Here is what Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said in his opening statement at the ACC Media Day Thursday in Charlotte:
BOBBY PETRINO: Thank you. It’s great to be back in Charlotte. We were here a couple years ago for the Belk Bowl and stayed right here at the Westin. Everyone treated us great, our fans and our players had a great experience. And this is the home of one of our players that I brought with me today, Jaire Alexander, so that makes it special, and his parents are here somewhere, so it would be good to say hi to them.
As far as our football team goes, I really liked what we got done in spring ball, you know, as far as the defensive side of the ball goes. We do return a lot of starters and veterans, but they had a lot to learn. We brought a new defensive coordinator in, Peter Sirmon, who I really like. I think Peter is a tremendous motivator and a great teacher, and really understands what the players are going through and does a great job of understanding and coaching them.
And then we brought in Lorenzo Ward as our secondary coach. Lorenzo had worked for me previously. He’s a high-energy guy and a great teacher, and I think will really help us with our ability to play hard and play fast.
But our players had to learn new terminology and kind of compare the schemes because there were a lot of things that carry over and a lot of things defensively where Xs and Os are the same, but it’s what you do within the Xs and Os that count and the technique that you utilize and the speed that you play at, and I’m excited about what I saw from our defense in spring.
As far as offense goes, we have more depth on the offensive line. That will help us. There will be competition. It’ll make everybody better there. Obviously our offensive line takes a little bit of criticism from last season, but it’s really on the entire offense, on me, on our coaches, on our wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, quarterbacks. Any time that we get sacked or have a negative play on offense, it’s everybody, so it wasn’t just the offensive line.
We did bring in a new offensive line coach in Mike Summers, who I’ve worked with. I think this is the fifth time that I’ve hired Mike, and he’s a really good coach, a really good teacher. He’ll help us a lot. And I think it’ll be the first time in my career that we have the fifth coach on offense, kind of doing it in anticipation of the tenth assistant, which I thought we would get immediately, but now we need to wait until January to see that happen.
I’m excited about our running backs. Reggie Bonnafon has been back in the backfield full time, does a great job back there, is big enough to pass-protect, has great hands and really can run with the ball after the catch, so the more reps that we give him from that, the more touches we get him, the better football player he’s going to be. I kind of felt like last year I didn’t get him the ball enough and we weren’t able to utilize him as much as we were the year before, so we’re going to make sure that doesn’t happen this year.
Malik Williams is back off of injury. Malik was really coming off at the end of the year last year and got injured covering a kickoff. He’s a great kickoff cover guy. But running the football he was really maturing, was getting more and more reps, and he’s a very talented guy. He’s 216 pounds, and he’s fast. I think that’s the thing that’s really special about him is he can take it the distance and go score.
And then Jeremy Smith would be the other guy who’s coming off injury that should be back full speed here when we get started up in — I want to say August, but it’s actually July 31st.
And then Lamar had a good spring. We did work him more underneath the center. We wanted to get him comfortable doing that. In fact, the first week of spring ball we stayed under the center. He can really drop and throw it from under there. He does a good job in the run game. The best thing about Lamar is it was never an issue of taking the snap, so he could always take the snap. It was just getting used to the footwork, getting to the right mesh point to help the running back out, and I think it’ll help us be a harder team to defend. I really believe that.
But he worked hard on his progression reads. He took a lot of pride out on the practice field, understanding the coverages, what the safeties are doing, and going through his progression. He also worked real hard on his footwork, making sure he gets set, gets his back leg under his hip, and when he does that and stands tall, he’s a very, very accurate thrower. He’s a great deep ball thrower, and you know, it was fun to really go back this summer. My little brother came in town, who’s the head coach of the University of Idaho, so we went back and watched all the video from last year, and it was fun to watch the throws that he made and the plays that he played throwing the football that we didn’t even watch the running game, so it was an exciting time for us.
But he made a lot of strides. He’s going to continue to get better, and the best thing about Lamar Jackson is his attitude and work ethic. He comes to practice every day with a smile on his face and goes 100 percent. That makes everybody around us a lot better.
As far as the summer goes, our guys have been working hard. I like the attitude. I like the freshmen that are on campus. We had a good year of recruiting, particularly in the offensive line. The defensive backfield, who we’re going to need some depth from the new guys and be able to get maybe a nickel out of it, and some guys that can back up and do a great job.
I do really like the receiver group. They’re actually a little better than I anticipated. They’re fast and have good size and can really run after they catch the ball, so that’s going to be exciting to see how they get into the mix and what type of reps that they get.
We also got a big tight end that I’m real excited about that’s 6’7″, 265 pounds in Kemari Averett that can move and run, and I really think that he’ll have an opportunity to get into the depth and get some playing time if he can learn. You never know until you start practicing how quickly you can pick things up and adapt to the speed and how everything goes out there.
As far as fall camp goes, the first challenge of that was to really get it down on paper and see how we’re going to do it. They changed the rules on us right in mid-stream, and you could back up and start earlier. There are no two-a-days, and it is really a challenge. I think we went through it four, maybe five, different times on what’s the right way to do it. I don’t want to start too early. We’ve been real successful in opening games, but yet I want to get our practices in.
What we’re going to end up doing is starting on July 31st, which will be a Monday, and then we get 28 of our practices in. They get their days off. That way they get the weekend off here right before we get started. I think that’s important for them. I think it’s something that was real important to see what’s the best way for our football players, and not practice too long before the opening game. We need to catch up a little bit with the rules as far as the acclimatization period and with these adjustments because all the guys are on campus all summer long now anyway. In the old days, it was a great rule because you were able to bring guys in and make sure that they stayed safe and stayed healthy, but it’s a little bit outdated now, and particularly when you take the two-a-days away. Hopefully we’ll make adjustments on that next year.
But I am looking forward to camp. I think we’ve got a good football team. I think we’ve got a lot of competition that will go on in camp, and like I always tell the players, it’s their responsibility to show their teammates who the starters are, and the depth usually takes care of itself if they just understand that, that they’ve got to come to work every day, do a great job on the field, do a great job in the meeting room, and prove to their players who the starters are.
We have high expectations for this team. I know our coaching staff does. I know our players do. Certainly our fans and our administration have high expectations for us, and this is a really tough conference. It’s going to be very competitive. Every team that we play has really good players. Every team that we play is very, very well-coached, so we’re going to have to do a great job of being in great condition, developing our depth, and being able to perform in the fourth quarter when the pressure is on. I think that’s what you’re going to see, a lot of fourth quarter wins or fourth quarter losses this year throughout the conference.
We’ve got two great young men with me today, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner in Lamar Jackson. One of the unique things about Lamar is on our campus, our football team had the most community service hours, and the No. 1 guy in that was Lamar Jackson. So he not only is a great football player, but he loves giving back to the community, loves being around young kids, and he’s going to come up here and answer questions for you here in just a second.
And then we’ve got Jaire Alexander, who like I said, is right from here in Charlotte. Jaire is an unbelievable football player for us. He had a great year last year as our starting corner. I think he got five interceptions and made a lot of really big plays for us that gave us opportunities to win the game, and then he’s one of the premier punt returners in the country. It’s our job to get him some room, get him to be able to catch the ball with some room, so we really work hard on hold-ups and blocking because we know every time he touches it, he’s got an opportunity to go the distance. With that, I’ll just introduce Lamar Jackson first.