Editor's Note: The Tigers will hit the midway point of their ACC season with a first-time conference meeting against Louisville on Saturday, Oct. 11. It will be the third consecutive ACC home game for the Tigers, against the team projected as most likely to challenge Clemson and Florida State for the ACC Atlantic Division crown. Bobby Petrino talks about the Cardinals' spring practice and his return to Louisville in the following interview:
Louisville's Bobby Petrino
On returning to Louisville and conducting spring practice: "It's great to be back in Louisville. I'm really enjoying my time back here, and my family is really excited about it. I was really happy with the way we went through spring ball. We had a football team that really came out with a lot of effort, their willingness to learn new schemes, and we have some good leadership within our team, so that really helps a lot.
We have a long way to go. We're not close to where we need to be to open the season September 1, but with the attitude and work ethic that we have on the team, I'm excited about where we can get to as a football team."
On the emerging leadership of this year's team: "On the defensive side of the ball, I think on our defensive front Sheldon Rankins does a good job of leading. He's very experienced. He's played all positions up front, so he's a guy that I thought really took charge and did a great job for us. Lorenzo Mauldin is going to be very good leader for us. He didn't participate in all parts of spring ball, so it'll be exciting to see him get out there and go through all of it.
"On offense, our offensive linemen that returned did a really nice job. When you look at Jake Smith and everything that he's done for the program and the experience that he has, he's very vocal, and everybody on the offense respects him. We're excited about that. And Will Gardner, he's just young. He doesn't have a lot of experience playing in a game, but he certainly believes he's the leader of the team just by the way he goes about his business on a daily basis."
On the transition to the system and expectations of new coaches: "I think they've been great. They've been very willing to work hard. They like being in the classroom, and they really have a great work ethic, which is a credit to Charlie Strong and his staff that they've instilled that in them. It's been really an easy transition, and we're just teaching. It's been a lot of teaching and a lot of learning, but the great thing is you go out on the field and they work hard at it and work to get better each day."
On the challenge of taking over a program that's been winning at a high level: "I think it's very similar to when I came in before and took over for John L. Smith. It's a program that's pretty well set and has great leadership. But now it's time to go to the next level, and going into the ACC and the challenge that that presents with the schedule and in recruiting, it's exciting for all of us. It's an exciting time for the city of Louisville and all our fans, and it presents a great challenge.
"It'll be fun. It'll be fun to have to prepare real hard each game, and most of the games I feel will go into the fourth quarter. You're going to have to be in great condition and have good depth and be able to win some tough games in the fourth quarter."
On competing in the ACC's Atlantic Division against FSU and Clemson: "We feel like we can go in and compete. That's certainly our goal and something that we're going to work towards. But we're going to have to show it. That's why it's exciting to have a great opener like we do with Miami."
On the team's most significant development during spring practice: "I don't know about the biggest thing, but offensively we have some really good depth at the wide receiver position, some returners at running back, tight ends on the offensive front, so the big challenge there was to play well at the quarterback position. I think Will Gardner kind of came in and took over. A lot of times as a head coach, what you do is you send them out there and see how they react to it, and he jumps in the front of the line. He's the first guy to go, and in his mind there was no doubt who the starting quarterback was going to be. So that was good to see without us setting a depth chart or telling him what to do.
"Defensively, the transition to a three down front at times is exciting for us because we really feel like the outside linebackers/defensive end guys that we have fit perfect into Todd Grantham's scheme and guys will be able to really show their abilities to rush the passer and play the pass, also. The transition to the 3 4 is something that was fun to see how it took place."
On Will Gardner and the quarterback situation in the absence of Teddy Bridgewater: "We had three guys that went out and basically competed hard in the spring. Will Gardner came out of spring ball as the No. 1 quarterback, so if we were going to play today he would be the guy that goes out there first. He's a guy that's 6-5. I'm going to keep him under 230 pounds because we feel like he'll be more agile and be able to move. He's very competitive. He certainly has the respect and the trust of all his teammates and can make the different throws and move in the pocket and do the things we want to do.
"We still have to develop the depth behind him, and then hopefully we get some help from our true freshmen who will come in in the fall or basically this summer and compete for some playing time or compete for the starting job."
On the attitude among fans about Louisville's move to the ACC: "I think it's really exciting for our fans to be able to see the home schedule that we're going to have and be able to bring teams in here like Florida State, Miami and North Carolina State, and also the excitement of where our road games are going to be. I think it's what our fans have wanted for a long time, and now it's here.
On his background with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: "We had to go up against Georgia one year and face them early in the season, a game we spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for in the off season over the winter and the summer. At the time we were watching the Dallas Cowboys' defense because Todd had just went from Dallas to the University of Georgia, and then we played them.
"I've got great respect for the scheme that he ran, and what you do as a coach is you continually follow that and see the success. He really went in there and turned Georgia's defense around and got them in a position to go to the SEC Championship game, so I have total respect for that. We started communicating and visiting and had the idea of the ability some day to match up what I like to do offensively with what he likes to do defensively. So when this opportunity came about, I took a swing at it, had great support from our administration and Tom Jurich and was able to make it happen."