Card Chronicle's three main football contributors Mark Ennis, Mike Rutherford, and Keith Wynne sat down to preview the season as a whole. Later this week we'll do another that focuses solely on the season opener with Auburn.
1. Three of the bigger misses from the last couple of recruiting classes were Kareem Orr, Isaiah Ford, and Marlon Mack. If you could choose, which guy would you most like to be suiting up for Louisville in Atlanta on 9/5?
Keith Wynne (KW): Isaiah Ford for sure. He showed how talented he really is with below average quarterback play at VT. Last year. I think he would've gotten plenty of playing time with Parker out, also. Ford has the size/speed combo that I think this staff is really focusing on in recruiting. Ford was also a true "impact freshman" which I think Louisville needs to get in recruiting in the ACC.
Mike Rutherford (MR): Louisville's pretty set at running back and I'd take Brandon Radcliff over Mack anyway, so that rules him out. I guess the obvious answer is Orr since non-Shaq-Wiggins-cornerback is one of Louisville's biggest positions of need, but I'm going with Ford because he's a proven commodity.
Everyone assumes Orr is going to be great (and word out of ASU camp is that he is), but who's to say he winds up being better than Jaire Alexander? Ford was terrific last year at Virginia Tech, and his presence would make U of L fans feel much better about the departure of DeVante Parker. We think we're going to be okay at the wide receiver position, but the fact remains that James Quick (a player many Cardinal fans still don't trust) is the lone member of that receiving corps who caught double digit passes last season.
Mark Ennis (ME): I'm bullish on the guys Louisville has at receiver and I love Jaire Alexander as the future at that corner spot. Conversely, with James Allen not making it academically, I'm a bit concerned that Louisville has a handful of exactly the same kind of running back. None of Brandon Radcliff, LJ Scott, Malin Jones, and Jeremy Smith are guys you really fear taking a 6 yard run and turning it into a 66 yard touchdown. I fear Louisville will miss the speedy change of pace guy in the backfield more than Orr or Ford would give at receiver.
2. Last year we feared the secondary would be rough and thought the wide receivers would be really good even without DeVante Parker. We were wrong. Can you foresee an area with this team where we might be just as wrong?
KW: Honestly, you could probably flip this around this year. I think most are expecting the secondary to be great this year and for the receivers to possibly struggle with all of the new guys. I think the secondary will be just fine and play well, but I think the loss of Gerod Holliman and James Sample are being a little overlooked. We all know that Holliman had issues tackling, but you don't just replace all of those interceptions. Sample was a pitbull in the box and he led the team in tackles as well as picking off a handful of passes. I'm just as high on the newcomers in Louisville's secondary as everyone else, but replacing four starters from a productive position group isn't easy.
I think with such a big turnover with the receivers expectations are somewhat tempered. I don't expect this group to put up unbelievable numbers, but I think guys like James Quick and JaQuay Savage could have a much bigger impact than people are thinking right now. Throw in Traveon Samuel and you have three guys that can be standouts with a handful of other guys that can provide depth as well as talented options for the quarterback.
MR: The three main position groups that Louisville fans feel most comfortable about -- running backs, linebackers and defensive line -- are all loaded with guys who have already proven themselves to be All-ACC caliber players, so I can't go with any of those. No one feels comfortable with the offensive line, so that's not a possible response either. I guess I kind of gave away my answer already, so instead of saying wide receivers again I'll give the ultimate unfortunate answer and say .... quarterback.
Let me stress that I think the Cards are going to, at some point in the season at least, be fine at the quarterback position. I'm just saying that there's certainly a possibility that we all look back and wonder why we weren't more worried about the most important position on the field. Certainly there are plenty of U of L fans who have expressed concern over the quarterback position, but I think most (including myself) have talked themselves into the "all three played in and won big games last season" mindset. The flip side of that is the mindset that if one of these guys had looked like one of the two or three best quarterbacks in the ACC during their time on the field last season, we wouldn't still be guessing who our starter is going to be less than a week before the season-opener.
ME: I think most people thinking there will be a dropoff at receiver might be in for a surprise in 2015. Now, is any one guy a DeVante Parker? No, I don't think so. But will drops be as big of a problem in 2015 as they were last year? I don't think so at all. I think James Quick will really flourish working inside and on crossing routes. Louisville almost never got yards after the catch last year and they'll desperately need them this year. I think both he and Traveon Samuel will work the middle quite well. On the outside, I love the size of JaQuay Savage, Jamari Staples, and Javonte Bagley (I have yet to really see or hear much about Alphonso Carter in fall camp). Throw in the freshmen Emonee Spence, Jaylen Smith, and Devante Peete and I think the receiver position will be a pleasant surprise this year.
3. Garrick McGee said recently that the coaches trust all four quarterbacks if needed. Do you really think they're willing to play all four of them, who do you want to see win the job, and who do you think ultimately wins it?
