Part three of our eight team survey of Big East football brings us to the league's most improved team in 2010 - Louisville. The Cardinals battled through a spring practice session that was severely hampered by injuries, but appear poised to take the next step in 2011.
Team Strength: Given how shockingly small and thin the Louisville defensive line way when he arrived, it feels wrong to say that the Louisville front seven is the team's strength in 2011, but it's the truth. Freshmen Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn played well and took their lumps at defensive tackle in 2010, but their emergence gives the Cardinals something they've not had in many years - quality depth up front. Philon, Dunn, along with redshirt freshman Jamaine Brooks and junior Randy Salmon give the Cardinals a better four man defensive tackle rotation than they've had since the Orange Bowl seaosn in 2006. It will also allow Greg Scruggs, who played the entire 2010 season as an undersized defensive tackle, to move back to defensive end where he is a more natural fit. Scruggs and talented sophomore B.J. Butler sat out the spring along with several other defensive linemen due to all having minor surgeries of some kind. Come fall, they should all be healthy and with the addition of several highly touted defensive line prospects, the Cardinals will have their best defensive line in years.
More after the jump...
Team Weakness: The depth at cornerback is downright scary. Johnny Patrick's departure left a very big hole that coaches were scrambling to fill for the entire spring session. Darius Ashley sat out the spring after having shoulder surgery, but is expected back healthy in the fall. His absence left coaches constantly working different players out at cornerback and none seemed especially effective. Freshman early enrollee Charles Gaines wowed coaches at receiver early on, but, his athleticism was too great for them to not have him take a shot at cornerback. While he seemed to take to the position rather naturally, he's still very raw. Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford prefer to be extremely aggressive on defense and that means someone is going to have to step up and grab those cornerback positions or else the defensive play-calling options will be severely hampered.
Emerging: It's probably not fair to call a senior that was the Big East freshman of the year in 2008 "emerging", but, hear me out. Victor Anderson struggled to see the field consistently in 2009 and 2010 due to nagging injuries. In spring, Anderson looked like his old self, including a cut back run for a 55 yard touchdown in the spring game that seemed like a flashback to 2008. With the departure of Bilal Powell to the NFL, Anderson emerged from spring practice as the team's most dependable ball-carrier and looked like he might be up to his old tricks again.
Opportunities for Impact Freshmen: As was the case at so many positions, injuries left the receiving corps with few options in the spring. That will give freshmen Eli Rogers and Devante Parker opportunities to break into the rotation early in their careers. Both are extremely talented players and should see the field very early.
Injuries: As many as 14 Cardinals missed some or all of spring practice with injuries but all are expected to return full speed by fall. The Cardinals should enter the season in good health.
Post-Spring Expectations: It's hard to truly set the expectations after the spring when so many players missed some or all of the practices. Nevertheless, with the loss of such a large senior class, fans can expect the team to go through some growing pains early on. Strong and company have recruited extremely well and if young players play well right away, Louisville should at least return to the postseason and may find itself one of several Big East teams with an outside shot at a conference championship.