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Practice report: day one

Whistles, water bottles, sleds and skeletons.

'Tis the season.

  A pretty solid turnout on day one, with somewhere around 200 or so fans taking in the start of the 2008 season. It wasn't quite as packed as it was for the opening practice a year ago, but that's partly because of the poor weather and partly because of, well, not the poor weather.

It was easily the quietest practice I've ever attended, both on and off the field. Not much chatter along the sidelines, and before the defense came over for 7-on-7 and 11-on-11, not much chatter inside them either. Not saying it was a good or a bad thing, it just was.

  Hunter Cantwell enters camp as the undisputed starting quarterback for the first time in four years, and he certainly looked the part on Tuesday. He was easily the most polished, accurate and confident member of the sevenfold group of signal callers, and that's exactly what he's expected to be.

I still think that - fairly or not - his throwing motion has already eliminated any chance he might have had of being one of the top two or three quarterbacks taken in the NFL Draft, but my god that kid has a cannon. After seeing Cantwell up close during the first couple of practices last year, I talked about how ridiculous it was that I was still so in awe of his arm despite having already seen him play for multiple years, and I feel the exact same way after watching him throw on Tuesday. He simply fits balls into spaces mere mortals cannot.

Despite getting a couple of balls batted down and having a slant pass jumped and picked off by Agyei Williams (nickel package), it was a very solid opening day for No. 14.

  A little bit surprised and disappointed to see Earl Heyman getting the start at tackle instead of end. I suppose Aundre Henderson's departure left the coaching staff feeling that there was more depth inside than outside, and that Earl's presence was most needed at DT.

We got almost zero pressure on opposing QBs off the edge a year ago, which led to ineffective blitzes, which led to incapable corners being left out on an island. Obviously that's something that needs to change.

Heyman was more effective in one half (NC State) at end than the entire rest of the unit was all season, but if we have to have him in the middle, then we have to have to have him in the middle. It'd sure be nice to still have Peanut Whitehead...and Amobi Okoye.

For what it's worth, your starting defense at the moment is:

DT- Adrian Grady
DT- Earl Heyman
DE- Mo Mitchell
DE- William Savoy
MLB- Mozell Axson
SLB- Dexter Heyman
WLB- Chris Campa
CB- Woodny Turenne
CB- Johnny Patrick
SS- Bobby Buchanan
FS- Latarrius Thomas

  It's still not a secret that we're thin at linebacker, but starting camp with a true freshman and a JuCo transfer who missed all of spring practice manning the middle on your first team is scary, regardless of how good those guys are supposed to be.

Although Dexter Heyman certainly passes the look test.

  Trent Guy was there in street clothes, bouncing around and looking quite healthy. Fellow receiver and dreadlock aficionado Corey Thompson was also in street clothes.

  A small scuffle broke out in the middle of 11-on-11 when Bilal Powell took exception to an overzealous lick from (I believe) Maurice Mitchell. Several other defensive players jumped in, and then Earl Heyman and an offensive lineman got into it for a little bit before order was restored.

You could sort of see this one coming with the way the defense was popping ball carriers on a day that was supposed to be sans contact. This type of thing is great for some teams, and not so great for others. I believe Louisville falls in the former category. Every player on this squad has been through a lot over the past 12 months, and releasing that pent up emotion over the next three and-a-half weeks will only improve the mental state of individuals and bring the group as a whole closer together.

  I think if you saw Ron English walking by himself at Target, you'd still automatically be able to recognize that the man is a football coach.

He was all over the place on Tuesday, and is that rarest breed of defensive coach who screams with a purpose, and not just because he think it's what he's supposed to do. English is equally heavy on intense vocal criticism and praise. If you do something poorly, you're going to hear about it, quickly. If you do something well, ditto.

The contagiousness of his enthusiasm was evident throughout practice, as the defense was consistently more vocal and more energized than their offensive counterparts.

English was born to coach football, and if opening day is any indication, he's going to harness every bit of potential that this group has to offer.

  Catching the ball was a bit of an issue.

The number of passes that hit hands then turf were up dramatically from the first practices of the last few years.

Scott Long was a practice sensation a year ago, but having no Douglas, Urrutia or Carter around makes him stand out like a fat guy in the Miss America pageant. He has got to translate that potential onto the playing field and establish himself as a formidable No.1 receiver for this offense to function effectively. It was great to see he and Cantwell hook up on a bomb - at the expense of Travis Norton - for hopefully the first of many times in 2008.

Dougie Beaumont was the other real standout in the group, and the guy who Jeff Brohm is really going to need to have a breakout season if opposing secondaries begin to focus too much attention on Long. His lack of size is always going to be a topic for discussion, but the kid can run a route, and he has all the other intangibles that big-time playmakers possess. I'm very, very excited to see Beaumont in his increased role this season.

Chris Vaughn also had his moments, but didn't do anything particularly spectacular, which is sort of the Chris Vaughn story at U of L.

