Rivals.com College Football Staff Writer
Louisville's fall has been swift. The Cardinals went 12-1 and won the Big East in 2006 before stumbling the past three seasons under former coach Steve Kragthorpe. Louisville won only one conference game in each of the past two seasons and only five during the Kragthorpe era.
In replacing Kragthorpe with Charlie Strong, the Cardinals hired a coach with a defensive background after the past three (John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino and Kragthorpe) were noted for their acumen on offense.
Strong's résumé as a defensive coordinator is vast. He was the coordinator for Florida's 2008 national-title team and co-coordinator for the '06 champions. Florida coach Urban Meyer has said Strong's first head-coaching job is long overdue.
Strong has plenty of work ahead of him. A year ago, the Cardinals were last or next-to-last in the Big East in 11 major categories, including total defense.
Here's a look at the Cardinals going into spring drills.
Victor Anderson aims to get back to his form of two seasons ago.
Coach: Charlie Strong
Last season: 4-8 overall, 1-6 in the Big East
Spring dates: March 24-April 16
The Cardinals could have three quality running backs. Victor Anderson rushed for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman in 2008, but he struggled with injuries last season. Darius Ashley stepped in last season to rush for 462 yards, most of it coming in the second half of the season. Bilal Powell has rushed for at least 350 yards in each of the past two seasons. The Cardinals lose only one starting offensive lineman, and C Mario Benavides made an immediate impact last season on the way to a freshman All-Big East selection. The line wasn't great last season, but at least Louisville has some bodies and experience.
HELP IS NEEDED
The defense was a liability last season, and that could be the case again this season. Louisville ranked last in the Big East in sacks and tackles for loss. Former walk-on William Savoy is the returning leader in sacks (five). Louisville's most reliable linebackers (Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa) have departed. Louisville also needs to find playmakers at receiver and special teams to replace Scott Long and Trent Guy.
THREE GUYS TO WATCH
LB Dexter Heyman: A Louisville native, Heyman has shuffled from outside linebacker to end and back to outside linebacker. He will begin the spring as the starting strongside linebacker.
WR Andrell Smith: Smith is part of Louisville's Miami high school pipeline. He enrolled early last season and played special teams as a true freshman. With vacancies at wide receiver, he could crack the rotation. At 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, Smith could be an able complement to the smaller Doug Beaumont on the outside.
DT Joe Townsend: Defensive tackle is an exceptionally thin position on the defense with Scruggs moving from end to the interior to start the spring. Townsend is further down the depth chart, but he is a senior and has the size (6-4, 303 pounds) to be worth a look.
ON THE SPOT
QB Adam Froman: Froman started seven games last season after transferring from a junior college; he was one of three Cardinals to start at the position. He heads into spring as the starter, but there remains a competition with fellow senior Justin Burke and sophomore Will Stein. Froman's mobility - he played some receiver in junior college - could serve him well in Mike Sanford's spread offense. Sanford, the former UNLV coach, was offensive coordinator for Urban Meyer at Utah. Also worth keeping an eye on is true freshman Luke Woodley, who already has enrolled and will go through spring practice.
Strong might not be able to turn Louisville around in a single season, but he will at least try to change the culture around the program this spring. As part of two national-title teams in the past four seasons, Strong has been around more winning at the college level than anyone on this roster. It's an attitude he will have to instill in the team in the coming months.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.