KW:I don't think it's a good sign if you're playing more than two quarterbacks. Even with that, one of those guys has to be able to run or do something different than the other. With that being said, I would like to see Will Gardner win the job. I think he played much better than people remember and people also forget that he didn't have DeVante Parker for a good chunk of the time he was out there. I love Reggie Bonnafon, but I think Will is just a little better. With Petrino saying Reggie would be the starter a month ago and that tune being changed a bit, I think that Gardner will win the job with Reggie being mixed in as a change of pace guy.
MR: Nobody believes me when I say this, but I legitimately do not have a favorite in the quarterback race. I can talk myself into whoever the staff chooses because first, it's Bobby Petrino and offense, and second, they've seen way more of all four guys this summer than any of us have. None of the three guys who played last year did things to make me want them start way more than the other two, and none of them did things to make me really hope they aren't the guy in 2015.
There's been significant buzz around all three (Lamar Jackson is going to play this season, I'm 99.999% certain, but he's not going to start game one at quarterback) QBs at various times this summer, but as of this very second, I'm going with Bonnafon as the starter against Auburn with Bolin as his primary backup. Could be completely different this Saturday. I'll also say that three of those four guys take meaningful snaps at the position this season.
ME: I, like most, have no idea how it's going to turn out but I do have at least a feeling. I think the only way the quarterback battle would already be settled is if Reggie Bonnafon had so drastically outplayed the others that the coaches wanted to really build him up and go ahead and name him the starter with two weeks to prepare. However, I think nobody expected Will Gardner to come back this healthy and this well. But, with Gardner, you want to see him make it all the way through camp without that knee giving him any trouble. So if it's going to be Gardner, we won't know until they're warming up in Atlanta.
All of that being said, the last time McGee spoke to the media he specifically mentioned that the quarterbacks were finally showing that they knew where to go with the ball against all fronts, were synching footwork and reads and throws and timing. All of that, to me, screams Reggie Bonnafon is getting it. And if that continues, I think it's Reggie and he is the guy all year barring injury.
4. Of the biggest three games on the upcoming schedule (Auburn in Atlanta, Clemson at home, Florida State in Tallahassee), which one do you think Louisville will win (if any)?
KW: I think the expectations of the entire season completely hinge on whether or not we see the "Petrino bump". If we do, I think we can beat FSU on the road. I'm not super confident that we see the extreme improvement that Petrino teams have had in the past (Almost a completely new offense personnel-wise from game one last year), so I don't personally see Auburn and Clemson being wins this season.
MR: It has become something of a trendy response in recent weeks, but Clemson. The Tigers have been hemorrhaging players recently, they're not going to have their starting kicker, they have as many, if not more, question marks as Louisville does, and U of L has historically taken advantage of settings like the one Dabo's team will be walking into on Sept. 17.
I also really thought Louisville would beat Florida State last year for a lot of the same reasons. Here's hoping sophomore DeShaun Watson isn't sophomore Jameis Winston.
ME: Not only do I think Clemson is the most likely win of the three, I think Louisville will beat Clemson. Last year's game Reggie was erratic, there was no Parker, receivers dropped passes, Louisville held Clemson to under 4 yards per play, didn't give up an offensive touchdown, and somehow managed to lose. This year? It's at home. Clemson has to come here on 5 days rest. Louisville returns almost all of the front seven that Clemson couldn't handle. Most importantly, Clemson returns virtually nothing of the front seven that Louisville absolutely could not handle.
I think, regardless how well or poorly the Auburn opener goes, Louisville regroups against Houston and then delivers its first real statement to the upper echelon of the ACC by beating Clemson.
5. Last year we saw the new coaches "get through" to Gerod Holliman, a guy who was highly rated but hadn't produced much in a few years on the roster. Who's the guy they get through to this year?
KW: I think the obvious choice is James Quick. The move to the slot should really help him flourish. He's also bulked up and taken on a leadership role. The other guys on the roster that I'm hoping could flip that switch are Terrance Ross, Richard Benjamin, and Devontre Parnell. All have shown flashes in practice or on special teams but with the secondary having a few open spots this year, one would hope that they step up their game like Holliman did last year.
MR: I mean it has to be James Quick, right? Highest-rated recruit in Louisville history who has sort of underachieved in his first two seasons and now needs to step into a starring role. That's almost too obvious of an answer, so I'm going to give a bonus response with Pedro Sibiea. He wasn't all that highly rated coming into U of L, but the staff had very high hopes for him last season, and he wound up getting beat out by John Miller for a starting spot and hardly played. Now it sounds like he's fully dedicated himself to starring on the offensive line and has been the guy to step up and provide the much-needed boost at the center position
But yeah, the real answer is Quick.
ME: I'll go a little off the radar here and say that the guy we've hoped to see a lot from who finally shows up in a big way in 2015 is Keith Brown. He battled through a pretty significant groin injury and finding the place in Grantham's scheme and now I think he's poised for a very big 2015. He's got really great size for an OLB in this defense but can still run horizontally and rush the passer. Also, Brown stands to benefit from the fact that opposing offenses are going to have to decide exactly how they're going to attack Sheldon Rankins on one side, DeAngelo Brown in the middle, Devonte Fields on the other side, and middle linebackers Keith Kelsey and James Burgess. Brown stands to see a lot of one on one opportunities and I think he'll make the most of them.