Louisville has seen a big change in the offensive coaching staff over the last month or so but the basics of the offense will stay the same. The biggest change will be at the top of the Wide Receiver and Running Back depth charts. The big play threats have moved on and the staff will have to find new options if they want to continue to have the ability to be a quick strike offense.
My theory is that we will see a shorter leash on Malik Cunningham this year with Evan Conley in his third year and Shai Werts being a veteran option for the staff. Malik turned the ball over at a clip that is hard to fathom but his positives still outweighed his negatives. I’m not so sure the staff won’t look to focus on ball security and controlling the clock this season if he turns the ball over like he did last year.
TJ Lewis won’t likely be ready to play in the fall so I expect Werts to be the third option if needed. However, I do think we’ll see packages for both Werts and Lewis where they can use their legs while having the option to throw the ball.
Maurice Burkley/Aidan Robbins
I initially put Mitchell as the starter but from what I’ve seen, Hassan Hall has put in time in the weight room and he seems to be ready to finally become “The Feature Back”. The issue, of course, is that Jalen Mitchell looked like he’s ready to take on that role after his performance late in the season. Either way, Louisville is in really nice shape at the top of the depth chart.
As for depth, I think UofL has to be happy where they are. Trevion Cooley is already on campus and I expect him to get some carries as the third back. Maurice Burkley should be healthy in the summer or beginning of fall and he is a veteran presence who showed some flashes when he got his chance. Aidan Robbins still doesn’t seem like a great fit for this offense but he has great size and I think he can do the job if called on.
Justin Marshall is due. I can’t stress that enough. He’s waited his turn as a third or fourth option and he’s due for a breakout year now that Dez Fitzpatrick has moved on. Marshall showed last year that he can run the full route tree and that he can be more than just a deep threat. Look for him to take on an expanded role in the offense.
Depth is a bit of a concern here as Christian Fitzpatrick didn’t get a lot of reps last year and Demetrius Cannon is a bit raw coming in as a freshman. I wouldn’t be surprised to see either Tyler Harrell or Nick Malito as the third option here.
Shai Werts/Amari Huggins-Bruce
Louisville has to replace Tutu Atwell but Braden Smith got plenty of reps as his backup last year. While Smith can’t replicate Tutu’s speed, he did show that he can be a third down option and can run all of the plays in the playbook.
As Amari Huggins-Bruce is super high on my list when it comes to impact freshmen, I have a hard time believing that Shai Werts will push him to a pure backup spot. Werts is very talented but he is learning the receiver position on the fly. AHB is freakishly quick so I think he fits well as a space player in the slot.
I think that Jordan Watkins earned a role as the guy to step into Dez Fitzpatrick’s main role with his play last year. Watkins is still raw but he actually made most of his catches on more basic receiver routes which is where I thought he would struggle. If he can take the next step, I think we’ll see a passing game that doesn’t suffer nearly as much with the losses of Dez and Tutu as expected.
Louisville loves their walk-ons and former walk-ons and Francis Sherman is likely the next in line to be the latter. Sherman is known as a leader when it comes to workouts and when he finally found his way onto the field this fall he finished the game with three catches and a touchdown. He continues to be recognized by the strength staff as one of the hardest workers in workouts so I could see him earning a scholarship before the season starts.
As for depth, UofL is finally in a spot where they have the numbers. The question is if the guys they’ve recruited can be relied on to take on a bigger role. Dez Melton got a little playing time last year but can he handle the blocking duties with the position? Desmond Daniels was moved to the Offensive Line at some point last year but I don’t think he will be able to add the weight needed to play there. So now the staff has to see if he can truly play Tight End. It’s also still possible that Vic Mullen shows up in the fall and pushes his way into the depth chart.
Isaac Martin/Duane Martin
We all know what Marshon Ford can do so at this point it’s all about depth at the H-Back spot. Isaac Martin earned a scholarship last season and I think he will continue to be the backup as well as the first option when the offense goes to their “jumbo” packages. Duane Martin looked solid in very limited action last year so he is a guy to keep an eye on to see if he can make that jump in his second year. If he can do that, UofL is in really good shape here going forward.
The only spot on the line that will likely stay exactly the same is the Left Tackle spot. However, Adonis Boone had some struggles at times last year so I do think that Trevor Reid can really compete to unseat him as the starter.
Joshua Black/Luke Kandra
Caleb Chandler was my pick for the sleeper stud on the offense last year but it just didn’t happen. even though Mekhi Becton likely made him look better as a sophomore, I saw enough good things from him on his own to think that he would actually emerge from Becton’s shadow as a very good player. For whatever reason he had just an average season and had some poor moments at times. I’d be surprised if we see the same this season.
Austin Collins/Bryan Hudson
UofL will have a ton of competition from the middle to the right side of the line. Cole Bentley coming back is obviously a positive for the offense but I highly doubt any of the starters who decided to return were promised anything. Bentley is a fringe NFL guy who is likely hoping to get enough notice to make it to a key senior showcase bowl or the combine. I think he could accomplish that with another strong year.
Bryan Hudson will push everyone for a starting spot or at least playing time. We don’t know how new Offensive Line Coach Jack Bicknell handles rotations and things like that, so he might look to only play five guys which only heightens the competition. The depth will be really good either way.
Robbie Bell/Bryan Hudson
I was told that Cam DeGeorge was “50-50” when it comes to him returning for another year. He’s on the roster as of now so I’m going to assume that he will be here in the fall. If that’s the case, I think he will be a starter somewhere on the line.
Robbie Bell is out as of now after a knee or leg injury late in the season. I think that will make it hard for him to retake his starting spot. It’s my personal view that Bell worked harder than anyone last summer when campus was closed and it helped him in the fall. If he’s unable to workout, he will be behind and he has way better competition this season.
Renato Brown/Bryan Hudson/Cam DeGeorge
Good luck trying to figure out how Bicknell goes about getting his best five guys on the field this fall. Renato Brown is a big-time talent but he looked like a freshman the entire season last year.
This staff deserves a lot of credit for flipping their depth issues around on the Offensive Line but I have no clue how they go about finding playing time for the veterans as well as keeping the young guys happy. It’s not an awful problem to have but with everyone retaining a year of eligibility, it’s the one position that they have a really tough task ahead of them.
Louisville went out and signed Brock Travelstead last year but they ended up not really needing him. James Turner wasn’t as highly regarded as a recruit but he was very much a big addition when he joined the team two years ago. However, I don’t know that the staff knew what they had in him until last season started. Turner ended up being one of the better kickers in the ACC and he earned a scholarship after the season. UofL is in good shape for a few years here.
Louisville has had success with kick returns over the last two years so I don’t expect things to change from the guys they’ve used before. Hassan Hall is a known commodity while Jordan Watkins took on the role when the opportunity presented itself last season. I’m really interested to see how comfortable Watkins is in his second year so he could take a step forward here as well as at receiver.
I have no clue who the staff looks to if they have an injury here but Maurice Burkley has been an option in the past. AHB and Josh Johnson could be options as well.