Darius Ashley's second DUI arrest in seven months left us with no shortage of things to discuss. First and foremost there's the well being of Ashley himself (the facts seem to indicate that he has a serious problem), then there's the controversy surrounding the appropriate punishment, and then finally there's the comedic aspect of it all (passed out in a Taco Bell drive-thru and then rear-ending a cop; still only funny because no one got hurt). But for the moment we're going to focus strictly on how Ashley's likely unavailability will effect the 2011 Louisville Cardinal football team.
Even with now-New Orleans Saint Johnnny Patrick roaming the field, cornerback was not a position of particular strength a season ago. Patrick's departure coupled with the graduation of fellow starter Bobby Burns had already left the unit as the team's weakest on paper before Ashley's arrest. Ashley was the only member of the unit who could accurately be labeled as a "key contributor" in 2010, and despite his suspension at the end of the season, was likely going to head into fall camp as the player most likely to step into Patrick's old role.
So now, where do Vance Bedford and Larry Slade turn?
You have to start with the guys who have the most experience, and in this case that's the duo of Anthony Conner and (my friend and your favorite) Titus Teague. Conner missed all of last season with an ACL tear, but started two and played in ten as a junior in 2009. He finished that season - his only as a Cardinal - with 16 tackles and four pass break-ups. Teague saw action in just one game (Memphis) as a redshirt freshman last season, but he held down a starting corner spot for nearly the entire spring and performed well in the spring game. He spoke with confidence about the strength of the Cardinal corners in April.
"We can make this position a true strength," he said. "There won't be any kind of skepticism about the corners, because we'll be good."
Senior Preston Pace will also be under a microscope this summer. He played sparingly a season ago despite seeming to have the tools to get the job done at the position. He unseated Teague briefly this spring for one of the starting spots, but the coaching staff reportedly grew weary of his hit-or-miss work ethic. The story is very similar for redshirt freshman Jordan Paschal, a player the staff can't quite seem to figure out.
And then there's the field.
Andrew Johnson was one of the most highly-rated players in Charlie Strong's 2010 recruiting class, and if he shows the ability to help the team right away I can't see the staff keeping him off the field. Charles Gaines was also highly-touted, but as a wide receiver. The staff moved Gaines to corner during the spring because the unit was so thin and because they thought that out of the group of young receivers, he was the best-suited to play effectively on the other side of the ball. Sophomore Zed Evans also made the move from offense, switching from the running back position. Freshman Terrell Floyd is the only other CB on the current roster who could contribute this season.
With Big East Rookie of the Year Hakeem Smith and the fearless Shenard Holton back for another year, the emergency option is to try one of the other safeties at corner. Junior Agyei Williams played well in the spring and could be a candidate. Freshman Jermaine Reve also possesses the right size to play the position.
What it boils down to is this: If more than one of the players highlighted above in bold don't step up significantly over the course of the next several months, Louisville's pass defense is going to be bad. A lot of these guys have been waiting a long time for a shot to play big time college football, well, the opportunity's here. Time to put in work.