Yesterday I wrote about a handful of things to be on the lookout for during Louisville's open practices this weekend (you can read here). Some of those questions won't be answered in the first practice but one was answered as soon as stretches were over.
- James Hearns and Nick Dawson-Brents worked out exclusively with the defensive linemen today instead of the outside linebacker. Both players have spent time at both spots since they arrived on campus with Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford. The line will have to find depth and both Dawson and Hearns should really allow Grantham to be versatile and flexible. They're also both big enough that I think they would be able to play in run situations as well as passing downs.
- Will Gardner is definitely going to make it a competition for the starting quarterback spot. Gardner looked completely healthy and had no issues rolling out or scrambling today. Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin both looked the part, but I think we all expected this to be Reggie's job to lose when Petrino said that he would be the starter if the season started a few weeks ago. With Gardner looking like himself again, I wouldn't be surprised if he won the job after camp. Gardner had his issues last season, but we can't forget that he threw 12 touchdowns last year while only playing a game and a half with DeVante Parker.
- Corvin Lamb and Duke Culver were two other players out there with knee braces on. Both looked completely healed and comfortable going 100%. Lamb is the only true speed back on the roster right now and he got plenty of reps with the second team today. I really think that he could be utilized more this year with James Allen not making it to campus and L.J. Scott and Jeremy Smith being big backs that don't provide much of a home run threat. Culver ran with the first team for much of the practice opposite Shaq Wiggins. Jaire Alexander and Cornelius Sturghill also got reps at that corner spot and all three had very solid practices. The concerns about that position might not be as valid as I thought before this weekend.
- The tight end position is legitimately four deep this year. Keith Towbridge is out with a toe injury but Charles Standberry, Micky Crum, and Cole Hikutini are all good pass catchers that can hold their own blocking. Hikutini got the most reps with the first team, but I would guess that he would technically be the third stringer when the season starts. Standberry has been labeled as an H-Back and I think they will use him in that role more than a true tight end. It's good to see a position be so solid for a few years to come.
- The offensive line needs work and we all knew that. The coaches appear to be trying some of the guys wherever they can to figure out who the best five are. The first team guys today from left to right were Kelby Johnson, Khalil Hunter, Pedro Sibiea, Kiola Mahoni, and Aaron Epps. I wouldn't be completely shocked if this were the starting group game one. They practiced well today, but more than that I think that one of the new guys coming in would have to unseat a player that has had more time to learn the system. Kenny Thomas also rotated in with Mahoni and Geron Christian got some snaps with the quarterbacks at the beginning of practice.
- There weren't many surprises on the defensive side of the ball. James Burgess and Keith Kelsey are still your leaders and Sheldon Rankins is unblockable. Josh Harvey-Clemons looks like a small forward in shoulder pads. DeVonte Fields and Chucky Williams were two guys that weren't out there today that I expected to see. Field seems to be on the James Sample plan. Sample practiced with the newcomers for a handful of practices last year. Williams was a surprise because the coaches have been high on him and I expected them to give him as many first team reps as possible. All in all, the defense looked great and there were very few coachable moments today.
- Jeremy Smith looked much quicker and more sudden than he did on his JUCO film this past year. He had a fumble today that got Kolby Smith high stepping through the play to get him to the sidelines but overall he looked good today. All of the backs are big guys that will definitely have no problems taking a beating. Pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield will be key for the entire group and I really think that will be the deciding factor for who the coaches choose to back up Brandon Radcliff.
- Traveon Samuel was the only newcomer to suit up for the receivers today but I doubt that will last long. The freshmen will definitely get a shot to get on the field during camp as there wasn't a receiver outside of James Quick that really stood out. That's not to say that the group looked bad at all. They just didn't wow with their skills. Jamari Staples is a very long player and I think he will be a starter outside with Quick in the slot. Jaquay Savage wasn't out there today but I would pencil him in for the other spot. Dontez Byrd and Javonte Bagley both made a handful of catches and were able to separate from defenders. For this offense to really take the next step a few of these guys need to be playmakers the quarterbacks can rely on.