College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Louisville Cardinals and what they'll be working on this spring.
Spring practice began: March 20
Spring game: April 13
2012 record: 11-2 overall, 5-2 Big East
Returning starters: 16 (seven offense, nine defense)
The Least You Should Know about Louisville This Spring
-- If you don't know, now you know. This will be the year of Teddy Bridgewater. Like it or not, the national spotlight will be on Cardinals' quarterback the moment he takes the field in 2013. Bridgewater does not have the personality of a showman, but his impressive two years under center -- which have resulted in back-to-back Big East titles as well as Big East Offensive Player of the Year honors -- have thrust the Miami, Fla., native into the early Heisman Trophy conversations. The good news for Cardinals' fans? All signs point to Bridgewater being unaffected by the heightened expectations. The rising junior quarterback broke his wrist in the first half of a triple overtime win against Connecticut -- attempting 53 passes by the time the game was finally over, then led the Cardinals to a 20-17 win over Rutgers with less than a week to get healthy. On that note, this spring will be a time for Louisville's staff to identify the pecking order behind Bridgewater. Junior college transfer Brett Nelson enrolled at Louisville in January and will compete for time along with Will Gardner, a redshirt freshman who sat out all of 2012 with a knee injury. With the starting job locked up, spring practice will be a time to develop the depth behind Bridgewater.
-- Only a few holes to fill on offense, but they are big. Literally. The Cardinals just need to identify the new players in the offensive line rotation and the unit should be set for 2013. The Cardinals return their top three pass catchers from 2012 (DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland, Eli Rogers) along with three running backs -- Senorise Perry, Dominique Brown, Corvin Lamb -- with significant game experience. Replacing center Mario Benavides and left tackle Alex Kupper, both all-conference linemen, is the primary offensive concern for spring practice. Senior Kamran Joyer will try to overcome nagging health issues as he competes for the starting center job against redshirt freshman T.C. Klusman. The Cardinals return guards John Miller and Jake Smith, as well as starting right tackle Jamon Brown. Sophomore Ryan Mack and redshirt freshman Joe Manley will compete for time at tackle, but for now the starting left tackle job is in the hands of 6-foot-5, 345 pound sophomore Abraham Garcia.
-- The defensive line has come a long way in Charlie Strong's tenure. Louisville's defense has benefited from having All-Big East caliber talent at the linebacker position and in the defensive backfield since Strong arrived on campus. As we enter the fourth year of Strong's tenure, it looks like the defensive line has finally caught up to the rest of the unit. Senior defensive end Marcus Smith broke out as a dominant pass rusher last season, while Deiontrez Mount and Lorenzo Mauldin -- who bounced between tight end and defensive end in 2012 -- are big, athletic linemen expected to contribute this season. Unfortunately for Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, Smith, Mount, and defensive line coach Clint Hurtt will all be missing from spring practice. The defensive ends are rehabbing from injury, while Hurtt was placed on administrative leave to work on his response to the NCAA's allegations from the Miami investigation. If there is any upside to those setbacks, it is the opportunity for early enrollee Finesse Middleton to make a run at cracking the defensive end rotation. The Cardinals are set with bodies in the middle -- Brandon Dunn, D.J. Dubose, and nose tackle Jamaine Brooks could fill the interior defensive line, but Middleton should get plenty of opportunities this spring to impress the coaching staff.
-- Four SEC transfers ready to compete at receiving positions. This is not necessarily the least you need to know about Louisville this year, but it is an interesting item heading into 2013. Strong, formerly the defensive coordinator at Florida and South Carolina, has apparently made Louisville a destination for SEC area talent both on the recruiting trail and in the transfer game. This season will be first year of Louisville eligibility for four receivers formerly enrolled at SEC schools. Matt Milton, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver from Tennessee, and Robert Clark, a speedy receiver from Florida, are both listed as second-string wide receivers on the pre-spring depth chart. Junior Gerald Christian, also a transfer from Florida, is listed as the starting tight end. Christian will begin spring practice backed up by Zeke Pike, a quarterback at Auburn before his disciplinary-related dismissal. The 6-6, 230 pound Pike moved to tight end last year after his transfer, and the Cardinals' staff hopes he can be another dynamic target for Bridgewater in 2013.