Since their arrival, Charlie Strong and his staff have done a phenomenal job of bringing in talent to the UofL football team. This has in turn brought about a situation that we as fans haven't seen a lot of lately. The good ol' fashioned position battle. Typically upperclassmen get first crack at the open positions that are vacated by seniors. However, UofL only returns two seniors on defense and no seniors at skill positions on the offense. Inexperience could be a huge positive for Louisville because it will breed competition during camp.
Jamon Brown is the lone newcomer to the offensive line. He is exactly the type of player that this staff has tried to recruit since they arrived. He's big, athletic, and has already lined up at three different positions. His experience has made him the presumed starter at right tackle, but I think that Ryan Mack will make a run for it during fall camp. Mack is pretty much just a lighter version of Brown but I think that his comfort level and overall experience could give him a chance.
One trend that I would love to see continue with our offensive line is it's versatility. Alex Kupper started last season at Center before moving to Left Tackle when Mario returned. Jamon Brown subbed in at Left Guard for a few games year also. Having backups that can play multiple positions is a huge plus for an offense because it allows you to put your best players out there in a vital position. Kamran Joyner should replace Brown in that role this year. He can play both Guard and Tackle.
We are three deep at the tight end position and it could be a huge part of our offense this year. In some ways Josh Chichester was the Edgar Sosa of the football team for the last few years. He could have really good moments and really bad ones. I personally think that all three of the guys that are looking to replace him are better overall players than he was. Nate Nord is leading the pack, followed by Ryan Hubbell and Chris White. White came on late last year and had a catch in four of the last five games. Nord of course had a short touchdown catch in the Belk Bowl himself. Hubbell wasn't a highly recruited high school or Juco kid, but after watching him play he seems to be a guy that slipped through the cracks. He can really stretch the field and has a big frame. Look for Shawn Watson to utilize all three of these tight ends in some way. Nord will be your starter based on the fact that he is easily the best blocker of the group. Hubbell excels at getting down the field. While White is a pure route runner that works best outside the hashes.
Anyone that made it to the spring game understands just how important this position is to the offense. Scott Radcliff had over 100 yards in the game and he racked up all of his yards over the middle of the field. Eli Rogers led the team in receptions last year, so there is obvious excitement around this position. I myself am worried about how Watson will work to get both of these guys on the field. I can' help but fantasize about Watson somehow pulling out the old "global" playbook from old EA Sports game. Getting both of these guys matched up against linebackers or safeties completely changes the shape of a defense. In the spring game Radcliff had a couple of catches behind the linebackers but in front of the safeties. After a while the safeties cheated up and Teddy was able to sneak a deep ball behind them. Both of these guys on the field at the same time would be a game changer in my opinion. However, the way the formations played out last year tells me that we will mostly only see one slot receiver and it will most likely be Eli. He has that cliche knack for getting open and he performed very well last year.
I debated leaving running backs out because I really do believe Charlie when he says that all four backs will play. Each player has a unique skill as well as having a unique flaw. It would be nice if they could combine powers like some kind of Captain Planet running back, but I do feel like their skills provide an ability to really pound the ball in the running game. Keeping a defense off balance should be easy when you mix Dom Brown's power running with Jeremy Wright's burst and speed. Senorise Perry is the first back that we've had since George Stripling that could really be a change of pace big play back. Corvin Lamb is a prototype workhorse back that I think will be a good option in goal line sets. Expect a similar split in carries as we saw last year with Dom Brown taking the majority of the hand offs this season and Jeremy Wright getting his fair share also.
The only spot on the line that is not up for grabs is defensive tackle. Roy Philon is poised for a breakout season. Barring injury, we could see a monster season from Philon. The other three positions return what is arguably the most talented group of players that Charlie has brought in so far. Marcus Smith and B.J. Butler will compete for the "Fox End" position. Typically they line up on the left side and at times are spit wide to rush the passer. I personally expect B.J. to play on run downs and short yardage, and Marcus to rush the passer on third downs and long second downs.
On the other side B.J. Dubose will have Lorenzo Mauldin pushing him for playing time this fall. Dubose was able to steal some time away from Bill Savoy last season, so he has a leg up in experience. I doubt they split time like their counterparts, but I do see Mauldin making a big leap this year because he will be focused on one position all season. Mauldin played Tight End for a short time last year which shows just how athletic this guy is. Him doing back flips in full pads after the USF game was borderline disturbing also. Deiontrez Mount is a huge wildcard on our defense. He is listed as a Linebacker but he has mostly lined up at Defensive End since he got here. I would expect him to float between both positions early in the season before settling in as a pass rushing menace. His sack against South Florida was something you would expect from an upperclassman. Not a true freshman that had just started getting a little run.
Jamaine Brooks is probably my favorite player on the team. The guy seems to be a genuinely good person and I love monster Defensive Tackles. Jamaine will spend his second straight year trying to unseat Brandon Dunn at the Nose Tackle spot on the line. Dunn, when healthy, has been a mainstay at the spot since his first game two years ago. Nose Tackle is arguably the most thankless job on the team. However, tackles are kind of like offensive lineman for middle linebackers. They won't get a ton of credit, but they are absolutely key to the success of the leader of the defense. Brooks will have to work on keeping his pads lower to get to the point where he can get into the starting lineup, but he will get plenty of playing time in the normal rotation.
Preston Brown is finally going to have the opportunity to move inside where I think he will do extremely well. His move to the middle leaves the only true question mark on the defense. Daniel Brown will stay at the weak side spot where he can best use his speed and smaller stature. That leaves the unproven George Durant, Keith Brown, and possibly Deiontrez Mount to step in and fill the strong side slot. The coaching staff seems to be high on Durant. He got a good amount of reps with the first team in the spring and has the size to hold his own while still being athletic enough to run with tight ends. Mount is a popular pick to have a breakout year and I truly think he has the most natural talent out of the group. The issue with Mount is that he has play with his hand on the ground since high school and the transition could take time. Keith Brown will get snaps at some point and obviously has the talent to unseat anyone in front of him. We will have to wait until fall practice to see what the coaches decide to do but I personally think that George Durant will be your starter when the season kicks off.
NICKLEBACK: (I threw up in my mouth when I typed that and you know why.)
Vance Bedford and Charlie Strong have developed my favorite defense since the Bears 46 defense of the 80's. It's best described as a 3-3-5 nickel package that you can find on any football video game of the last half decade. The difference between a basic 3-3-5 and the one that we run is the blitz packages we bring. Typically you bring in an extra defensive back to make it easier to cover slot receivers and spread style formations. The purpose of this defense from our standpoint is to confuse offensive lines and quarterbacks. The Rutgers game last year is the best example of this defense at it's finest. We run it at the most random and inopportune times and it can give an offensive coordinator fits.
Mike Evans was the Josh Chichester of our defense last year. He had a handful of really great plays, but Tavon Austin and other slot receivers made him look very pedestrian at times. Gerrod Holliman has been rumored to be the first option to fill this spot but I'm not so sure that it's such a lock. Holliman missed the spring with an injury while Terrell Floyd spent a ton of time with the first team because Andrew Johnson was injured. Floyd is in the same mold as Mike Evans but with much better coverage skills. I think this spot comes down to what the coaches are looking for at the position. Holliman will undoubtedly play the run and blitz better than Floyd, who is a Cornerback by trade. Floyd on the other hand will handle slot receivers and coverage in general better than Holliman, a Safety. It's a great "problem" to have. Either way it goes I think that we will see more and more exotic blitzes and dummy blitzes this year and we will have better talent at the nickelback position.