Bobby Petrino is getting set to open another spring at Louisville, his first since 2006, and the coach who has returned to the job that made him a star has plenty to do for the Cardinals.
His biggest tasks will be finding a quarterback out of the bunch and, during the spring season, working to ease the transition for his new team.
Yes, there is a new system on offense and a new look coming to the defense.
However, for Petrino, the quarterback is the linchpin through which the bulk of success is generated. The offensive genius is not a coach who simply gets by with a run game and defense, he is a man who requires quality play at the quarterback position to drive his offensive machine.
So, with that in mind, the biggest box to check for Petrino in spring will be finding his guy at the quarterback spot. Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and Brett Nelson are going to be battling for the spot.
Depending on what happens with Max Wittek, who CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman reports still has Louisville as a top candidate, the spring winner could be fighting Wittek come fall camp.
For now it is all about the athletes on campus, as Gardner, Bolin and Nelson all look to impress Petrino enough to win the job and place themselves at the front of the program.
Gardner was a high 3-star recruit who enrolled in 2012, redshirted and played as the backup to Teddy Bridgewater sparingly in 2013. Bolin enrolled as a 4-star prospect in 2013, redshirted his first season and is set to compete. Nelson is an interesting prospect who enrolled at Louisville in 2013 after playing at Southwestern College. The JUCO transfer enters his second and final season on campus.
If Nelson were to win the job, he'd be a one-year player for Petrino—something that does not apply to any of the other options in contention.
However, given Nelson's inability to climb the depth chart under the previous regime, it seems likelier that Bolin or Gardner will emerge as the winner of spring ball.
Both Bolin and Gardner are similar players at the core. Both possess strong arms that can move the ball vertically down the field with a measure of accuracy that will fit well into Petrino's precision passing game.
Gardner and his limited experience—8-for-12 passing in five games for 112-yards and two touchdowns—is the bigger option. The rising redshirt sophomore is pushing 230 pounds and still capable of getting out of the pocket to roll out and deliver accurate balls.
Bolin was the more highly touted prospect and the redshirt freshman is still working to grow into his body—a body that, like Gardner's, fits the mold of a Petrino-type quarterback. They are both tall, long and can throw the ball over the line.
The winner will be the player who digests Petrino's playbook and consistently performs at practice.
The positive thing is Petrino, and the quarterbacks battling it out, have a bevy of weapons to help sort out the position.
While the coach is trying to find his quarterback, he will also be working to make this transition easier on his roster as a whole.
Petrino is a coach who comes with baggage. He was a hire that was bashed. This is a team that, to a man, had a true desire to be coached by the edifier that is Charlie Strong. Petrino has to make this move smooth for those athletes because, as Louisville transitions into the ACC, he'll need the talent.
For Petrino, that means proving he is there for this program, for the Louisville football family. It means showing those young men that talks of him as a mercenary and just an all-around bad guy are no longer true. It means giving athletes the same fair shakes that they got under the old meritocracy of Strong. It means pushing to continue the strong sense of community that existed when he returned to campus.
Not allowing the foundation to erode was the key focus when Petrino was hired, and with spring, the same directive applies as the players learn a new style of play and how to practice.
The best thing Petrino can do is aid his players in making this transition more comfortable by continuing to hold on to the core values on which these athletes have relied.
Todd Grantham has to install his defense. Petrino has to get the offense implemented so that he can utilize all of the weapons this roster contains.
For Petrino, this coming spring session has to be about taking that first step toward finding his quarterback and continuing to show this roster that he wants to be its guy.
Unless otherwise noted, recruit information courtesy of 247Sports.com.
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