LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Bobby Petrino's ongoing transition in his second stint as Louisville's coach coincides with the program's other changes.
The process continues Tuesday with the first spring practice for the Cardinals and Petrino, who replaced Charlie Strong in January after Strong took Texas' head coaching job. He takes over a team that went 23-2 the past two seasons with bowl wins in each and now aims to remain competitive as rookie members of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Four weeks of drills will involve adjustments on both sides of the ball for Petrino but his biggest comes on offense, where he must replace star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and install his pass-oriented philosophy. The Cardinals' defense meanwhile must replace seven starters while switching to a 3-4 formation.
"Our objectives for spring ball, number one, will be to really teach and learn the new schemes," said Petrino, adding that his goals include fundamentals and handling adversity.
"It's a great challenge for our coaches to teach everything, and our players have to learn and really start to understand what the schemes are that we're going to use."
Petrino, 83-30 career as a college coach, is back at Louisville after going 41-9 the first time around from 2003-2006. A 13-game stint with the NFL's Atlanta Falcons followed before he returned to the college ranks for four years at Arkansas and an 8-4 finish at Western Kentucky last fall.
The 53-year-old coach inherits a squad that returns seven offensive starters but lost Bridgewater, the Cardinals' No. 3 career passer. That's a huge priority as they join the ACC's Atlantic Division, which includes reigning national champion Florida State and its Heisman Trophy winning-quarterback, Jameis Winston.
Sophomore Will Gardner tops the Cardinals' depth chart after passing for 112 yards and two touchdowns early last season as Bridgewater's backup. But Petrino sidestepped calling him the front-runner and said that redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin and junior college transfer Brett Nelson would compete with him, even into fall practice.
"We won't make (the decision) in the spring, but we'll know who comes out of spring No. 1," Petrino said, adding that he learned early in his career not to "make a decision until you have to.
"We have to make one by Sept. 1 and a lot of times you'd like to do it two weeks prior to the opening game. That would be ideal for me, but you never know. It might take care of itself before that."
Petrino's ultimate choice will have seasoned wide receivers to throw to. Yardage and TD leader DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz and tight end Gerald Christian are back, with Parker and De La Cruz providing speedy deep threats.
Dominique Brown meanwhile helps Petrino's hopes for offensive balance with a strong running game. Sidelined in 2012 with a knee injury, Brown emerged as the Cardinals' top rusher and looks to follow up an 825-yard, eight-TD effort.
Louisville's defensive mission is replacing seven starters including all-conference safeties Calvin Pryor and Hakeem Smith. Redshirt freshman Chucky Williams and junior Jermaine Reve, who started five of 13 games last season, are listed as their successors at strong and free safety respectively.
Louisville must also replace leading tackler Preston Brown and sacks leader Marcus Smith, an objective further hampered by a shoulder injury to senior lineman Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) that will keep him out this spring. Petrino is hoping others step up to fill the void, a wish that applies on offense as well.
"We're looking at how they react to adversity, how they react to pressure," Petrino said. "We might have to create some of that, putting players in position where they're challenged and there's some adversity created and then see how they react. That's part of coming together as a team."
Louisville concludes spring practice on April 11 with the Red-White Game.
Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GaryBGraves