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U of L’s Bobby Petrino previews the upcoming 2017 season on players, coaches and injuries.
Sam Upshaw Jr., The C-J


The University of Louisville football team will begin spring practice on Tuesday afternoon and have 14 practices leading up to the April 15 spring game. Here are some top storylines to watch for the Cardinals this spring:

What will the defense look like?

New defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon hasn’t offered many specifics about his scheme other than to say he plans to run a multiple-front system that will be determined by the strengths of U of L’s personnel. Under Todd Grantham, U of L’s base defense had three jumbo, down defensive linemen, two edge rushers who were called outside linebackers and two traditional inside linebackers. The Cards also played an abundance of nickel looks in which tall safety Josh Harvey-Clemons roamed into the box as a hybrid linebacker/defensive back. It’ll be interesting to see which personnel or formations U of L uses in light of the departures of DeAngelo Brown, who became an every-down stalwart at nose tackle, and Harvey-Clemons, whose size and versatility at Grantham’s “star” position gave U of L flexibility to try different looks.

Who will step up on the O-line?

Louisville’s late-season blocking struggles led coach Bobby Petrino to rehire his former longtime assistant Mike Summers as offensive line coach and reassign Chris Klenakis to coach the tight ends. Because Petrino is essentially his own offensive coordinator, U of L’s plays and blocking schemes wouldn’t figure to change much from last year, but Summers will be tasked with coaching the offensive linemen up on technique and the unique challenge of blocking for a scrambling quarterback like Lamar Jackson. U of L also must replace its three interior offensive linemen. Redshirt freshman Robbie Bell would figure to be a top candidate to be the first-team center. Junior Kenny Thomas is a former starting guard who can also play tackle. Mid-year enrollee Cole Bentley, a top recruit from Belfry High School, would figure to get a chance to impress right away. And if U of L tries out any new tackles like Toriano Roundtree or Linwood Foy, starting tackle Lukayus McNeil is capable of moving inside.

The competition at tight end

Tight end might be one of the biggest position battles of spring ball after the departures of top receiver Cole Hikutini and top blocker Keith Towbridge. Junior Micky Crum was great early in the 2015 season, then tailed off and didn’t play much last year. Senior Charles Standberry has flashed potential but not gotten consistent playing time. How good will former Texas A&M transfer Jordan Davis, whom Scout.com ranked higher out of high school than anyone in UofL’s 2015 class, be after sitting out last season? U of L also has redshirt freshman Austin Cummins.

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The depth at rush end

With Devonte Fields headed to the NFL draft and other players rehabbing injuries, the Cardinals might have limited bodies this spring at the edge rusher position, which was called outside linebacker in Grantham’s system. But Petrino said Monday that he’s bullish on Louisville’s edge rushers. He said that senior starter James Hearns (elbow) is recovered and will be a “full go” for spring practice after being injured in an off-campus shooting in December and that senior and former starter Trevon Young has made good progress in his recovery from the dislocated and fractured hip that cost him last season. Young will practice on a limited basis this spring. “I think before it’s over with it, we’re going to be real good coming off the edge,” the coach said. “I’m going to take a positive look at it and say you’re going to see James Hearns and Trevon Young line up there and backed up with (Jonathan) Greenard and (redshirt freshman) Tabarious Peterson. (Peterson) really showed his speed and had a great offseason. I think before it’s over with, he’ll be one of the next (key) guys on the edge, and I think we’ll be really strong there.” Louisville will be without the sophomore Greenard (offseason hip surgery), who has starting experience, this spring. Junior backup Henry Famurewa, who was shot in the foot in the same incident that involved Hearns, will be limited this spring.

Which young skill players will emerge?

There should be opportunities for youngsters at wide receiver, running backs and defensive backs to make a move up the depth chart this spring. With the departures of starting wide receivers James Quick and Jamari Staples, Jaylen Smith and Seth Dawkins – along with slot receiver Reggie Bonnafon – figure to move up to the No. 1 spots. Will former four-star prospects Dez Fitzpatrick and Emonee Spence grab bigger roles? At running back, Jeremy Smith shapes up as the favorite to replace Brandon Radcliff, but Dae Williams and Trey Smith should get a lot of chances, too, while Malik Williams (leg injury) will be limited. Redshirt freshman inside linebacker Tobias Little, one of the strongest players on the team, will get a chance at fullback, Petrino said. On defense, if U of L continues with a 3-4, Keith Kelsey’s inside linebacker position could be up for grabs for Malik Staples, Amonte Caban and Isaac Stewart. P.J. Blue would seem primed to jump into the rotation at safety. Safety Lamarques Thomas and cornerback Chris Taylor-Yamanoha got seasoning as redshirt players, too. Midyear enrollee C.J. Avery appears to have the size, strength and tackling ability to make noise right away.

What’s next for Jackson?

Quarterback Lamar Jackson already had the best season in the history of Louisville football. So what will the reigning Heisman Trophy winner do for an encore? Presumably, this spring will be another opportunity for Jackson to hone his overall expertise of the quarterback position. Quarterbacks coach Nick Petrino said after the regular season that he believes the next step for Jackson would be developing a greater ability to read and recognize defenses, perhaps closer to what will be required on the NFL level. Bobby Petrino said Monday that he expects Jackson, who usually operates from the shotgun or pistol, to work more from under the center this spring. Last spring, U of L used the spring to enhance Jackson’s command of the passing game and his footwork and passing mechanics; the coaches required him to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions even when he had openings to run. That would figure to continue again this spring, too, and clearly Jackson showed last season he has room for improvement in his accuracy. Jackson completed only 56.2 percent of this attempts in 2016, tied for 10th-best in the ACC.