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Louisville football hoping familiarity breeds success as fall camp begins

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers speak for themselves, and do so effectually. In year two under Bobby Petrino, his teams have averaged a spike of 19.2 points per game, 70.5 yards per game, and 2.5 wins per season. Given the head coach's inimitable intensity and off-the-charts football IQ, it's understandable how experiencing a first season ripe with adjustments could result in a large boost in performance the second time around.

Petrino isn't the easiest coach in the world to play for, and not just because of his fiery personality. His playbook is thick and convoluted, his practices move at a pace that American Pharoah would envy, and he appears to demand something that is at least distantly related to perfection.

"It was up-tempo out there," a visibly exhausted senior offensive lineman Jake Smith said after the team's first practice of 2014. "That was quick and intense. Guys are still learning and we have to pick this up quicker. We are used to intense practices ... but this was just a little different."

The second fall camp of the second Petrino era at Louisville begins Thursday, and the Cardinals have 40 practices to figure out the answers to the many questions they're faced with less than 5 weeks before taking on No. 7 Auburn in Atlanta. There is some hype, sure, but there are also the understandable concerns that come after watching a program-record 10 players be selected in the NFL Draft last spring.

At the top of that list of questions is the quarterback position, where five players -- all with significant positive and negative attributes -- will battle to be Petrino's signal caller in week one. There's also an offensive line which lost three full-time starters, two of whom were good enough to be selected in the NFL Draft's third round. Then there's a secondary which lost three of its four starters to the draft, including Gerod Holliman and his NCAA single-season record 14 interceptions.

Having players unsure of what to expect or of what's expected of them heading into a fall camp would be a hindrance a team with this many questions might not be able to overcome in order to have a shot at taking down Auburn. This is why having a year of Petrino ball under their belt might be this group of Cardinals' biggest August asset.

"I think just knowing what's expected of them and how we operate is the biggest thing," Petrino said of the difference between year one and year two. "Last year there might have been some guys who were thinking too much, and now hopefully those guys know what they're supposed to be doing and can go out there and just compete."

The other major thing Louisville has going for it that most programs across the country do not is continuity among its coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee turned down an offer to take the same position at his alma mater, Oklahoma, and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham did the same to the Oakland Raiders. In the end, UofL will head into fall camp with essentially the exact same coaching staff it had a year ago.

Still, the faces will be about all that's the same when the whistles start blowing on the fields behind the Trager Center this week. Speed and intensity should be up, confusion and early August jitters should be down. That last part goes as high as the man at the head of the program, who admitted last year that wanting to please the Louisville fans who welcomed him back to the Derby City had him experiencing an unfamiliar emotion.

"I was probably more nervous for this game than any game I've ever coached," Petrino said after his team defeated Miami  31-13 in its 2014 season-opener. "I haven't slept a lot lately. But it was so exciting once we got to the stadium. And then to watch our players out there and play the way they did. It was all just very exciting."

The excitement is back, and this year it will be coming with significantly fewer nerves.

This column appears in the current edition of The Voice-Tribune