By Dalton Ray —
It’s summer time, so it’s time to over-analyze every aspect about the upcoming college football season. Louisville must answer critics after their three-game skid that closed 2016. So who needs to step up for the Cardinals in order to have a successful year?
First off, this list will not include quarterback Lamar Jackson. Obviously, if the returning Heisman Trophy winner has a good year the team will likely do well. The second obvious answer we will avoid is the offensive line. The front line has been horrendous since coach Bobby Petrino’s return and has held the Cardinals back.
If any team has a successful season from their quarterback and offensive line, the likelihood of that team succeeding is very high. Now that the two most obvious responses are out of the way, let’s get to it.
Malik Williams, running back
Williams won’t be the star back, but he can be a very versatile back for U of L that adds a different dynamic. With Jeremy Smith as the power back, Williams can be a change-of-pace back for the Cardinals.
More of a wiry frame, Williams is a lean back that has good acceleration and athleticism. His receiving ability also allows him to be a threat through the air.
Williams doesn’t need to have a breakout year, but if the junior is able to give U of L two stable and different style running backs then he will help the Cardinals.
Since Devante Parker left, fans have claimed that Louisville has a good receiving group, yet only one receiver has went over 700 yards. Players can be as talented as can be, but production needs to come — not to say the production has been bad.
Louisville needs one go-to stud at wideout. Seth Dawkins and Jaylen Smith are the expected pair to step into that role. Redshirt freshman Dez Fitzpatrick stole the headlines in April with his 176 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches in the spring game.
There’s no doubt that Louisville has depth and talent at the position, but Jackson needs a go-to guy to pull opposing defenses’ attention. Jackson is the first Heisman-winning quarterback since Ohio State’s Troy Smith (2006) without a receiver with at least 800 yards during his Heisman campaign.
Reggie Bonnafon, utility player
Seeing a trend? Get Jackson help.
Bonnafon has bounced around positions his entire career and in his final season, he will likely see time all over the field. He’s an exceptional athlete that aces all combine tests. Yet that skill hasn’t translated to the field — only 446 total yards and five touchdowns on 73 touches the past two seasons.
There’s no better story than a hometown senior leading his team to a winning season. While the Cardinals look for their playmakers offensively, Bonnafon will be leaned on the be a safety net. The Trinity graduate will have his chance to have a career season as a senior.
James Hearns, linebacker
Hearns started last season on fire, but like the rest of the team, he flamed out by mid-October. Hearns ended the year with eight sacks, but recorded 4.5 in the first three games.
The redshirt senior needs to become more well-rounded linebacker and not shoot up field so much. Becoming a better run defender can help the defense that lost so many starters last season.
With the return of Trevon Young, Louisville can have one of the ACC’s fiercest edge-rushing combinations if Hearns stays consistent.
Chucky Williams, safety
One of the most consistent players last season, Williams will lead the defense with fellow senior Stacy Thomas. The quarterback of the defense led the Cardinals with 107 tackles in 2016.
Williams will likely ease the transition of a new defensive coordinator. He is great open-field tackling and at filling run gaps, but can over play the run at times. Better play recognition and man-to-man coverage will lead to Williams having an All-ACC year.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal