Anyone unsure of the effect a new coach can have on a football program needed only to be in Louisville for the April 16 Spring Game to get clued in as to the effects a change at the top can have both on and off the field.
In addition to the on-field struggles, one of the knocks against ex-coach Steve Kragthorpe was that he seemed to deliberately alienate figures of renown in the program's recent history, In particular, the entire Brohm family was shoved aside, which is fine if the team is winning but looks really bad when that is not the case.
Charlie Strong vowed that things would be different once he moved from the defensive coordinator position at Florida to take over the top spot at Louisville, and so far he is as good as his word.
The weather for the Spring Game wasn't the greatest, and rain marred the proceedings, but an announced crowd of 5.600 still showed up. Among the attendees were Cardinal football legends like ex-linebacker and current ESPN personality Tom Jackson, Deion Branch, Brian Brohm, Ray Buchanan, Lenny Lyles and Frank Minnifield.
In one telling scene, 17 of the 2009 seniors came back for the exhibition, and each was presented with their jerseys at halftime by a former Cardinal legend. It was a stark link back to the program's traditional strengths, something that Strong hopes pays dividends going forward.
The changes were evident on the field as well. Even in the exhibition, the play was physical, highlighting one of the goals for Strong this season. For once, everyone seemed to be intense for the entire time on the field, even if it meant bending the rules and getting aggressive with the quarterbacks.
It's a big year for the Cardinals. With the long-planned stadium expansion moving forward, the pressure is on to sell tickets and re-generate enthusiasm. Strong looks to be well on his way to making the changes needed for the program to move forward, giving the program a badly-needed shot in the arm heading into the summer.NOTES, QUOTES
--The quarterback battle will continue into the offseason. Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein all saw time with the first-team offense during the Spring Game, and coach Charlie Strong did not expect to name a starter until fall camp.
--Eugene Sowell saw some time in the backfield this spring, but should be a full-time linebacker when practice resumes. He was recruited as a running back, but began his playing career as a linebacker and the depth of rushing talent prompted the switch.
CB Darius Ashley -- Ashley's move to the defensive side of the ball was one of the most talked-about events of the spring. The highly-touted running back and the coaching staff felt he had a better chance to play in the defensive backfield, given the general weakness at the position.
DL Randy Salmon -- The junior college transfer is looking to make the transition to starting nose tackle for the Cardinals this Fall. That process was accelerated when he enrolled in school early and was able to participate in Spring Practice.
K Chris Philpott -- Philpott has had an up-and-down career at Louisville, with inconsistent being the word that most appropriately defines the junior's college experience. But he looked good this spring, nailing a 53-yard field goal in the Spring Game and giving the coaching staff more confidence in his abilities.
RB Bilal Powell -- It was a high-stakes spring for Powell, who had the opportunity to shine with Victor Anderson limited and Jeremy Wright out with injuries. He ran hard and held onto the football, which he had to do to have a chance at being atop the depth chart when the season opens.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We realized from Day 1 that things weren't going to be the same as they were. We had to come in and work every single day. We (had to) get that losing culture out of here. Coach Strong and the coaches he brought in, they brought a winning attitude and everybody is starting to come along." -- Louisville TE Cameron Graham told the Louisville Courier-Journal.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Three years in a row without a bowl game got Steve Kragthorpe shown the door, and Charlie Strong will look to change the culture in a hurry. One way of doing that; get the team back to the postseason.
That's not a far-fetched goal. The Cardinals don't look to be Big East contenders in 2010, but have the talent to make some noise and get back to a bowl game after being largely irrelevant under Kragthorpe.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: There's a lot of uncertainty heading into the summer, but it's not the scary kind of uncertainty. Adam Froman, Justin Burke and Will Stein should all be able to play quarterback if called upon, and Bilal Powell's strong spring increased confidence in the running game. If the offensive line comes through, this unit could be much improved.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: There is a lot of new blood on the defense, but none more important than the head coach. Charlie Strong ran the defense as an assistant at Florida, and has implemented a new culture of controlled aggressiveness that looked impressive during the spring. For players like Dexter Heyman, Antwon Canady and Johnny Patrick, this could pay big dividends in the fall.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Philpott had a strong spring and solidified his hold on the kicking job, while Jon Payne will punt as well as backing up Philpott. The return jobs are still in flux, and could remain undecided until shortly before the season starts.
OL Kamran Joyer -- Joyer has a chance of cracking the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman, thanks to all the departures on the offensive line. That would be especially painful for South Florida, the school to which Joyer originally committed.
WR Damian Copeland -- Copeland had to redshirt as a true freshman after injuring his foot. With Trent Guy and Scott Long gone, Copeland has a chance to move into the receiving rotation in 2010.
OLB Deon Rogers -- Rogers was a last-minute get for coach Charlie Strong, as he de-committed from Georgia to sign with the Cardinals. Given the offseason losses at linebacker, the prospect of early playing time may have been the carrot that led to the switch.
--Running back Victor Anderson participated in limited action this spring. Because of shoulder surgery, he was unable to undergo contact and did not participate in scrimmages.
--Jeremy Wright had a strong April before missing the Spring Game with a sports hernia. He did well enough that he'll have a chance to get carried at running back this fall.
--Quarterback Will Stein missed some practice time with an ankle injury. He's part of the three-way QB competition with Adam Froman and Justin Burke.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010