Media Day is a signal that our sports dry spell is almost over Cardinal Fans. Another exciting Louisville Football season is now only weeks away. It’s always great to hear from Coach Petrino, his staff and the players during this time of the year. Especially since the end of last season left most of us with more questions than answers. Talking with these guys on Saturday morning I felt the anticipation and excitement from them to get to Indy and open up the season. Everyone seems very optimistic but did not undersell the hard work they still had ahead of them to get ready.
Raise your hand if you thought that the Cardinal’s offense became too one dimensional at the end of last season. That’s one of the main things that Coach Petrino addressed in the off season. He went out and hired Coach Lonnie Galloway and Mike Summers to be co-offensive coordinators. With the help of Coach Summers the 2006 Cardinals were ranked 2nd in the nation in total offense. He is a mastermind of manufacturing and establishing a run game. Add that with Coach Galloway’s track record of recruiting and producing NFL talent at the wide receiver position the Cardinals could quickly develop into one of the nation’s most versatile offenses this season. It doesn’t hurt that they will have guys like Lamar Jackson and Reggie Bonnafon in the huddle.
Last season also left me wanting to see improvement on the Offensive Line and on the defensive side of the ball. Both units have new coaches and a new look. Both Coach Summers and Coach Sirmon know football and both know how to teach it. You can’t help but not get excited hearing these guys talk about their groups Saturday. And talking with their players you can see how they have bought in.
Much has been said about the performance last year by the Offensive Line… statistically Louisville had one of the worst last season. That criticism didn’t fall on deaf ears and both the players and the coaching staff seem motivated to get things turned around.
Coach Petrino went out and brought back Coach Mike Summers to help improve things on the O-Line. I got a chance to raise my question about the O-Line with Coach Summers yesterday. I feel like we’ve had size and ability but have lacked the intensity and nastiness at times up front. My question got a chuckle from Coach. But I want guys that want to line up and go hit the other team in the mouth.
Coach Summers has a great football mind and knows that it all starts with fundamentals. In listening to him yesterday It seems that he will use that philosophy to bring much needed improvement to his group this season. I think he will have those guys ready to be more physical and playing harder. We will see improvement.
I’ve written a lot and talked a lot about the Cardinals new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. This morning at Media Day I could talk to coach and ask him about some of those talking points.
Back during Spring Ball and again when I watched practice on Monday I noticed a buzz about the defensive unit; guys bouncing around more, having fun and keeping it simple. The thing I loved about the Vance Bedford years was how they had guys flying all over the field making plays and just hitting people. And they had fun doing it. Over the last two seasons I feel like the defense got too mechanical and there wasn’t enough freedom within the scheme to just go out and make a play.
Enter Coach Sirmon a guy I think can bring some of that excitement back. Watching his drills, you can see the way he wants his group to be active and by how he instructs you can tell he wants to keep it simple. Sirmon is blue collar football guy like Vance… these guys take Football and make it easy. Go hit somebody, make a play and have fun. You’ll hear me ask Coach Sirmon about this in the video.
Coach Klenakis is an offensive mastermind in his own right. So much so that he has his own three DVD set about the Pistol Offense. Coach Klenakis will use some of that knowledge this season coaching the tight ends. I think his knowledge will help that unit with their blocking assignments in run game and help them with their run after contact ability. Coach Klenakis is a program first, team first kind of guy.
I got to talk with Linebacker James Hearns, DB’s Jaire Alexander and Chucky Williams on Saturday. These guys are the backbone of what will be a very solid defensive group for the Cardinals this season. These three guys have a lot of swagger and they are ready to line up and get after it.
I love Reggie. He is my favorite player on the Louisville Football team and will be one of my favorite players of all-time. A genuine all-American kid. He understands the value of where he grew up, has a strong work ethic and takes pride in the program and himself. I had the opportunity to give him a hug and walk off the field with Reggie after the victory at Notre Dame (https://youtu.be/qCN8yvDDhGk).
I’ll think about that moment in my final days. As a long time, college football fan to have the opportunity to walk off that field and up that ramp after a big victory was surreal. And to watch a freshman QB get that program defining win for his city and his school shortly after losing his father was poetic. Could be a 30 for 30… Reggie Bonnafon is a winner and there isn’t a football program in the country who could’t use a guy like this.
What else is there left to say about Lamar Jackson. He is an elite athlete that has added both size and speed during the off-season. He has also worked on becoming a more complete QB. Having a more versatile offense around him with an established run game and that should make Jackson more dangerous this season than he was during his Heisman campaign. That should scare college football but it hasn’t. There hasn’t been a more disregarded Heisman Trophy winner ever. But that hasn’t fazed this young man and he is determined once again to prove his detractors wrong. This young man impresses me in so many ways but it’s his humble nature that I most admire. He’s not worried about the praise or the spotlight and just wants to help his team win games.
With the sports ultimate individual prize already in his possession there’s only one trophy that is on his mind this season. Talking with Lamar on Saturday morning he thinks that the Cardinals have the team to win a national championship. I’m not ready to make my travel plans just yet but I wouldn’t bet against Lamar Jackson.
The offensive line really did take the brunt of the fault for last seasons failures. And they do deserve a certain level of criticism. But these guys seem to have handled that criticism well and talk like they have really bought into what Coach Summers is trying to teach them. Lukayus McNeil, and Geron Christian are a couple of great young men and big young men. They will be the backbone of a new and improved offensive line this season.