As Louisville starts its maiden voyage into the unpredictable sea that is the ACC, the water's gotten a bit choppier with the news that senior wide receiver DeVante Parker will be out for half of the 2014 season due to a broken bone in his foot.
Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino announced during his press conference on Monday and said Parker would miss 6-8 weeks. The break occurred in the fifth metatarsal on Parker's left foot on Friday evening, and he was flown to see a specialist in North Carolina.
"He's a tremendous player," Petrino said via Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal. "We're fortunate with the situation we're in that we have a lot of experienced players (to fill in). They're all going to have to contribute. You're never going to replace a guy like DeVante with just one guy."
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Petrino isn't wrong. Louisville is going to need both sides of the ball to elevate their game to overcome the loss of a player like Parker. The Louisville native was a second-team SI preseason All-America selection and is coming off a year in which he caught 12 touchdown passes. Parker has averaged right around 17 yards per reception over his career and has shown a remarkable knack for finding paydirt, an attribute on which former Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater relied heavily in his three years under center.
Parker's combination of size and speed make him an intriguing prospect, and some draft experts have him as high as a fringe first-rounder.
"Compared to others Parker stands out because he's bigger than most wide receivers who will be in the draft," SB Nation NFL draft editor Dan Kadar told SI.com, "and he knows how to utilize that size. He times his jumps really well and can just get up and over most defensive backs. His hands and route running are good, but maybe nothing amazing. But when you factor in his athleticism -- the jumping and speedy cuts when running routes -- and a more physical style, you see a receiver reminiscent to Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears."
Of anyone, this probably hurts Will Gardner -- who was officially named the starter Sunday in what was one of the more poorly kept secrets among this year's position battles -- the most. Gardner could have used a consistent and steady receiver, and Parker was that. Now he'll have to jump into the fray hoping someone like sophomore James Quick (whose marijuana charge was dismissed last week) is able to step up and take on that No. 1 receiver role. Louisville's second-leading receiver from last year, Damian Copeland (58 catches, 780 yards, 5 touchdowns), is gone, having signed a UFA contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars before being lost for the season with a wrist injury.
The Cardinals have other experienced options like Eli Rogers and Kai De La Cruz, but neither presents the matchup problems for a defense that Parker did.
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This makes the Week 1 game against Miami, a rematch of last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, an even steeper learning curve for Petrino and the Cardinals. The good news is Louisville gets the 'Canes at Papa John's Stadium, and Miami is starting a true freshman at quarterback in Brad Kaaya. The schedule gets better from there, with games against Murray State, at Virginia, at FIU and home against Wake Forest. With Petrino's reputation as an offensive guru and the strong defensive talent left over from the Charlie Strong era, it's a good bet the Cardinals will enter October in pretty good shape.
If Parker suffers a setback or needs the tail-end of that six to eight week prognosis, the offense better be in good working order. Louisville's hopes in the ACC Atlantic are tied to October games against Clemson and Florida State, and a healthy Parker would certainly help the Cardinals' chances there.
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