Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong recruited some ridiculously speedy football players, but his offensive and defensive schemes were not built on playing fast.
Strong wanted power football on both sides of the ball. So his players trained that way in the weight room. Players bulked up. They were never tested in the 40-yard dash, but rather on the mile. That way, they would have the physical power they would need to win one-on-one matchups, and the endurance they would need to outlast their opponents in the fourth quarter.
Philosophies have shifted now that Bobby Petrino has taken over the program. He wants to play fast, so the message in the weight room has been transformed. Under new strength and conditioning coach Joe Miday, the emphasis has focused on speed and power. Players are now tested on 110-yard sprints and 40-yard sprints. Linebackers train with skill position players to help improve their speed and quickness. Tempo is faster in the weight room, too, that way they can practice as fast as they will play once the games begin.
There have been immediate results in just a few short months. Receiver DeVante Parker, already blessed with terrific size and strength, clocked 4.34 seconds in the 40-yard dash -- the fastest time he has ever posted. The number surprised many observers, perhaps because Parker was never truly unleashed in the run-first offense Strong employed. Parker said his time is a direct result of the new strength staff.
"Oh yeah, I am a lot faster now than I used to be," Parker said. In detailing the reasons, he said, "The new staff likes to work on what you need to work on so you can improve, and it will show during the game. Last year, it was more on your body than it is now. Now, they want you to be fast, too. Last year, they just wanted us to be bulky -- we didn't really work on speed. But now we do and it's a big advantage for us."
One of the biggest reasons Louisville is now emphasizing the shorter distances as opposed to the mile is because players require a burst of speed to make plays. The average play lasts roughly 8 seconds. So if a player can maximize his speed in that window, he will have an advantage over his opponent and remain fresh into the fourth quarter. Louisville already has an edge of sorts here because Strong brought in so many fast players, from running back Corvin Lamb to cornerback Charles Gaines. Ten players posted 40-yard times of 4.46 or better in March.
Playing fast also requires a slimmed-down and toned-up player.
Left tackle Jamon Brown is the perfect example. Strong wanted him to bulk up, and he reached nearly 350 pounds last season. But Petrino ordered Brown to lose weight to become quicker on his feet. This is especially important for offensive linemen, who will be asked to go 80 or more plays per game (with about 15-20 seconds between snaps). By contrast, Louisville averaged 69 plays per game last season and ranked No. 2 in the nation in time of possession.
Brown is now down to 325 pounds, and has five more pounds to lose. Guard John Miller also is down nearly 15 pounds to 311. Miday has been working for years on emphasizing speed, first at up-tempo Marshall and then with Petrino last season at Western Kentucky. He has gotten results at both stops. Given the players already in place at Louisville, there is no doubt we will see one of the fastest teams in the ACC in 2014.
With the potential for more.
"I think I can hit 4.2," Parker says of his 40-time. "I just want to keep working on my legs so I can get faster."