Coaching changes always lead to a good amount of changes in offensive and defensive philosophy. Louisville will be taking that further than most with a change to a 3-4 base defense. Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham brings his complex scheme to town and will be asking a line based on speed to transform itself into a group that can hold up blocks and condense running lanes.
Sheldon Rankins is the most experienced player returning to the defensive line. I say that because he actually has had valuable time at both defensive end as well as defensive tackle. Being a 3-4 defensive end requires the ability to really play both spots. You have to be able to hold the point of attack and occupy blockers like a tackle as well as getting penetration into the backfield like an end. Rankins has always played around 280 pounds and is still extremely quick for that size. He's up to 300 pounds now and I can honestly say that I think he will be a star for this defense. He has every tool needed to do so and he has produced whenever he got the opportunity.
DeAngelo Brown and Johnny Richardson will man the ever important nose tackle spot. To be completely blunt, this defense doesn't succeed without a tackle that knows how to play the position. It is an unbelievably thankless position that won't garner you much attention or appreciation from fans. But your linebackers will absolutely love you if you can help keep their jerseys clean.
Brown has the inside track at the starting spot because of his game experience, but I would imagine that Grantham will look to rotate both guys as much as possible. The depth behind them is severely lacking. Kyle Shortridge redshirted last year as a defensive end but is now listed at defensive tackle on the official roster. at 293 pounds, he would be about the size that you want to see at defensive end so he could struggle inside. Brown was known for his great blend of quickness and strength coming out of high school so I think he should acclimate well. Richardson on the other hand has had issues with his weight since he arrived. If the weight he's gained has been "good weight", the transition should be much easier. This is still a guy that played tight end for his high school team two years ago.
The third spot on the line will more than likely be manned by B.J. Dubose. He will be looking to finish off his career on a strong note after a fairly disappointing time here. Dubose has seen plenty of time on the field but he has failed to really make much of an impact. Spending some time a tackle in his career should help Dubose like Rankins. He doesn't have the size that Rankins has on the other side, and that is a pretty big cause for concern. Converted linebacker James Hearns and newcomer Pio Vatuvei are in line to be backups at both defesive end spots. Both are on the smaller side also. I would expect Shortridge to get a shot at playing both end and tackle this year.
The lack of depth along the line could be a major factor this year. Losing four starters will do that to you. But the starting unit has really good potential to transition into this new scheme very well. We ran with a three man line the majority of last season even though it wasn't a traditional look. These guys should be able to comprehend the basics of how and where to line up as well as what their assignments are much better than most people making this type of switch. The big question is what will happen if Rankins or Brown go down with another injury. Both have spent time on the sidelines due to injuries. The change in the system has moved a handful of guys from defensive end to outside linebacker. It has taken a deep group with lots of young potential and left it pretty bare. Therefore, this group is definitely a question mark heading into the fall.
AROUND THE ACC
Beasley is a good representation of the step up in the level of talent Louisville will see in the ACC. He would likely be an outside linebacker for an AAC team because of his size, but because teams have more talent, he is able to line up at defensive end and wreak havoc in the opposing backfield. Beasley was an All-American last year and he returns this year with an extremely talented group of lineman at Clemson. He should be free to put up similar numbers that he did last year.
Get used to seeing FSU players on these previews. It's pretty hard to deny the level of talent that they have amassed. Edwards is the type of "Large mammals shouldn't be able to move that fast" player that recruiting gurus drool over. He missed a few games last year but was still able to finish with 9.5 tackles for loss.
Maddy is a whirlwind of speed and quickness. Combined with his intense motor he is one of the best in the nation at his position. He demands double teams yet still lives in opposing backfields. Maddy is a three technique tackle (like Roy Philon) and he gets after the quarterback. He finished last season with 13.5 tackles for loss but Tech lost a good amount of talent from the team last year. His numbers could take a hit due to that.
Jarret had 83 tackles last year which is absurd for a defensive tackle. He's a high motor player that gets a ton of snaps and also benefits from playing on the same line as Vic Beasley. He doesn't do a lot to wow you like the other guys above, but numbers don't lie and his were outstanding last year.
NEXT IN LINE:
Teal had a very good season for a very bad team. I think he fell a little under the radar because of this. He might not have the talent as some of the other guys around the league but he definitely had the production.
Rankins isn't known by many people outside of Louisville, but I really do think he will end up on some postseason All-ACC lists. His production in limited time is a good sign that he is primed for a breakout year.