I was thinking about who would have made this list a year ago, and the only name I was certain of was Willie Williams. Pretty safe to say his contributions towards the "make" effort were far outweighed by his "break" work.
Hunter Cantwell, QB
I could probably just say "duh" and move on...so I will.
Mozell Axson, MLB
The importance of this unit as a whole has been well documented, but Axson's performance is particularly crucial. While his field time to this point has been mostly limited to special teams, he's still the most experienced member of the linebacking corps, and is the guy who Dexter Heyman and the JuCo transfers are going to turn to if they're struggling to grasp things during the beginning of their Louisville careers.
Regardless of the amount of PT he's seen to this point, Axson is a senior starting at middle linebacker, and his emergence as both a performer and a leader is absolutely paramount for this defense.
Woodny Turenne, CB
Turenne, the top-rated junior-college player in the country in 2007, was billed by many heading into last season as an upgrade to graduated corner William Gay. But while Gay was putting together a successful rookie season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Turenne was struggling...mightily.
I think the most frustrating thing for Louisville fans in regards to Woodny was to watch him make a play every now and then that exhibited just how skilled he actually is. There's a reason why he had more than 30 scholarship offers and was pursued USC, Michigan and Ohio State. Despite the 4.4 speed and the reputation for having terrific instincts, things never clicked for Turenne in 2007, and for three months he consistently found himself either out-of-place or watching the man he was supposed to be covering haul in a pass ten yards in front of him.
With Johnny Patrick appearing poised to step up his game at one corner position, and an experienced core of returning safeties that includes a healthy Latarrius Thomas, there's a lot of pressure on Turenne to be at least 80% of the player he was supposed to be and solidify the unit.
Two practices in, so far, so good.
Doug Beaumont, WR
Louisville was Cameron Diaz thin at wide receiver before JuJuan Spillman was dismissed and Trent Guy was shot on consecutive days in July. It achieved Olsen twin status immediately afterwards.
Even if Hunter Cantwell lives up to the hype and receives adequate protection, the passing equation won't add up properly without multiple playmakers getting open and catching balls.
Scott Long is as proven a commodity as there is in the unit, and appears ready to finally assume the role of No.1 receiver. The bigger question mark is who will be the guy or guys to step up and force opposing secondaries to not key entirely on #84.
With Guy's status still very much up in the air, much of the burden rests on the diminutive shoulders of sophomore Doug Beaumont. Kentucky's Mr. Football in 2006, he appeared in all 12 games as a freshman, but played almost entirely on special teams and did not catch a pass.
Despite standing just 5-foot-9, Beaumont is an exceptional athlete who has already exhibited a phenomenal ability to run routes and finish plays this summer. A lethal air attack has been synonymous with Louisville football for the last ten years. For that to continue, Beaumont and some of his complements are going to have to step way up.
Chris Philpott/Tim Dougherty, K
Knowing that, barring a turnover, you're guaranteed at least three points once the offense moves the ball inside the 30-yard line has been quite the luxury for the past four years. But that luxury is now a Shreveport-Bossier City BattleWing, and needs to be replaced by at least a semi-luxury...like power locks.
The battle between Philpott, a freshman, and Dougherty, a St. X product and Purdue transfer, will likely be decided initially within the next three weeks, but it will rage well into the season if the victor proves unworthy of passably filling Art Carmody's monstrous size 8 1/2's.
It's so easy to just dismiss kicking, a facet of the game which fits in about as well as jumping rope would in basketball, but anyone who thinks that U of L would have been as good as it was from 2004-2007 without Carmody wasn't paying much attention. Whoever wins the battle doesn't have to be automatic (or even Art-o-matoc...you knew it was coming...sorry), but if the drop-off is Schnelly to Cooper-esque, then it will end up costing us dearly.