I woke up at 5:10 this morning to go watch a group of returning players from a football team that went 4-8 partake in an early August practice. Why? Well I'm still not completely sure, but I know that it has something to do with this man.
Thursday morning was definitely the start of something new and it felt like it was the start of something very good. I would have been there if the first whistle had blown at 3.
My guess is that it's every bit as nerve-wracking to participate in a Charlie Strong practice as it is awesome to observe it. I would seriously take the man over Johnny Cage. He's terrifying.
You sort of got the feeling that while Strong was reeling it in a little bit, he still wanted to give the fans a taste of what he's all about. His lashings never featured any f's, but he did drop a handful of s's, and was intense enough in doing so that you got a feel for what closed practice life is going to be like.
As far as the structure of the morning is concerned, it was almost identical to one of Kragthorpe's open practices.
The players gathered and went through pre-practice exercises, then moved onto special teams work, then individual instruction, then passing drills, then 7-on-7, then the offenses and defenses split again, and then it was over.
That's where the similarities end.
The pace was a lot quicker and the intensity (obviously) was ratcheted up a notch. You got the feeling that it's still going to take a while for the players to fully adjust to this (sadly) foreign climate. I would love to see what practice is like three weeks from today.
I would say there were around 400 fans in attendance from 6-8, with about 300 there when things got started. Very surprising and equally impressive. It's definitely a new era.
Taking in a Louisville football practice under the lights and then watching the sun come up was pretty cool. You don't know when you're going to be able to do something like that again (may not happen again, may not have the time, etc.), so I'm glad I didn't hit the phone alarm (Mambo No. 5) and roll back over.
Photo credit: Daniel Mudd,...the only right guard to catch three touchdown passes in a state championship game.
The quarterbacks took turns taking the first rep in each drill, but the fact that Froman was at the head of the QB line during the pre-practice exercises was the best indication that the job is still his to lose.
Justin Burke started things off in 7-on-7 and had, I thought, the best day of the three quarterbacks.
I truly do not have a horse in this race, but the fact that Burke has been the least talked about potential QB One this summer sort of baffles me.
Question: Who gave a better performance last year than Burke did against Kentucky? I understand that he's not a natural or vocal leader, but neither was Brian Brohm. He had a decent run if I remember correctly.
Froman, Brown and even Stein have an obvious advantage when it comes to foot speed and that makes them all sexier choices to run the spread, but Burke is the most intelligent, the most attentive (he was the only QB who always noted who his receiver was and who he was matched up against during passing drills) and probably the best pure passer on the team. If we're debating speed vs. the ability to consistently hit the open man on a five-yard slant or ten-yard out, I'll take the latter this year.
It was not a great day for Will Stein. He wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, he's just going to have to be much better (and much better early this month) if he wants to make a serious push for this starting job.
It appeared that players who did not crack the three deep were held until the afternoon practice with the newcomers. Notable absentees on the field this morning were Josh Chichester and Titus Teague.
The fact remains that none of the three candidates can put the type of zip on the ball that you'd like to see at this level.
It's easy to get lost in the fact that Charlie Strong appears to be turning things around and bringing in players who are going to be very good, and it's the reason why some people are predicting a seven, eight or even nine win season right off the bat. It might take seeing this guys struggle in an actual game for people to realize, "oh yeah, that's why we scored 18 points a game last year."
There are very, very few cures for poor quarterback play.
The other major cause for concern on the offensive side of the ball is the lack of playmakers. Strong has said it before, but seeing it firsthand it's pretty obvious that there isn't a guy in the receiving corps who appears capable of turning what should be a five-yard gain into a 50-yard gain on a semi-regular basis.
You just have to hope something clicks with a couple of these guys who haven't had a chance to prove themselves yet.
Doug Beaumont is light years ahead of everyone else at his position, and it's painfully obvious.
Seeing him today I couldn't help but think about watching him three years ago during his first collegiate practice and ending up chatting with his mom. We were all so innocent then.
His superiority wasn't Harry Douglas-evident, but the fact that he was the top performer in the passing game on either side of the ball wasn't difficult to distinguish.
Dougie might be a senior, but he certainly isn't getting any special treatment. No. 27 was knocked down more than any other player over the course of the practice, once coming back to the huddle limping after getting tied up with Agyei Williams (ROCKS!).
Let's take it easy. We kind of need him.
The receiver who appears to have the most breakout potential is Josh Bellamy, a belief the coaching staff - given the amount of attention they paid to him - appears to share.
