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Parker’s injury prompts Rogers, fellow receivers to step-up
By Derek Brightwell
In a year marked by changes in conference, coaching staff and quarterbacks, the Cardinals can look to a deep, experienced and talented receiving corps for stability.
U of L will be without star-senior wide-out DeVante Parker for 6-8 weeks while he recovers from foot surgery. Parker tied a season record and led the team in touchdowns with 12 and led all receivers with 885 yards; through his first three years play Parker has scored 28 touchdowns.
Despite Parker’s absence the Cards will be in more than capable hands with the four other senior receivers at play: Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, Michaelee Harris, and Matt Milton along with senior tight-end Gerald Christian.
While De La Cruz will fill in Parker’s slot in formations, the reliable Eli Rogers will take on the role as number one target, which he’s excited about.
“I take a lot of pride in just being there on time and running a good route, the best route,” he said of his increased role in the offense. “I just like that responsibility.”
Rogers operated as something of a constant security blanket throughout the career of Louisville’s recent first round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater.
A smaller receiver at five-foot-ten, 180 pounds and without breakaway speed, Rogers had to rely on great footwork and hands to lead him to third on the team in receptions with 44 and yards with 536. Rogers also caught four touchdowns along the way.
With Parker sidelined for at least half of the season, expect Rogers’ reliability to make him a favorite target of red-shirt sophomore quarterback Will Gardner as he adjusts to the starting role.
Even with Bridgewater gone to the Minnesota Vikings, Rogers is using his experience with the beloved Louisville hero to be a leader on the 2014 Cards.
“I believe spirits live on and Teddy has a great spirit and I’ve been around him so long that his spirit just grew onto me,” Rogers said of his former quarterback. “So I just try to bring that positive energy that he brings into the locker room.”
That kind of leadership from Rogers and the other returning receivers will play an important role in the growth of the first year starter Gardner.
Gardner will also have the addition of Matt Milton to the offense; Milton was limited most of last season with a knee injury and sat out the entire 2012 season after transferring from the University of Tennessee. At six-foot-five, Milton is the tallest target at Gardner’s disposal and his 208 pound frame makes him the biggest of the receivers. He is excited about the chance to work his way into the starting line-up.
“Coming into fall camp, I just wanted to play like a starter, act like one, work like one,” Milton said.
Fortunately for him, learning the offense is something that all of the receivers need to focus on this off season with the switch to head coach Bobby Petrino’s high-octane style. It is in this offense that one can expect the explosive sophomore WR James Quick to shine.
Coming into last year as one of the highest rated freshman receivers, Quick did not make a big impact on the passing game, catching only 6 passes for 73 yards, 31 of which came on one reception. But considering the Trinity High School graduate’s game-breaking speed and elusiveness, Quick should see a rise in targets especially on go routes and screens.
The depth at the position will be the key to weathering the absence of Parker and the Cards are positioned well for it.
“I feel like we have the best receiving corps in the nation,” Rogers told reporters. “It’s not just one guy you should focus on.”
The Parker injury will also give highly touted younger receivers Javonte Bagley, Cornelius Sturghill and Cameron Polk a chance to get game experience throughout the season, which will prove instrumental in the growth of the program in the following years.
The tight-end position is one that will continue to get better and prove impactful as the year plays out. Senior Gerald Christian will be the unquestioned leader of the group, which is rounded out by promising back-ups, freshmen Micky Crum and Charles Standberry and sophomore Keith Trowbridge.
In Christian’s first year with the Cardinals last year, after transferring from the University of Florida, he finished fourth in the team in all receiving categories with 28 catches for 426 yards and four touchdown’s. Gerald’s six-foot-three, 250-pound frame and natural passing catching and athleticism make him a weapon waiting to be unloaded in the Coach Petrino offense. The tight end position is usually a favorite of young quarterbacks as they develop, so look for Christian to have a true impact on this team in his senior campaign.