Louisville opens fall camp with Jackson established at QB
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) After two seasons of uncertainty about who his starting quarterback might be, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino begins his third year with the comfort of knowing Lamar Jackson is in charge entering fall camp.
The Cardinals have other luxuries as practice opens Wednesday.
Louisville returns 17 starters, including 10 on offense, from a squad that finished 8-2 with a bowl win after starting 0-3. While that momentum hasn't changed media preseason projections of Louisville finishing behind Clemson and Florida State in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division, Petrino and players plan on taking aim at the top spot and beyond - especially with depth and experience at many positions.
''I embrace the high expectations. That's what we want,'' Petrino said Tuesday during a news conference. ''We want to be in a situation where people believe, players believe and I believe that we've got a chance to go compete to win a championship. ... Now it's time to shut up and go work.''
Petrino praised his team's work ethic this summer that has resulted in a group returning faster and stronger than before. He was especially happy with the dedication and progress made by Jackson after a dynamic debut running and throwing the ball.
Jackson rushed for a school freshman-record 960 yards, threw for 1,840 and combined for 23 touchdowns. He accounted for more than 450 yards from scrimmage alone in the Cardinals' Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M, and Petrino said he has worked hard on improving in every facet.
However, the coach wouldn't mind seeing more speed from Jackson and joked, ''When he tucks it, I want to see him run faster. I think he got caught from behind too many times.''
Jackson's return is significant for a team that entered the past two seasons somewhat unsettled behind center. Consider that Petrino sent Jackson and presumed starter Reggie Bonnafon out to begin last season's opener against Auburn for a trick play that ended with Jackson throwing an interception after a botched snap.
The sophomore has come a long way since then and said at last month's ACC media day that he's been ''hitting the books hard'' trying to demonstrate his maturity. Jackson will have some experienced targets to throw to including Bonnafon, who relishes his new role as a slot receiver along with having continuity in the pocket.
''I wouldn't say things are too much different, but it just that we've finally got the guy,'' Bonnafon said. ''Now, everybody knows what they have to do and what we need to do and can focus on becoming experts at our positions.''
One priority is replacing standout defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins, who was selected 12th overall in the NFL draft by New Orleans. Louisville must also establish depth around senior DeAngelo Brown (career-high 40 tackles, 6.5 for loss with two sacks), the only returning starter up front.
Brown said it will be different playing without Rankins but added, ''I feel like we've got great guys to step in for him.''
The linebacker corps returns Devonte' Fields and Keith Kelsey but must replace Trevon Young, who will redshirt this season with a hip injury. Petrino also seeks new faces on special teams with the departures of reliable place kicker John Wallace and punter Josh Appleby.
''I look forward to the competition,'' Petrino said. ''I truly believe that the players set the depth (chart). ... I also believe that as a player, you need to show your teammates that you're the starter and the team knows who should be out there.''
Louisville opens Sept. 1 against Charlotte.