LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Referring to the Louisville football team's lack of experience at wide receiver this coming season due to the loss of NFL draft picks Dez Fitzpatrick and Tutu Atwell, receivers coach Gunther Brewer observed recently that, "You are going to see some different guys make plays."
One of those guys is likely to be Tyler Harrell, although you wouldn't suspect it by looking at his past production.
In three seasons with the Cardinals, the redshirt sophomore has caught a grand total of two -- yes, two -- passes (for 36 yards). Both came in 2018, his true freshman year, during a 66-31 drubbing against Georgia Tech. After that he saw action, briefly, in just four more games -- two the rest of that season and two in 2019.
The 6-foot, 190-pound product of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, was part of Bobby Petrino's last recruiting class, choosing UofL over offers from Purdue, Illinois, Oregon State, Syracuse and Wake Forest, among others. He was rated as a 3-star recruit by 247Sports.
Harrell brought with him a reputation for being a blur on the football field, a speedster who could make game-changing plays. At Louisville's "Pro Day" this spring, he was hand-timed in 4.19 seconds in the 40-yard dash and was officially clocked in 4.24, fastest on the team. For comparison's sake, in the 2021 NFL Draft Combine, Auburn's Anthony Schwartz ran the fastest 40 at 4.26. And Harrell's Pro Day time was faster than both Atwell's (4.32) and Fiztpatrick's (4.46) in the Combine.
Despite his speed, though, Harrell has languished behind Fitzpatrick and Atwell the last two years, including 2020 when that duo combined for 89 catches, 1,458 yards and 10 touchdowns. He didn't play a snap last season.
However, with UofL returning only two players, tight end Marshon Ford and wideout Braden Smith, who had more than seven receptions last year, this could be the season Harrell finally gets a chance to show off his speed after being named the Cards' most improved offensive player in spring practice.
"I knew somebody had to step up to the table," Harrell said during a media teleconference Monday afternoon. "So this is my chance to step up. What I'm going to bring to the table is just be hard-working and fast. Timing is everything. I always focused on working hard like every year was my last until I got my chance."
Harrell certainly isn't lacking in confidence, even though three full years of watching from the sideline could be be demoralizing.
"You're going to see a great route runner, besides having speed, good hands, good at getting off the ball, getting off the line and great blocking," Harrell said. "Fast tempo and great effort every play. Being a fast player who can do anything on the field."
Harrell thinks he benefited from watching Atwell and Fizpatrick.
"Watching them made me realize the importance of the fundamentals of the game," he said. "I've put a lot of focus on that."
Head coach Scott Satterfield and Brewer both believe Harrell is ready to play a promient role in the Cards' offense this fall.
Satterfield said Harrell's 40 time is the fastest he has witnessed in his 23 years as a coach. "So he can run and we're going to try to utilize that speed this fall."
While Harrell's speed isn't in doubt, he has to prove he has the hands to go along with it, which apparently has been a problem in the past.
“He’s a guy who can lift the lid, take the top off," Brewer told stateofLouisville.com. "He’s got a lot of speed. He can be a deep-threat guy. You still gotta catch it, you don’t get points for being open. You still got to make the shot and catch the ball, which he’s done a much better job with.”
Besides Smith, Harrell will compete with Justin Marshall, Jordan Watkins and converted quarterback Shai Werts for a starting job when fall practice opens next month.
CUNNINGHAM ON O'BRIEN LIST
Louisville's three-year starter, junior Malik Cunningham, is one of six ACC quarterbacks -- the most of any conference -- named to the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award Watch released Tuesday.
Others from the ACC are Sam Howell, North Carolina Jr.; Phil Jurkovec, Boston College Jr.; D'Eriq King, Miami Sr.; McKenzie Milton, Florida State Sr.; and D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson So.
Howell (2020), King (2018, 2020) and Milton (2017, 2018) are previous Davey O'Brien semifinalists. Sixteen semifinalists will be named on Nov. 8 and three finalists two weeks later. The Award winner will be unveiled live on ESPN on Dec. 9.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at email@example.com.