With a lot of talent and tons of hype heading into next season, University of Louisville football coach Charlie Strong knew this spring was important.
The Cardinals, despite some injuries that left a few key players watching from the sidelines, needed to take the next step as a program.
And Strong told Cardinal Authority that his team did just that.
"They now understand the standing of this program," Strong said. "What was great about spring ball this year – and we are heading into our fourth season – is there wasn't a learning curve this season.
"A lot of players have been here before and they understand what we are looking for. We focused more on what we needed to improve."
U of L, which finished 11-2 last season and beat Florida in the AllState Sugar Bowl, wrapped up spring drills just under two weeks ago when the Red (offense) beat the White (defense) 34-7 before 33,000 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Several players stood out in the game, including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, running back Dominique Brown – who missed last season with a knee injury – and defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin.
"Overall, the main concern with spring (ball) is about fundamentals and technique," Strong said. "Offensively, we didn't miss a beat.
"We had a lot of guys injured, especially on defense, a ton of guys out and we were happy to get work in with some of the young players up front. Brandon Dunn really stepped up and showed a lot of leadership, Mauldin continues to get better and better and a young player like DeAngelo Brown stepped up. It was really good to see some of those guys on defense step up."
Brown, who was expected to be the starting running back last season before getting injured, now leads a backfield that will include Senorise Perry, Corvin Lamb and touted redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff."What Dominique did this spring, he was able to run behind his pads," Strong said. "He's a physical runner. You don't know how fast he is, but thing about him is that no one ever catches him. Getting him back at that position is so good."
Strong noted the players and strength coach Pat Moorer are now responsible for keeping things going in the program until the players report back for camp in late July. Moorer puts the team through workouts each day.
"You have to have enough pride where you don't want to lose," Strong said. "We are developing that in this program. Our players and the coaches understand the commitment. When you think about it, who knows how good we really are, but you can always be much better than what we actually are.
"Now it all comes down to the players make themselves better over the summer and I am certain coach Moorer will aid them in that process."
Strong downplayed any talk of the pending move to the ACC, which will happen for the 2014 season, and a road game that was recently announced against Notre Dame that season. He said, "I don't even want to focus on that."
"We can't pass this season by right now," Strong said. "Everybody thinks with what we have coming back that it will be a breeze to go through it. It won't be any breeze through it. We still have to work at it."
Strong talked about the success of the men's and women's basketball programs, noting that success can be contagious on campus. He also noted coach Rick Pitino's recent run, which includes winning a national championship, earning a spot in the Hall of Fame and next week running a horse – Goldencents – in the Kentucky Derby.
"He has it all going right now," Strong said of Pitino. "With the way things are happening for him this year, you probably need to go with his horse."