- Brian Bennett, College Football
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Clearing out the notebook from Louisville coach Charlie Strong's media briefing on Tuesday:
-- A big concern for this spring is the trenches. Louisville must replace four starting offensive linemen, and the lone returning starter -- center Mario Benavides -- may miss the spring after knee surgery. As many as four potential starters could be out on the defensive line because of injuries.
That means more reps for other players to make their mark, and it may change the way the team practices.
"We'll try to manage practice," Strong said. "We'll be looking to get better at fundamentals and technique."
On the O-line, Ryan Kessling and Alex Kupper got experience as backups last year and should have good chances to start. But otherwise, it's pretty wide open as the team searches for depth at the position that was its main strength a year ago. I thought this quote from Strong was interesting:
"We have a lot of skill guys coming back," he said. "But what you don't ever want to do is let that be the core of your team. The toughness of your team is built up front, with the offensive and defensive lines. Those skill guys, they're going to do all the talking, but a lot of times the guys who really play don't say anything. They just play.
"The offensive linemen don't say anything. They move the ball, open up a gap and go move it. I don't mind leadership coming from that group [of skill players] if it has to, but the core of our team has to be from the front people."
-- Another major concern is cornerback, where All-Big East first-team performer Johnny Patrick and starter Bobby Burns are gone. Backup Senorise Perry moved to running back but could move back this spring because of depth problems. When asked who might start at those positions, Strong chuckled and said, "That's a tough question. I don't know the answer."
There are really only four scholarship candidates for the cornerback spot right now: Anthony Conner, who was hurt last year, plus Preston Pace, Jordan Paschal and Titus Teague. Darius Ashley, who was moved to corner from receiver last spring, is out with an injury.
At least Louisville is solid at safety, with Big East Rookie of the Year Hakeem Smith, Shenard Holton and Terence Simien.
"I'd rather be young in the secondary than up front, because people can control the ball running the football," Strong said. "When they throw the football, you've got a chance to go get a sack, to intercept it, to knock it down. It's athlete versus athlete, and you might have a freshman versus a senior and who knows? But I'd rather live with a young secondary than a young front seven."
-- Strong would like the passing game to be a little more explosive. Though the top two pass-catchers from last year -- receiver Doug Beaumont and tight end Cameron Graham -- are both gone, they were mostly possession receivers. Josh Bellamy returns and should be better in his second year since coming from junior college, and redshirt freshman Michaelee Harris is back from a knee injury. Receiver Charles Gaines is an early enrollee, and ESPNU 150 recruit Eli Rogers arrives in the summer.
"There are times where you need a guy to go make a play," Strong said. "You look at some of those games last season, and there weren't very many deep balls where guys just outrun people. If you think about it, I don't know if we had any game where our guy was just running past people."
-- When asked which redshirt freshmen might make an impact, Strong pointed to defensive lineman Jamaine Brooks. Listed at 328 pounds last year, Brooks has lost a ton of weight and may be ready to contribute, Strong said.
-- Strong was asked about the now-legendary first team meeting he called after getting the head-coaching job last winter, when he ripped into the players and told them they weren't good enough.
"More than anything, what pissed me off was grades," he said. "That's why I said I want a team meeting right away, because of their grades. You show me a good football team, and I'll show you good grades. You show me a bad football team, and I'll show you bad grades. [Bad grades show you] they're not committed, they don't care, they're just going through the motions. A team with good grades has players who want to graduate, who want good things to happen."
Strong said the grades have improved since he took over, and the team has had a cumulative GPA above 2.5 the past two semesters. He still makes periodic classroom checks himself. He said he walked into a class last week and saw one of his players arguing with a professor. The player didn't see Strong enter through the back of the room but heard Strong yell out, "Excuse me?"
The player's reaction?
"He turned around and was like, 'Oh, God,'" Strong said.