No doubt Bellamy has the body and the athleticism to be successful at this level, but his issue may be adapting to the way things are done at a BCS program.
In the words of Mr. Strong: "THIS IS NOT JUNIOR COLLEGE, OK!?"
Thanks to Mark Ennis of The Collision Course for the video.
Bellamy has the swagger of a kid who wants to wear No. 1, but he's not going to flourish under strong without focus and effort that he probably didn't give at Butte Community College.
The guy in the receiving corps who passes the look test with the most ease is Andrell Smith, but the sophomore from Miami still has a long way to go.
Johnny Patrick was as impressive on defense as Doug Beaumont was on offense during the one-on-one passing drill, but he blew assignments twice during seven-on-seven and drew the ire of Strong on both occasions. You couldn't help but think that the lashings were half-inspired by Patrick's on-field mistakes and half-inspired by his situation off it.
Strong may have let Patrick off the hook, but he hasn't really let him off the hook. If you catch my drift. If you know what I'm sayin'. If you're likin' what I'm typin'.
Patrick and Antwone Canady were the most vocal Cardinals in a practice where the players didn't say a whole lot.
Outside of Dexter Heyman and Greg Scruggs, we don't have a player who's going to intimidate anyone during pregame warm-ups.
Not that Strong and Sanford would show anything today, but Victor Anderson is your starting tailback and he was lined up nowhere other than directly behind or to the side of the quarterback.
Anderson also lived up to his reputation as the biggest character on the team, but I don't the way he does it detracts from his ability to lead. He works hard enough that when he does choose to speak up he demands ears.
Jeremy Wright was dressed out, but did not actively participate in any of the drills. He did dot drills and other quickness exercises by himself while Anderson, Bilal Powell and Blayne Donnell went through the regular drills.
Powell has shed a very noticeable amount of weight.
Defensive tackle Randy Salmon was in a walking boot and isn't expected to see the field for at least a couple of weeks.
Bobby Burns was the first player to start at corner opposite Patrick, but Preston Pace also handled the duty later on in practice. Those two, Champ Lee, Zed Evans and Darius Ashley (who didn't get much of a chance to do anything) all appear capable of landing the second starting corner spot.
Terence Simien and Shenard Holton are your current starters at safety.
I didn't see Isaac Geffrad, but his brother Jacob was there and has put on some serious muscle. Easily the most impressive body in the secondary today.
Beaumont handled the majority of the punts with Bellamy, Damian Copeland and Holton (who received a mock introduction from Vic Anderson) also getting a couple of reps.
Doug is the solid choice to handle kicks and punts if you're only looking to avoid turning the ball right back over, but he hasn't yet shown the ability to break anything big. Then again, neither has anyone else on the roster.
I'd like to see Jacques Caldwell get a shot, given his reputation as a speedster out of high school, but he never touched the ball when he was back there on kickoffs a year ago. Jeremy Wright and Johnny Patrick would also be options, one would think.
Josh Bleser is your starting punter/quarterback in defense only drills.
The only other player to punt was kicker Chris Philpott, who didn't appear to be much of a threat to Bleser's status. He did, however, bury every field goal he attempted.
Cameron Graham is still your starting tight end, although he was chastised by Strong at one point for "doing the same shit we got on you for all spring." Pete Nochta is your backup and Nate Nord (who appears to have lost a step since his injury) also saw some reps.
I'm going to love seeing the quarterbacks getting rid of the ball quickly during the games, but it definitely makes for a more boring 7-on-7 than we're used to. Lots and lots of quick, short passes.
The offense split five-wide one time and the set featured Bilal Powell split closest to the sideline on the strong side of the field. The defense appeared confused and Brandon Heath ended up checking him, an assignment the middle linebacker appeared unsure if he was supposed to accept.
This is why they practice.
I thought Hakeem Smith was a pleasant surprise. He's not ready to contribute but he's made some serious strides.
I don't think I'm going to be able to make it back this afternoon, so if any of you all do, please post your opinions and thoughts via FanPost. I'm dying to hear about Harris, Perry, Lamb and company.
Quotes from the Courier:
--"We had 6 a.m. workouts every day so it’s not like it’s new to anybody," Scruggs said. "We’re still coming out here running around and doing some physical stuff. Now when the pads come on, we might have to make some adjustments."
--"It’s a lot of passion and enthusiasm here," U of L coach Charlie Strong said. "The fans here are just unbelievable and I expected that."
Great crowd, great environment, great practice, great start.