Charlie Strong has signed an impressive amount of four star players in his three recruiting classes since he has arrived on campus. With him being asked to take over a team that was short on talent, early playing time has been a recruiting pitch that I'm sure has worked a few times in his favor. With that said, 2012 might be the first year that we don't see multiple incoming recruits make a significant impact as true freshmen or JUCO transfers.
Charlie's first year saw true freshman B.J. Butler finish the season with 6 tackles for loss and Juco transfer Josh Bellamy score 5 touchdowns on 29 catches. I won't detail the 2011 class's stat lines, but 9 true freshmen as well as redshirt freshman Michaelee Harris made a major impact for the Cardinal football team. The 2012 season will be spearheaded by a lot of young players but we more than likely won't see too many guys line up that don't already have good game experience. I wanted to go through this year's recruiting class and predict what kind of season we should expect from each player.
(I used ESPN's rankings because some of the other sites downgraded players when they committed to UofL)
#11 Will Gardner (QB, 3* #30)
Will Gardner was one of the first commits in this years class. Some might remember that it caused a little bit of an uproar with the fans of the all mighty Alabama Crimson Tide. Any time a kid from the south picks us over a powerhouse like Bama I would expect their fans to claim that he never really got an offer. Either way it goes Will is a top level high school prospect that would have been ranked higher if not for missing his senior year with a torn ACL. This kid has great mechanics, a big arm, and is a little more athletic than I thought the first time I saw him.
My prediction: Rumor has it that Gardner has recovered from his injury and will be ready to play when fall camp starts. I honestly have no clue if that's true or not but I think the coaches will choose to redshirt him. I do however think that if he will be our third string quarterback and the coaches will burn his redshirt if they needed him to play.
#23 Brandon Radcliff (RB, 3* #30)
Brandon Radcliff's highlight video has the best opening play I've ever seen. Brandon has the potential to be a great back for our program. Pat Moorer does a great job molding guys into shape and I really think that conditioning is the only thing that will stop Brandon from being successful.
My prediction: Brandon will almost certainly redshirt this season while he waits his turn behind Dom Brown and company. (Ed. note: Kenny Carter might make me look stupid after his interview with Mike and Mark.)
#15 Hunter Bowles (TE, 2* #110)
Great hands, exceptional feet, and a 6'6" frame are pretty nice for a high school tight end. Hunter Bowles was a standout at Glasgow High School and has something that you can't teach. Size. He hits campus as possibly the best blocking tight end on the roster and easily the biggest out of the group. Hunter needs to show that he can run past linebackers at this level if he wants to see the field any time soon.
My prediction: All of the words I used to describe Hunter are the reason why he will be an excellent left tackle for UofL some day. He just flat out lacks the speed to play tight end at this level. It's not a knock on him at all though. I really do believe that he will be a great tackle here before his career is over. Breno Giacomini is making a pretty decent living in Seattle playing right tackle as we speak. He played tight end for his first two years as a Cardinal. I see Hunter redshirting this year and coming into spring practice somewhere between 280-290 pounds.
#83 Ryan Hubbell (TE, UR)
Coaches recruit Juco players for one reason: they need talent that can play right away. Ryan Hubbell fits the mold of what we look for at the tight end position for our offense. He's big, he can run, and he can catch the ball in traffic. Ryan has a chance to unseat Nate Nord and Chris White in an offense that uses the tight end frequently. Hubbell will need Pat Moorer to work his magic to add bulk to his frame, which will help with his in-line blocking.
My prediction: As I stated, a coach brings in Juco players because he need players at that position that can step in and play immediately. Hubbell will definitely get a chance to play in two tight end sets and will be a possible option to split out into the slot to utilize his size and speed. I don't see him making a huge impact, but he is a really good pass catching tight end.
I made the decision to group all of the lineman together because lets face it, evaluating high school offensive lineman is impossible. Charlie Strong has shown that he wants size over athleticism with this group of recruits. It's a little odd to me personally because I think that our line right now is the perfect mix of both size and quickness. Obviously with the struggles of our line last year maybe I should just defer to the HCCS before he murders me and steals my girlfriend. The rankings next to these names should be taken with a grain of salt. Every site has something that is literally completely different.
