Louisville running back Victor Anderson was going through a one-on-one drill against linebacker Brandon Heath last week. The two are roommates who like to talk a lot of smack to one another, so Anderson would have loved nothing more than to juke Heath out of his shoes and leave him flailing at air.
Anderson, though, thought better of it. He knew that Heath is one of the best tacklers on the team. He also knew that it was time to test his surgically-repaired shoulder for the first time since Thanksgiving.
"I needed to see what it felt like," said Anderson, who had been held out of all contact work in the spring. "So we just collided."
"It felt like I did when I was a freshman."
Those are words Cardinals fans would love to hear often from Anderson this year. The Big East has a lot of running backs drawing attention this preseason, including Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, West Virginia's Noel Devine, UConn's Jordan Todman and Syracuse's Delone Carter, all of whom ran for more than 1,000 yards in 2009. But when he's at his best, Anderson can be one of the best in the league, too.
He was the 2008 Big East rookie of the year, rushing for 1,047 yards and eight touchdowns (averaging 5.7 yards per carry) as a redshirt freshman. Last season, a shoulder injury and other bumps and bruises limited him to eight games and held back his effectiveness even in those games he did play. He still led the team in rushing but had only 473 yards for a 4-8 team.
"It's always frustrating not having the year you want to have as a team and an individual," he said. "But it's how you bounce back, not how you stay down."
Anderson is healthy now and ready to lead what should be Louisville's strongest asset this season: its backfield. He and Bilal Powell, who rushed for 392 yards last year, form a potent 1-2 punch, and freshman Jeremy Wright impressed this spring before coming down with a sports hernia and then a knee problem. The Cardinals plan on feeding the running backs in their new Florida-esque spread offense.
"We've got two really good running backs and we're going to find ways to get them the football," offensive coordinator Mike Sanford says.
Anderson said he spent time watching old Florida film when Sanford and head coach Charlie Strong first were hired.
Anderson has shown the ability to catch passes out of the backfield and make something happen. His quickness makes him dangerous in open space. But like a lot of other Big East backs, he's not physically imposing -- he's listed at 5-foot-9 and 184 pounds. So he's learning how to avoid some of the bigger hits and says he welcomes the idea of spreading the wealth -- and punishment -- with Powell and others.
The junior may not be garnering as much acclaim as some other running backs this offseason. But after a year of dealing with injuries and two seasons of losing records with his hometown team, he's not worrying about such things.
"I'm here to help my team win; I'm not here to set individual stats," he said. "I want to win, and that's going to be the greatest accomplishment for me."