I hope that we can get a good turnout for the spring game on Saturday at 1:00 P.M. This is the first time I'll be able to attend since maybe the year after Petrino left and I'm hoping that I can get some notes and come back with a recap of the game. My one year old daughter still doesn't care about football so we will see how that goes.
I want to go over some things that I'll be looking for Saturday. Hopefully I can get a good dialogue going as well as being informative.
1. As the cliche goes: football games are won in the trenches. Well, our offensive line was flat out bad for about half of the season last year and it killed our offense. The defensive line battled injuries and youth, but didn't play terribly. I'm not a big stat head, but the numbers against the run were respectable and we pressured the quarterback pretty well last year. The match up of the lines will be the most important thing about Saturday's game because we return a lot of talent and size on both sides. In my opinion our defensive line will be the most improved area of the entire team and in turn it should help improve our offensive line play.
I will be looking to see how well Alex Kupper plays against B.J. Butler. Butler is pretty much unfair at 275 pounds. He played quarterback for his high school team. Feel free to read that sentence again. The defensive line should have the edge but it the experience of the offensive line might help them to hold their own.
2. How improved will Teddy Bridgewater be? What should we be looking for to help us know if he's improved or not? Those are probably in some way the top two questions of every fan out there. Teddy was the key to our offense blossoming late in the season last year. Getting better protection from the line and better production out of the run game helped, but Teddy made plays with his legs, arm, and instincts that can't be coached to anyone. This season he will need to cut down on mistakes in the intermediate passing game. He didn't turned the ball over a ton for a freshman quarterback in a BCS conference, but when he did it was typically between the numbers and 7-15 yards down field.
Shawn Watson will more than likely utilize that area of the field more than even Petrino's offenses did so it will be key for him to be able to read the defense better as well as having his timing down with his targets. Teddy is known for his calm demeanor, but he tends to get "happy feet" sometimes when he has to move to his second and third read. He's much more dangerous with his arm than his legs and his receivers are good enough to break big plays, so I would like to see him take what is given to him and build longer drives or allow the talent around him to make plays. We should see a fluid offense that picks at the defense until someone either breaks a big play or causes the defense to get tired before the offense hits the red zone.
3. What "new" guys should I look for?
I'm obsessed with recruiting, (creepy) so I love to see our younger players get an opportunity show why they are 3 star and 4 star players. Because we have had such a young team over the last couple of years there aren't a ton of young guys that haven't played yet. However, there are a few guys that are coming back from injuries or that have spent their time here so far as backups or redshirts. The easiest person to spot will be Mike Romano (#54). He is Mario's backup at center and will more than likely be the next great center here at UofL. He redshirted last year and put on 20 pounds while learning the position from a potential mid-round draft pick in next years draft. Charles Gaines (#3) has been said to have moved into the second group at cornerback. Some of you might remember Gaines being the talk of last years spring practice before undergoing shoulder surgery for an previous injury. Andrew Johnson is a lock to start across from Adrian Bushell, but his twitter feed might make it prudent to have an insurance plan behind him. Gaines is a burner that didn't mind to make a big hit at wide receiver in high school. It'll be nice to see him get some run at corner.
Keith Brown (#1) and James Burgess (#13) will most likely run with the second team at either outside linebacker position. Depending on how they've played so far, one of them might have made the move to the middle to help backup Preston Brown. These guys along with Nick Dawson are the gems of this years incoming class and I know everyone is looking forward to seeing what these guys can do. Lorenzo Mauldin (#94) switched positions three times last year and I'm pretty sure most fans didn't notice. By the time the season ended he was getting a lot of playing time at defensive end. Look for him to be used mostly in passing situations where he can focus on getting to the quarterback.
Deiontrez Mount (#48) is another name that most fans didn't notice much of last year. Mount was talented enough to be played at both defensive end and outside linebacker towards the end of last year. He is a pretty popular pick for the most improved player on the defensive side of the ball and I would have to agree. Corvin Lamb (#22) is my pick to steal the show Saturday. The guy's been killing it in practice and was overshadowed in high school and recruiting by the talent at Miami Northwestern. He will most likely run with the second team, but I could see him stealing some carries away from Dom Brown and Jeremy Wright on the first team. I'm really excited to see what he can do. Other guys to look for: Gerald Christian (#32), Robert Clark (#4), Ryan Hubbell (#85), Matt Milton (#84), and possibly Gerrod Holliman if he's not still injured (#8).
4. Wide receivers vs. defensive backs.
DeVante Parker against Adrian Bushell is my personal heaven. Neither guy talks a lot or gets too "hyped". They just play. And they do it much better than either is being recognized for in my opinion. Bushell is a shutdown corner than can play press man or zone and he can tackle very well in space. I'm extremely biased when it comes to Parker because I went to Ballard and played out wide myself. But, the talent was showcased immediately last year and he already excels at the areas of the game that most young guys need to work on. It'll be fun to watch those guys go at it. I am looking forward to seeing Calvin Pryor potentially murder one of his teammates over the middle. If you watched the video CardsFan922 posted the other day, he's the guy laying receivers and tight ends out towards the end of the video. Really, he's the guy on every one of those hits.
Hakeem Smith is starting the season with a new partner in crime, but I would love to see if his reads and coverage in the middle of the field have improved. T.Y. Hilton made him look pretty foolish last year and Robert Clark and Eli Rogers have the moves and savvy to do the same Saturday. Damien Copeland has the speed to really test our deep seam coverage too. Our starting receivers should be Parker, Rogers, and Andrell Smith with Michaelee Harris out injured. I want to see what guys like Copeland and Jarrett Davis can do now that we have a fairly specific three-deep at wide receiver. Scott Radcliff and those two guys give us the potential to mix things up formation wise while still being able to stick to the principles of the west coast offense. It will be interesting to see our 3-3-5 defense against our spread also.
5. Shawn Watson's offense put up historic numbers at Nebraska mostly because they ran the option up until right before he got there. However, Watson is a well respected offensive coach and I feel like he did a very good job considering the circumstances last year. I was hoping that we would bring in a fresh face that would open up the offense but if you think about it, the west coast system fits our team pretty well and it allows the defense to win games for us as opposed to trying to outscore people. Watson won't open up the playbook on Saturday but I would be surprised if we didn't at least see some new formations as well as some new route packages and run plays. I'm looking to see how he utilizes Chris White and Ryan Hubbell at tight end as well as whether or not he has any run plays out of our spread offense. I felt like we tried to "pound" the ball a little too much last year. I would love to see us run the ball out of three and four wide sets more this year.
Feel free to add to these in the comments. Looking forward to seeing you guys out there at one on Saturday. Don't forget that Charlie will murder all of your pets if you don't go.