NCF Nation: Luke Woodley

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Some quick thoughts and impressions from tonight's Louisville practice:

  • This was my third Big East practice but the first one with full contact. It was good to finally see some hitting and tackling. Although there wasn't nearly enough of that from the defense. It was a bad, bad day for that side of the ball. But don't take my word for it."It was definitely a rough day," defensive lineman Greg Scruggs said. "We've got to get tougher, mentally and physically. We've got to stay disciplined when we get tired. If we don't, then what you saw today will happen. The defense will get run through, the offense will score 50 points and that will be the ball game."The problems for the defense started early and never stopped. The team went through a drill in which running backs were matched up with linebackers in an open-space tackling test. Not a single defender made a stop the entire drill.

    "Can't one guy tackle a running back?" head coach Charlie Strong barked in exasperation.

    Fed up, Strong stopped the drill and made the linebackers do pushups. Receivers were going against defensive backs a few yards away in the same drill and they weren't having any success either. The defense got plowed during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work as well.

    Strong definitely isn't in Gainesville any more. The defense needs a ton of work and lacks bodies on the line and in the defensive backfield. A lot of young players are going to have to play and grow up in a hurry.
  • Strong, not surprisingly, runs an intense practice. He and his assistants get after players when they mess up, and there were many, uh, teaching moments tonight. Strong is not afraid to run after a guy and get in his face to make his point, and most of his staff is just as intense. It's definitely a change from Steve Kragthorpe, who was a little more laid back in practice.
  • It may just be a function of the defense, but offensively the Cardinals looked pretty solid. Justin Burke took the majority of the first-team reps as he and Adam Froman continue to split them at quarterback. Will Stein was on crutches and wearing a walking boot and is probably done for the spring, so it's a two-man race. I continue to believe the starter will ultimately be Froman, if not Dominique Brown. But that's just my opinion.
  • The receiving group doesn't seem to have many deep threats, but Doug Beaumont caught just about everything thrown his way. Andrell Smith, a 6-4 sophomore, really needs to come on this year. And I keep waiting for Troy Pascley to have a big year.
  • Tight end Cameron Graham hauled in a few nice catches. He has a lot of ability and just needs to be more consistent.
  • I won't give away plays and formations, but suffice it to say we saw evidence of the Florida spread. Look for this team to run some two-back sets with some option thrown in. Works better with Tim Tebow, of course, but Froman ended the practice with a 65-yard touchdown run.
  • A couple of guys who caught my eye in an otherwise forgettable day for the defense: Malcom Mitchell made a tremendous spin move off the edge during line vs. line drills. Shenard Holton put a big hit on Smith to break up a passing play.
  • Notably missing from practice were defensive linemen Rock Keys and Joe Townsend and quarterback Luke Woodley, a midyear enrollee. Woodley went home, though the team hopes he'll return for the fall.
Spring football in the Big East kicks off March 16. Here's a breakdown of three issues facing each program heading into the spring:

CINCINNATI
Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:

  • Building depth: New coach Butch Jones said this is the biggest key for the spring. The Bearcats have a lot of top-flight players with starting experience back, like Zach Collaros, Armon Binns, Isaiah Pead and JK Schaffer. But there's a lot of youth and inexperience in potential backup roles, especially at positions like offensive line, linebacker and receiver. All slates are clean with the new coaching staff, and the spring will be a time when new names can emerge in key roles.
  • Defensive line retooling: Jones will switch back to the 4-3 after a year in the 3-4 scheme. Both starting defensive ends from last year are gone, but the smallish line was overpowered at times near the end of the season anyway. Derek Wolfe should be a fixture inside, Dan Giordano, Brandon Mills and John Hughes step into more prominent roles. Jones will have to decide whether to make Walter Stewart a defensive end or keep him at outside linebacker. The Bearcats could use a little more strength and bulk up front against the bigger Big East offensive lines.
  • Vidal's arrival: USC transfer Vidal Hazelton is eligible after sitting out last year. He reputedly dominated practices last season, and now he'll get to go full time with the first string. A lot of people will be watching closely to see how he and Collaros connect during the spring. A big year by Hazelton will lessen the loss of star wideout Mardy Gilyard and could keep Cincinnati as the Big East's best offense.
CONNECTICUT
Spring practice starts: March 16
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:

  • Secondary matters: UConn returns a truckload of starters and looks rock solid in most areas. But the defensive backfield will be an area of emphasis starting in the spring. Gone are stalwarts Robert McClain and Robert Vaughn from a secondary that got picked apart much of the season by opposing passing games. Dwayne Gratz and Blidi Wreh-Wilson showed progress by the end of their redshirt freshmen seasons and should be the starting corners. The Huskies need someone to replace Vaughn at safety and overall better performance from the unit.
  • Frazer vs. Endres: Zach Frazer and Cody Endres have been splitting starts since the second half of the 2008 season at quarterback. Endres took over early last year and played well until he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Frazer picked things up late after a slow start. The competition should be back on this spring, with Frazer probably holding the edge given his late-season improvement.
  • Catch as catch can: Receiver was a major question for UConn going into last spring, when walk-on senior Marcus Easley surprised everybody with his giant leap forward. He became the go-to guy in 2009, but now he's gone, along with starter Brad Kanuch. So the Huskies are basically back in the same position as this time a year ago, needing to find some reliable pass catchers. Kashif Moore may be the next to break out after some good, late-year performances. And perhaps former highly-touted recruit Dwayne Difton will emerge. UConn hopes to catch lightning in a bottle again like it did with Easley.
LOUISVILLE
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 16
What to watch:

  • Switching to Strong: The Cardinals will have their first practices under new coach Charlie Strong, who promises to bring a much different style than former coach Steve Kragthorpe. Strong is known as being an intense guy on the field, and as a former top-flight defensive coordinator, he will likely be particularly demanding of players on that side of the ball. There will be new terminology to learn, new assistants and new standards to which the Cardinals must adjust in a hurry.
  • The quarterback shuffle: Louisville had three quarterbacks -- Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein -- start games last year. All three will be given the chance to win the job in the spring, and mid-year enrollee Luke Woodley might see some snaps as well. Don't be surprised if this competition goes into the fall and if other newcomers like Dominique Brown get a look. Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford wants to run a Florida-style spread offense, which might favor the more mobile Froman if he chooses to go with a veteran under center.
  • Line play: The trenches have not been a particularly strong suit for Louisville the past couple of seasons, one of the reasons why the program has fallen out of annual postseason play. The Cardinals have gotten very little pass rush from the defensive line and not enough of a consistent push from the offensive line. Strong asked the offensive linemen to rework their bodies to prepare for the spread, and he'll need replacements for two senior defensive tackles. Junior-college imports Randy Salmon and Tyler Harrell will have a chance to impress on the defensive line. If the holdovers don't step up, we could see more newcomers in key spots by the summer.

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