My prediction: Another reason that I decided to group all of these guys together is because they will all redshirt. The only way I see anyone getting playing time is if we have a string of injuries. Charlie brought in six offensive lineman last year and, with the exception of Jamon Brown, they were all undersized. Well Pat Moorer has gotten them in great shape and they are all in the two-deep. That makes it very hard for any of these newcomers to get much playing time, but getting these guys in shape is extremely important and a year to learn and condition could prove to be vital to their future success. (Side note: DeAndre Herron's twitter feed is pretty much the opposite of Andrew Johnson's and not in a good way)
#96 Pedro Sibiea (DT, UR)
I found my first video of Pedro while I was writing this and I can honestly say that I have no clue what kind of player he will be. Part of the reason for this is because he's put on roughly 35 pounds since his senior year. I suspect that the coaching staff let him know that he would be playing nose tackle and he put in the work to put some weight on. For those of you that don't know why a nose tackle is different from a "defensive tackle", the nose tackle typically lines up over the center and is practically responsible for occupying space and blockers. In order to do this you need size and strength. Some of you might remember Coach Strong raving about Brandon Dunn's rear end two years ago. I'm hoping that Pedro moving up a weight class will allow him to keep his quickness and he can be an asset for the defense.
My prediction: Charlie seems to be using a SEC approach here by taking a defensive end and having him bulk up into a defensive tackle or nose tackle. I think that it's a good approach with Pedro because he's not an overly dynamic athlete at defensive end. I think he will end up redshirting this year mostly because he has two other guys in his class that have more experience than he does. If I remember correctly, I read somewhere that Pedro didn't start playing football until midway through high school. The reason being because he moved to the states from Haiti.
#98 Sheldon Rankins (DT, 3* #50)
Like Pedro Sibiea, Sheldon Rankins has put on a ton of weight in order to play defensive tackle this fall. Rankins uses his hands extremely well and has good quickness. He doesn't have great closing speed so as simple as it might sound, moving him closer to the quaterback is an excellent idea. Being quick off the ball and shedding blocks is key for a defensive tackle playing the three technique. You're typically going one-on-one and getting into the backfield and making plays is what's expected of you. His pass rushing skills should help him move up the depth chart quickly.
My prediction: Sheldon will have a solid chance to cement himself as Roy Philon's primary backup during fall camp. I think that Hunter Stout and Dominique Dishman will have something to say about that but he is a much better athlete than both. Learning a new position will be Sheldon's biggest obstacle but moving inside is always easier when you can put on the weight.
#97 DeAngelo Brown (DT, 3* #41)
Motor, motor, motor. This guy just flat out goes. I've always felt that the what separates good defensive tackles from great ones is effort. If you're willing to outwork the opposition the talent gap closes. Brandon Dunn plays that way and he walked into camp two years ago and won the starting job in two weeks. The big plus for us as fans is that Brandon Dunn and DeAngelo Brown have the talent to go along with that effort. Brown played in a complex 3-3-5 defense in high school. You can actually look at his highlight tapes and compare them to Louisville's and easily see the similarities. He is a menace and gives Louisville something that we haven't had at this position in a while.
My prediction: This young man will be a part of the rotation from the first game on. He has the ability to move past Jamaine Brooks in the two deep or to be honest he might play the three technique instead of nose. I just don't see the coaches letting this guy sit on the bench. Defensive tackle was a position of need and Brown will ensure that someone makes a corny UPS analogy every game.
#13 James Burgess (LB, 4* #17)
Depending on which site you chose James Burgess is either the best or the worst of the three linebacker recruits this year. One thing is certain, he's definitely the smallest of the three. Burgess flies around the field though and he tackles extremely well for a smaller player. He doesn't "catch" guys but instead runs through people to make the sure play. He's already bulked up to 213 pounds so I do think that he will be able to improve on his major weakness which is engaging and shedding blockers. He tends to try to run past lineman now and that doesn't work at this level.
My prediction: Burgess will be at the very least a special teams star. He's not a really flashy player and he just seems to like to hit people. He fits our defensive scheme well at the weakside linebacker spot because he will be able to play in space and won't have to deal with blockers as often as the other linebackers will. I see him settling into the backup role for Daniel Brown and possibly surpassing him.
#1 Keith Brown (LB, 4* #29)
Keith Brown was probably the most unexpected addition to this years class. He committed late in the process after giving his pledge to Illinois. I'm not going to complain. Keith is a very well put together linebacker that lined up at all three linebacker positions at the high school level. This is going to sound stupid but he excels at making plays. We've all seen that guy that just seems to make tackle after tackle all over the field. Keith is that kind of linebacker. He can sift through the line and make plays in the backfield. He can blitz off the edge. And he can run with tight ends in coverage. His talent matches up with the high level offers he received.
