Louisville’s Petrino excited about season’s prospects

Published 5:04 pm Monday, August 7, 2017

By Russ Brown

Kentucky Today

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — So far, so good. That sums up coach Bobby Petrino’s feelings about his University of Louisville football team after the first full week of practice.

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“I like what I see,” Petrino said during the team’s annual Media Day Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. “I see a group of guys who are in really good condition, the best shape we’ve been in coming into camp and I’m excited about that.”

Of course, Petrino acknowledged that this is just the beginning — it’s still almost a month away from the Cardinals’ season opener against Purdue on Sept. 2 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

“I think our guys are motivated, really tuned into practicing and doing things right,” he said. “It will get harder, no question about that. This is a long period of time, so our ability to stay focused and work hard and worry about today will be challenged at some point.”

Here is Petrino’s early take on his squad offensively:

— The offensive line, which led the nation in sacks allowed last season, is vastly improved under new coach Mike Summers.

— Senior Reggie Bonnafon, new to the running back position this year, is fitting in well and Jeremy Smith and Malik Williams will also contribute.

— He likes the tight end group led by senior Charles Standberry.

— Despite the loss of the three leading receivers from 2016, Petrino doesn’t expect a drop-off in that department, with junors Jaylen Smith and Traveon Samuel and Devante Peete, along with sophomore Seth Dawkins, expected to fill the gaps at wide receiver.

— Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson has improved in almost every way, especially with his accuracy and strength.

— Defensively, Petrino predicted that the Cards will be strong up front with lineman who are adept at both stopping the run and rushing the passer. He said the linebacking corps and secondary should also be solid.

— In the special teams department, UofL added long snapper Mitch Hall and returned placekicker Blanton Creque, a sophomore.

“I’m excited with what I see,” Petrino said. “Obviously, we’ve got to continue to improve. We’ve got to make sure we have the right leadership and then we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good football team.”

— In the leadership department, captains would have normally been named by now, but Petrino is holding off for awhile to see which players separate themselves in practice.

Snubbed: ESPN.com recently published a list of the nation’s best quarterbacks and best college football players at any position that didn’t go over well with the Cardinals. That’s because Jackson was only considered the third-best QB and didn’t make the top five players overall.

“I didn’t think too much of it,” junior offensive tackle Geron Christian said. “Like last year, when he first came in no one expected him to win the Heisman, but he went out and showed exactly what he can do. So this year, there’s nothing different. He’ll show them again.”

Said Lukayus McNeil, a junior who is the other starting tackle: “People really don’t know how good he actually is. He probably has one of the best arms in college football and he’s a great runner. He won the Heisman. How can he not be one of the best five players in the country?”

ESPN said the lists were compiled by writers, reporters and analysts after five days of research and with collaboration with Microsoft Research and The Wharton School.

Ranked ahead of Jackson as quarterbacks were sophomore Sam Darnold of USC and Oklahoma senior Baker Mayfield. Fourth was Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State and fifth was Trace McSorley of Penn State.

Jackson was No. 6 on the overall list, behind Derwin James of Florida State (Jr. DB), Darnold, Mayfield, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (Jr. RB) and LSU’s Derrius Guice (Jr. RB).

Petrino’s strategy with ESPN’s rankings, or any others is simple: he just ignores them.

“I think what you do with that is you just don’t pay any attention to it,” he says. “The culture we live in right now is anybody can write anything they want, and as a player and coach you just believe in yourself, believe in what you’re doing.

“Lamar’s stats and what he did speaks for itself. We were 7-1 in the ACC, co-champions with Clemson and we all watched him play, so we know how good a player he is. And we don’t watch those other guys. How would I know how those other guys are? I don’t know if they’re good, bad or terrible. I don’t have any idea.”

As for Jackson, he has said numerous times that he isn’t concerned about individual honors or rankings and he reiterated that stance concerning the ESPN rankings.

Helping hand: Petrino was Louisville’s offensive coordinator for one season — 1998 — under head coach John L. Smith, then hired Smith as an assistant at Arkansas in 2008 with one of his duties being special teams coach.

Now Smith, who is the head coach at Kentucky State, is helping Petrino again with special teams. Petrino said he, along with assistants Cort Dennison and Chris Klenakis and others, spent time in Frankfort during the offseason getting advice from Smith. Dennison is responsible for Louisville’s punt return and kickoff coverage units, while Klenakis coaches the punt and kickoff return teams.

The offensive staff, with the exception of offensive line coach Mike Summers and quarterbacks coach Nick Petrino, coaches the PAT/field goal unit. The defensive staff, minus line coach L.D. Scott, tutors the PAT/FG block group.

“It’s been good,” Petrino said. “We’ve relied a little bit on John L. We travel up the road and meet with John L. a lot. He’s always been one of the greatest special team coaches in America. He certainly showed that when he came and worked with me in Arkansas, lighting it up. He’s been very kind to us in coaching ‘em up.”

Young returns: Senior defensive end Trevon Young, who suffered a dislocated and fractured hip in the 2015 Music City Bowl and missed last season, is listed as a starter at the edge rusher spot. Petrino was asked if

Young is back to where he was before the injury.

“He sure looks like it to me,” Petrino said. “He’s really coming off the ball and he’s really bending well. I’ve got a decision to make to see how we progress him in scrimmages and what we let him do. He needs some of that, but we’ve also got to get him to the game healthy.”

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville athletics for Kentucky Today.