Louisville football opened the first week of practices to the fans this week and I was able to make it to the afteroon practices that featured the veteran players. The practices were structured pretty similarly to the last few years with the previous staff, but that's about the only thing that was familiar. Most of the coaches are very soft spoken and there isn't a lot of yelling during individual position drills. There's also no music playing and not nearly as much chatter between players. With the team learning a completely new system, it's not surprising that both coaches and players are focused than they needed to be last season.
The saying goes: Everyone looks great in shorts and t-shirts. And it's a very true statement. Until guys actually put pads on and they start hitting each other, it's really hard to truly judge how they are playing. What stood out in the two days of practice is what guys have become more vocal and what guys the coaches to contribute to the swear jar. Gerod Holliman, who has sat behind Calvin Pryor since his arrival, has become a very vocal leader on defense. Grantham's system requires a lot of communication before the snap and Gerod has taken on that responsibility for the defensive backs. Petrino praised him after Tuesday's practice and he already has three interceptions through two days.
It is really interesting watching the defensive players learn the new system. For the last two years, most of the guys have spent their down time at practice joking around and trash talking the offensive players. When you know the system inside and out it's easy to be laid back. The coaches even joined in. But now guys like B.J. Dubose are huddling guys up and going over situational formation changes and Charles Gaines is in Kevin Houchins ear pointing out what he should have done on that last call. As a fan it's just fun to watch the difference. The positive is that there weren't nearly as many mistakes being made as I expected. When there were mistakes they were typically being made by the younger guys, also.
The first teams on both sides haven't had many surprises from a personnel standpoint. Terrell Floyd has worked at safety and nickelback as Petrino stated last week. Keith Kelsey has been getting first team reps with Keith Brown backing him up. I personally think that whichever player doesn't start will rotate in with James Burgess to keep the three of them fresh. Brown is also better against the run, while Kelsey runs better and should do well in coverage.
On the offensive side of the ball, JUCO transfer Kelby Johnson has been running as the first team right tackle next to Chris Acosta at guard. Judging lineman without pads is kind of a waste of time, but Johnson has shown to have pretty good footwork in drills. The one-on-one drills were interesting to watch from a technique standpoint. Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis is very meticulous when it comes to technique and each time a lineman was beat by the defense he had detailed pointers for his guys. It was obvious his guys were harder on themselves than he was. I think that's a good sign.
The quarterbacks have struggled so far to say the least. They haven't been bad during individuals but with a live defense they have looked lost a lot. The standards are pretty high obviously because we are all used to watching Teddy look flawless. However, missing wide open receivers is something you wouldn't really expect less than a month before the season starts. I haven't been able to get out to the morning practices but if Reggie Bonnafon plays as well as I've been hearing when he starts up with the full team, I wouldn't be surprised to see him easily lock up the second string spot. He will already have a package to utilize his athleticism.
The issues we all expected coming into this year are still there and the positives and upside are evident. So far there haven't been any crazy surprises that have changed my mind on anything. There's a lot of talent on this team and a ton of options on the offensive side of the ball. The first layer of defensive players are really going to be good. Some of those guys played well for us last year and most of them have a good amount of game experience. The question is really about the depth under the top level of players.