My prediction: I see Keith as a strongside linebacker. I think that he has the size to play the position and I think enrolling early and going through spring practice will benefit him greatly. Keith will be in the running for the starting spot when fall camp starts. He will be battling George Durant and possibly Deiontrez Mount for playing time this year. I really like George Durant to win this spot but both Mount and Brown are probably the more talented options.
#52 Nick Dawson (LB, 4* #13)
The crown jewel of this recruiting class in my opinion. Charlie set his sights on Nick from the start and pulling him out of Clemson country was huge. Nick is a prototype middle linebacker. he has NFL size at 18 years old and that is just as ridiculous as it sounds. Nick's drawback is his lack of quickness and overall speed. Lots of guys don't time well but have great "game" speed. Nick doesn't seem to have either. However, Nick racked up 239 tackles over the last two years and production always speaks for itself. I think Nick will be a very good run stopping linebacker here at UofL.
My Prediction: Pat Moorer has been mentioned a lot in this post but getting an already large Nick Dawson up to 250 pounds is extremely impressive. Most would think that that would be detrimental to Nick developing more speed and quickness but Preston Brown put on the weight the same way and he is a sideline to sideline linebacker now. Nick will fill a gaping hole behind Preston this year. Learning from a guy that has tons of experience like Preston does will serve him very well. Nick won't see the same amount of playing time as the other two linebackers because Preston will be the leader of the defense, but I expect him to get some playing time late in games.
#26 Devontre Parnell (CB, 4* #20)
Another fun recruiting story. Devontre Parnell picked UofL over, among others, Kentucky. Of course UK fans say that UK withdrew their offer because he had a major knee injury that he kept from the coaches. Common sense (and Charlie Strong) will tell you that you don't pass up on a four star talent because of an injury. Devontre was the second player in this class who's commitment was honored even though he had a major injury. That says a lot about our staff if you ask me. This guy is a great cover corner with long arms and great recovery speed. He breaks on the ball well and is a willing tackler. He can play on an island which is very important in our blitzing scheme. He is also an excellent return man.
My prediction: Charles Gaines moving back to wide receiver pretty much sold me on the fact that Devontre is ready to play. Terrell Floyd has locked down the third corner spot in my opinion and I can see him as the extra DB in the 3-3-5. I think that Devontre has the ability to put the coaches in a position where they can have two capable backups at the cornerback position, though. He can run with slot receivers and he can also play against bigger guys out wide. Devontre will have to learn how to use his long arms to his advantage in press coverage because he doesn't have a big frame. Adrian Bushell and his freakishly long arms should set a good example for Devontre this fall.
#36 Kevin Houchins (CB, 2* #107)
Kevin Houchins is the third and final player that tore their ACL during their senior year of high school. It's hard to say that there is a positive with these injuries, but the fact that all three happened early in the season bodes well for these guys being able to compete for playing time this fall. Kevin played four different positions for his team during his junior year. He also returned kicks and he was a track star. He isn't really a very "fluid" athlete but speed kills and he has plenty of it. He will definitely add depth to the defensive backfield.
My prediction: Kevin is listed at cornerback but I wonder if he will actually stay there. He's now just shy of 200 pounds and his lack of fluid hips makes me wonder if he might be moved to strong safety. Hakeem Smith has excelled there after coming to Louisville as an undersized wide receiver. I don't see Kevin getting much playing time this year but after of year of learning whatever position he ends up playing, I'm sure that he will be able to contribute.
#8 Gerod Holliman (S, 4* #3)
In my humble opinion, Gerod Holliman is the best defensive prospect to sign with UofL since the mid to early 90's. He is a ball hawking, head hunting, freak of nature. Lots of guys do things that make you think of an NFL player. Gerod looks like Ed Reed on tape. He's not that good yet in any way shape or form. But he just looks like him. This young man can do everything on the football field and our coaching staff will do a great job molding him into a top player at this level. Just watch the videos, I could go on for hours.
My prediction: Gerod has the upper hand on most of the other players in the incoming class because he played at prep school last year. It's not like he really needed help getting into the two deep anyway. Rumor has it that Gerod has already solidified his spot as the fifth defensive back in the 3-3-5 formation that Vance Bedford loves to use. I personally think that Terrell Floyd and Holliman will both spend time in that spot depending on the situation. Floyd will be better against slot receivers but Holliman will get playing time and he has the potential to be one of the best players on the team right off the bat.
As Kenny Carter pointed out in his interview with Mike and Mark, the best players will play. The problem for most of these guys is that Charlie has recruited a ton of great talent over the last few years. I truly think that this coaching staff will be able to utilize every player that we're bring in this year but I only see a couple of them making an impact this year. Here's to hoping that they all prove me wrong.