and drafted in the first round by the Baltimore Ravens.
While the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder isn't as elusive as his predecessor, he's quick and is slightly bigger.Pass can run but is more of a pocket passer than Jackson, another shift for an offense that thrived on Jackson's cutback skills.
As Petrino seeks offensive balance with the running backs and stiff protection up front, the returns of receivers Jaylen Smith (980 yards, seven touchdowns), Seth Dawkins and Dez Fitzpatrick gives Pass options to settle in with.
Petrino even suggested that Louisville's offense could be even better, a bold declaration given the excitement Jackson created. Time will tell how things unfold, but the coach's praise was just what Pass wanted to hear.
"It gives me confidence, and I think he's right," said Pass, who completed 23 of 33 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns in six games as a reserve. "We can be a great offense."
Louisville's key question is how the defense replaces personnel and production while learning an expected 4-3 scheme under first-year coordinator Brian VanGorder, who replaces Peter Sirmon.
The secondary lost three starters including cornerback Jaire Alexander, a first-round pick by the Green Bay Packers. Louisville's front seven will be significantly younger and will depend on junior end Jonathan Greenard and sophomore linebacker Dorian Etheridge (83 tackles) to anchor things in the interim.
None of these changes alter expectations for the Cardinals, who believe they are better than their projected fifth-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division.
Added Smith, "We just go out there and play ball and let it speak for itself."
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