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A Few Observations From UofL’s First Open Football Practice

Louisville opened their first practice to fans with a new defense as well as some staff shakeups on offense

NCAA Football: Charlotte at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Bobby Petrino opened practice for fans today to at the beginning of the fourth season of his second stint as head coach. Coming off a 9-4 season with 3 straight losses to end the year, fans are understandably interested in what his off-season changes look like on the field. Peter Sirmon was traded out (literally) for Todd Grantham and Mike Summers was brought in to fix an offensive line that was arguably the worst among power 5 teams. With Lamar Jackson returning to lead the offense, the expectations are fairly high with a manageable schedule to help.

  • This practice didn’t have the normal high level of intensity we’ve seen in previous years. Guys weren’t being yelled at for not finishing plays. Coaches didn’t flip out when a guy wasn’t in place on defense. It wasn’t “lax”, but it was definitely more laid back than we’ve seen in the past.
  • I spent most of my time trying to focus on the defense because it is such an unknown. It’s early and it’s practice, but Sirmon’s defense looks like the 3-4/3-3-5 he ran at MSU last year. They didn’t run any other alignment outside of the 3-3-5 but that could be due to injuries to Johnathan Greenard and Henry Famurewa.
  • The defense is very different from Grantham’s pressure based system. Sirmon had the team in a lot more zone coverages that looked a lot like what I saw when I watched MSU’s snaps from last season. It’s more of a reactionary system that tends to allow more more space for offensive players.
  • From a personnel standpoint the line was made up of Drew Bailey and Chris Williams at defensive end with G.G. Robinson and others backing them up. De’Asian Richardson was at nose tackle with Derek Dorsey backing him up.
  • James Hearns was at outside linebacker, which is called “Viper” in Sirmon’s system. It’s a hybrid DE/OLB spot. Travon Young backed up Hearns at this spot. Stacy Thomas and Amonte Caban got first team reps at the two inside spots with Isaac Stewart and Malik Staples backing them up.
  • In the secondary, Jaire Alexander and Trumaine Washington were the first corners with Cornelius Sturghill stealing some first team reps also. Sturghill looks like the real deal and could push Washington for the starting spot in the fall. Early enrollee Lyn Strange got second team reps over a somewhat injured Ronald Walker (in a yellow jersey). The “Star” spot that Grantham also had in his defense was manned by Lemarques Thomas and early enrolee C.J. Avery. Both looked adequate in the spot but it will be interesting to see who is there in the fall. Khane Pass and London Iapoko could be there when healthy.
  • The safety spots started off with seniors Chucky Williams and Zak Cannon. Both played very well with Cannon breaking up a couple of passes in man coverage drills. Chucky blew up Tobias Little in live team drills directly in front of me and it sounded like a bomb went off. Dee Smith and P.J. Blue backed them up at the safety spots and Blue got the only interception on the day.
  • The offense had some new wrinkles with the addition of a fullback in some sets. Tobias Little moved over from linebacker and it’s obvious why. He’s a massive kid with the build of a power blocker as opposed to a guy that can run side to side and shed blocks. Little showed good hands and surprisingly good speed when he took hand offs.
  • The running back spot will take some time to really evaluate. Practice isn’t always a good setting to see which guys have good vision and quickness because they’re playing with random offensive linemen and the situational things don’t always match up.
  • The wide receivers have two tiers in my opinion. There’s Jaylen Smith, Seth Dawkins, Dez Fitzpatrick, Reggie Bonafon, Traveon Samuel, Emonee Spence, and everyone else. Dawkins and Spence really stood out in individual drills with Spence being quicker and more naturally athletic than everyone else. Dawkins and Fitzpatrick really showed out in team drills. It’s obvious that Dez is a coaches son. His routes were great on each rep and he caught everything with his hands. Smith could end up being a star type of receiver, but this group as a whole will do very well this year even without that DeVante Parker type of go-to guy.
  • The offensive line will be something I look at in the spring game. It’s pretty pointless to try to learn much when guys are in and out of the reps with different guys and no one is going 100%. For what it’s worth, Nathan Scheler was the first team center and Toriano Roundtree played tackle with the first group. Robbie Bell was the favorite to take over at center but Scheler has it for now. Ronald Rudd is likely to come in and take over the tackle spot opposite Geron Christian.
  • Lamar Jackson looked every bit like himself today but the focus was more on Jawon Pass who took second team reps over Kyle Bolin. Pass struggled with his footwork at times and didn’t always see the open guy against a pretty vanilla defense. Petrino praised Pass for listening and asking the right questions last year so the hope would be that he’s just trying to put it all together on the field.