Louisville returns a majority of its starters, but the Cardinals have to deal with one surprise departure when spring practice rolls around next month.
Leading rusher Jeremy Wright is not enrolled in classes, leaving Louisville thin at running back for spring ball. Senorise Perry, the starter before tearing his ACL against Syracuse, will not participate in full-contact drills while he continues to rehab his knee. That leaves Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb and Brandon Radcliff to shoulder the majority of the reps in the backfield.
Losing Wright does pose some concern, considering he was the most experienced running back on the roster with 343 carries for 1,485 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing. He and Perry formed a nice one-two combo in the backfield before Perry got hurt, allowing the Cardinals to boost their rushing totals from a year ago.
Once Perry got hurt, the only reliable back the Cardinals had was Wright, who got the bulk of the carries the rest of the season. He was not nearly as effective with Perry out of the lineup and neither was the Louisville ground game. But at least the Cardinals had a veteran to turn to.
Now going into the spring, they have a converted quarterback coming off a redshirt season in Brown; a fast back in Lamb who has yet to live up to his potential; and a redshirt freshman in Radcliff. Much is going to be expected out of Brown, who showed flashes when he moved over to running back during the 2011 season, rushing for 533 yards and four touchdowns.
Brown was redshirted because of the depth Louisville had going into 2012. Sitting out a year gave him an opportunity to truly become a running back. When I spoke with him last spring, he essentially said he played the position in 2011 on pure athleticism, being used primarily out of the Wildcat. He will now expected to do everything a running back does in the Louisville offense, and then some.
While the Cardinals do expect Perry to return for fall practice, he could be limited because he will only be nine months removed from his ACL injury. That means the spring reps take on added importance, as the Cardinals look to find a reliable back to replace Wright.