Knowing that their star runner Dominic Rhodes will miss the first four regular season games due to an NFL suspension, the Oakland Raiders may be looking for former University of Louisville running back Michael Bush to see early action.
The rookie Bush, a native of Louisville, is still recovering from a broken right leg suffered in last season’s first game against Kentucky (pictured left). However, reports from Oakland suggest the 6-2, 240-pounder is running well and may be ready for full-speed action as soon as September.
“I’m looking to play,” Bush said. “I had a bone injury. Those heal. It’s already been about nine months, so it’s about time for me to get going.”
Rhodes, who moved to the Raiders after being part of the Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl victory, was suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The Raiders already have some talented backs in place, including LaMont Jordan who is coming off a knee injury (he rushed for more than 1,000 yards in 2005), and Justin Fargas, who rushed for 659 yards last year. But Bush would give Oakland an added dimension as a tough runner with speed and excellent pass-catching ability. And, by the way, he was an All-American prep quarterback.
While there’s no sense that the Raiders will rush the former Cardinal star into action, Bush is eager to play and gain a foothold near the top of the depth chart.
Had Oakland not drafted Bush in the fourth round of the NFL Draft, former U of L coach Bobby Petrino was set to select him on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons.
“We were planning to pick Michael next,” said Mike Summers, who coached the Cardinal offensive line and now is with the Falcons. “The Raiders drafted a few spots ahead of us and beat us to the punch. We know Michael will have a great career and we wish him well.”
Two other former Cards have joined the Falcons – offensive linemen Kurt Quarterman and Renardo Foster.
“We had talked with both of them about coming with us, and after they both went undrafted, they immediately signed free agent contracts with Atlanta,” said Summers. “In recent years, the Falcons preferred smaller, quicker lineman, but as you know, Coach Petrino likes to have bigger guys up front. The way they’re going so far, Both Kurt and Renardo have good chances to earn roster spots this year.”
CARDINAL NOTEBOOK: Two other former Louisville linemen – Will Rabatin and Jason Hilliard – will play on national TV (ESPN) this Saturday. They’re starters for the Columbus Destroyers who face the Dallas Desperados (8 p.m.). Rabatin, a graduate of St. Xavier High School in Louisville, played for the Louisville Fire AF2 team last year but moved up to Columbus and earned All-Rookie team honors this season. Hilliard (6-6, 321, Jeffersonville, Ind.), previously played with three NFL teams – Green Bay, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams. The Cardinal grads will battle two other former Big East performers. Linebacker Duke Pettijohn and lineman Rickie Simpkins both played for Syracuse. Dallas, the first AFL team to finish the regular season 15-1, defeated Columbus in their previous two meetings by a total of 11 points.
FAREWELL - U of L rowing coach Richard Ruggieri has left the Cards to become head coach at Clemson. Louisville likely will stay in-house to name his replacement. Assistant Laura Fogt has coached the varsity squad for the past three years, and assistant Laurie Featherstone has guided the novice teams for the past seven. Ruggieri dramatically improved the Cardinal program over the past seven seasons. Last year, the U of L varsity 8+ ranked 17th in the nation, fourth in the South Region and second in the Big East Championships.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to coach at Clemson,” said Ruggieri. “The academics, resources and facilities are in place to be a consistent top-20 team.” U of L has been raising funds to build a new state-of-the-art boathouse (in cooperation with the city’s Waterfront Development plan) for its team for more than a decade. The Cards practice on the Ohio River.
TENNIS CHANGE - Mark Beckham, a former Cardinal player and an assistant men’s coach for the past 13 years, has been named head women’s tennis coach at U of L. He replaces Greg Davis who is pursuing other coaching opportunities after five seasons with the Cards. Beckham inherits a talented roster of players and will likely pattern his style after that of men’s coach Rex Ecarma – aggressive and intense individual instruction and scheduling against the top teams in the nation. Beckham played tennis at Eastern High School where he was a prep All-American. He was ranked second in the state in singles as a junior. Ecarma is a graduate of Doss High School and a former standout for the Cards. He was inducted into the Kentucky Tennis Hall of Fame last year.
AROUND THE BIG EAST – Former U of L basketball assistant Mick Cronin will have some of America’s top prep prospects on his home court this week as part of an event conducted by adidas. “Due to NCAA rules, even if a player comes by and knocks at my door, I can’t speak with him,” said Cronin, who nevertheless benefits from having the stars on campus… Elsewhere, Houston Astros mainstay Craig Biggio collected his 3,000th career hit last week. He played college baseball at Big East member Seton Hall…Connecticut, which finished 4-8 last year, is now selling discounted football tickets for $133 each. Pitt (6-6 in 2006) is offering fans packages ranging from $99 to $199 ($315 in premium spots)…U of L’s season tickets range from $228 per seat to $240 per seat (plus donations ranging from $100 to $350 per seat). The Cards are virtually sold out for the coming season and are planning to expand Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium from 42,500 seats to 63,300 by 2010…ESPN will televise the Pitt vs. Michigan State football game on Sept. 15. It will be the Panthers’ first trip to East Lansing since 1958. The contest will be played the same day that U of L and UK meet in Lexington. That game has yet to be designated for TV coverage.
NEW MAN ON CAMPUS – Among the newcomers who are arriving on the U of L campus this week is walk-on kicking prospect Ryan Payne of Orange County, Calif. The youngster, who bears a slight resemblance to current U of L kicker Art Carmody, will enter Louisville the same way as Carmody who had to earn a scholarship. Last year as a junior, Carmody won the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s top kicker after connecting on 21-of-25 field goals and 60-of-60 PATs.
NOTE: Daily columnist Ron Steiner also appears on the Red & Blue Review, a weekly statewide TV sports show (Insight Ch. 2). He’s also published weekly in the Voice-Tribune and is a guest each Friday (5:45 p.m.) on the Cardinal Insider radio program (WKRD, 790AM). He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.