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Louisville has wealth of options at QB

There's that old adage that if a team has two starting quarterbacks, it really has none, but that doesn't seem to apply at Louisville. After all, the Cardinals currently have four.

No, it's not an ideal scenario to enter spring with so many questions at QB, but the way offensive coordinator Garrick McGee sees it, there are no wrong answers here.

"It's wide open," McGee said. "For some people that's a controversy, but for me, it's a really good thing. It shows we have depth, and where a lot of programs are struggling to find one guy, we have multiple guys that can play."

After Teddy Bridgewater started 35 of the previous 36 games at Louisville, the Cardinals cycled through QBs in search of one healthy, productive option in 2014 — ending up one of just six Power 5 schools to use three different starters at the position. As a result, when spring practice begins on March 24, there will be plenty of options with playing time under their belts, but none who is the clear-cut No. 1.

The spring lineup features sophomore Reggie Bonnafon, who started five games last season, sophomore Kyle Bolin, who started Louisville's bowl game, and junior Tyler Ferguson, a transfer from Penn State who redshirted last season. But even that roster ignores the QB with perhaps the best chance of being under center when the season kicks off in September -- Will Gardner, who started seven games last season and continues to recover from a knee injury.

"It starts with Will," McGee said. "He's doing really good with his rehab. He won't be available in the spring, but he's doing really good, and he's ahead of schedule."

For Gardner, the knee injury is the third of his career, and so questions linger about his ability to get healthy in time and stay healthy for a full season. McGee said Gardner's experience in rehabbing the injury is an asset, but it also demonstrates the thin line Louisville walks with its most established QB.

And it's true, Gardner is Louisville's best option -- if he's healthy. Last year, Gardner won the starting job in fall camp and performed well when on the field -- tossing 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions -- despite the vast majority of his snaps coming without star receiver DeVante Parker.

"We feel like Will really grew throughout the season," McGee said, "and it got to a point where he really got us to the fronts and coverages and really got us into the right plays."

For Bonnafon, things weren't quite so simple.

With just a year of full-time QB work in high school, Bonnafon arrived as more of an athlete than a refined passer, and it showed. Against Power 5 competition, he completed less than half his passing attempts and posted a sack rate of 16.2 percent -- easily the highest of any Power 5 QB with at least 50 passes.

Still, the growing pains were to be expected, and so McGee said the staff has largely ignored some of the early struggles for Bonnafon and is instead focused on the progress he's made this offseason.

"He was really a young player, but he got a lot bigger and stronger this offseason," McGee said. "He's under control now [in the pocket]."

Bonnafon dealt with some injury issues of his own last season, and when he went down early against Kentucky, it was Bolin who stepped in to steal the show.

Injuries in fall camp limited Bolin's early playing time, but when his moment arrived, he was ready. After throwing just seven passes in mop-up duty all season, Bolin completed 21-of-31 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind victory over rival Kentucky. A month later, he was Louisville's starter for the bowl game, and while he didn't look nearly as sharp in the loss to Georgia, he did throw for 300 yards for the second straight game.

Then there's the wild card in Ferguson, who transferred from Penn State last season and spent the year learning from the sideline.

In other words, name a QB and McGee has good things to say about him. Add it all up though, and there's still a lot of work to be done.

Despite the wealth of talent and Bobby Petrino's penchant for running up big offensive numbers, Louisville ranked 12th in the ACC in completion percentage, 11th in QBR and 13th in sacks allowed.

Matters are further complicated by the loss of Louisville's top receiving options, too. Parker is projected as a first-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft, and overall, Louisville loses seven of its top nine receivers from a year ago.

"We recruited really well at the position, and we have a lot of guys that are new that are really good players -- size, big kids," McGee said.

That includes UAB transfer Jamari Staples (6-foot-4), Texas A&M transfer Ja'Quay Williams (6-3), and Tennessee transfer Paul Harris (6-3).

Still, experience isn't a plus, and that makes the wealth of QBs with snaps under their belt something of an asset this time of year.

"They know the game plans and the terminology now, so you can focus more on the detail," McGee said. "Now we move forward to talk about situations and defensive structure. That's how our meetings have been during the offseason. They've been really good."

After all, this is the time of year for optimism, and McGee has plenty of it when it comes to his quarterbacks. But the big jobs still await, and soon enough, McGee knows it'll be time to trim those options and find one QB who can get the job done.