Troy Pascley and Maurice Clark did not have good practices.

  I thought it was really interesting to watch Josh Chichester, who is apparently sporting the No.11 jersey this season. He looked as average as he did last year during the individual drills, but stepped up and made some big-time plays when defenders were brought into the equation. Chichester strikes me as one of those guys who appears totally pedestrian when you see him working out by himself, but who becomes a completely different player when he's thrown into a game situation.

If he can step up and become a solid contributor a little bit ahead of schedule, it would be an enormous boon for this offense.

  Woodny Turenne really struggled in the one-on-one passing drills. He was beaten deep by Chris Vaughn on the opening play of the drill (Vaughn dropped the pass), and then beaten deep again a few reps later. But he completely redeemed himself  by breaking up multiple passes in the 11-on-11 drill, and may have actually been the top individual performer of the segment.

  Johnny Patrick probably had the best practice of all the members of the secondary. He was the only player who looked capable of playing excellent straight man during the one-on-one drill, and he performed equally well in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. He's always had all the skills necessary to be a terrific corner, and we may start to see that now that he's had a year to learn how to play the position.

  Didn't get to see much of Sergio Spencer in his new role at safety, although he was making quite the fashion statement with a white sleeve on his left arm only and a high white sock on his left leg only. The defense played mostly nickel during 7-on-7, and Spencer was the first extra safety brought onto the field when the initial switch was made, although I'm not sure if that's at all indicative of where he currently sits on the depth chart.

  Running backs coach Tony Alford is still equally intense and awesome.

Early in the practice, the backs were working on catching passes in the flats and Bilal Powell caught one and let his momentum take him-out-of bounds, to which Alford responded: "Believe it or not, the white line actually means that you're f***ing out-of-bounds."

  Wide receiver Andrew Robinson was wearing a yellow jersey, which apparently means that he's off-limit for contact. No idea what his injury is, but he appeared to be moving just fine.

  Brandon Heath still looks too small to be play linebacker, and James Bryant looks like he might be better suited to play defensive end. Both were working with the third team. Antwon Canady, Stephen Garr and Jon Dempsey were manning the middle for the second team.

  Jacques Caldwell is every bit as fast as advertised, but 40-yards of separation doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't catch the ball. We'll see if he gets a shot on kick returns and a jet sweep or two or if he'll still be a freshman 12 months from now. 

  Matt Simms had to have made a deal with some sort of football deity to be able to have that motion and still put the ball where he does with as much umph as he does. He's put on some muscle and looked very impressive yesterday. He's also the most talkative and supportive of the quarterbacks, which is something you love to see from a young signal caller. Still, that low motion leaves him very susceptible to having passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, something which happened a couple of times when the defensive lineman were thrown into the equation.

I just don't understand how you end up throwing the ball like that when your father is a Super Bowl winning quarterback. That said, I'd say he's your early, early leader in the '09 quarterback race.

  Zack Stoudt doesn't appear quite as polished in person as he does on film. Still, big kid, big arm.

  Sophomore tight end Cameron Graham dropped what should have been an easy catch in the flats during 11-on-11, and was promptly met with a, "you gotta catch the ball, freshman" from L.T. Walker.

  Pete Nochta and Johnnie Burns may be the two guys who are supposed to be dueling for the starting tight end job, but for at least one day, Nate Nord looked like the best of the bunch. Even if he doesn't end up claiming the starting role, I think Nate's going to see significant PT sooner rather than later.

  Sophomore Eugene Sowell has made the move from linebacker to running back, and freshman Stephon Ball has moved from tight end to wide receiver.

  There's an 89% chance that the next jersey I buy will be a Rock Keys jersey. When you name your kid Rock, you're basically ruling out the chances of him playing the violin from day one.

  If Brock Bolen and Joe Tronzo don't make it as professional football players, I think they should fight crime. Either that or follow me around so I can insult people whenever the urge strikes me (often).

  Darius Ashley possesses the identical frame that Victor Anderson sported on opening day a year ago. The latter has put on some additional poundage, but both have lower bodies that appear fully capable of supporting a ridiculous cut or two.

I'd selfishly love to see what Ashley's got right off the bat, but I'll be extremely surprised if Kragthorpe burns his redshirt so long as Powell, Bolen and VA all stay healthy.

  The defense definitely "won" the portions of practice where it co-existed with the offense, but we all saw how much that sort of thing means a year ago.

  Special teams worked out inside, so nothing to report there.

  Eric Wood and, in a far more reserved manner, Hunter Cantwell appear to be the unquestioned leaders on offense, while Earl Heyman, Mozell Axson and Bobby Buchanan have undertaken the same role on the other side of the ball.

  And finally, Jerb has you visual-learning out-of-towners covered with YouTubage of the local news coverage.

Despite Kragthorpe saying precisely the same thing he said after the first practice a year ago, we have officially entered a brand new season.

It feels warm. It feels good.