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Louisville Football Preseason Position Preview: Linebackers

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

One of the hardest parts of transitioning into a 3-4 defense is finding the depth to add another linebacker to the defense. Louisville is fortunate enough to not only have a very talented group of linebackers that will man the initial three spots of the position, but they also have a group of defensive ends that fit the mold for a fairly easy move to the last spot.

Lorenzo Mauldin has moved to weak side outside linebacker, or "Will", in the new scheme. His job is slightly different than it was last year as he will occasionally have to drop into coverage as well as be responsible for containing outside runs. For the most part, however, he will be asked to do what he does best which is get after the quarterback. Mauldin will man the same position in Todd Grantham's defense that former Georgia star Jarvis Jones dominated at. Jones finished his last two years at UGA with 44 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, and 9 forced fumbles. I don't expect Mauldin to dominate like Jones did, but coming off a season where he nearly put up double digit sacks, it's not crazy to think he will.

The biggest question mark when Grantham was hired was James Burgess. He came to Louisville as an undersized linebacker and as played at Will for the last two years. Burgess squelched those concerns by packing on 15 pounds to get himself to nearly 230 pounds coming into the season. What some also failed to notice is the fact that Burgess will be lining up in the same spot he lined up for most of the year last season. Charlie Strong's 3-3-5 put Burgess in an "over" position that had him lined up as a weak side middle linebacker, the same spot he's in now. The familiarity should help Burgess really star this year. He's a big time hitter that really likes to fill the hole despite his smaller stature. I expect a major year from him this year.

Deiontrez Mount and Nick Dawson-Brents will split time at strong side outside linebacker, or "Sam" this year. Both played a reserve role as defensive ends last season. Mount has waited his turn behind Marcus Smith for the last few years while battling a few injuries. Dawson-Brents came to Louisville as a jumbo linebacker that lacked the speed to stay at middle linebacker. He has great size for the position and will do well to stand his ground against the run. He doesn't have the pass rushing skills that Mount has, but the combination of the two should be more than enough to do well.

The "Mike" position, which is the strong side inside linebacker, is being battled for right now by Keith Kelsey and Keith Brown. Brown spent the last year injured and, to be honest, looks like he still is in person. Recovering from a torn ACL isn't easy but Brown looks like he's handling the mental aspect fine. He didn't shy away from contact or look timid. He just looked slower and somewhat gimpy. Kelsey garnered a lot of attention last year as true freshman when he seemingly took the snaps that Brown would have gotten if he were not injured. Kelsey played nothing like a freshman and has taken the majority of first team reps in practice this year. I don't think this position will rotate, but I do think both of these guy will get plenty of minutes. Keeping guys fresh is important with such a long season ahead. It's a very good thing that there won't be a drop off when someone needs a breather.

Trevon Young will spell Mauldin when needed at the Will spot. Young is a JUCO transfer that was widely regarded as the best defensive lineman at that level last season. Young struggled in practice with pass coverage, but there is no doubt that he has the pass rushing skills to be a factor when he's on the field. Stacy Thomas moved from defensive end to weak side inside linebacker, or "Mo", over the summer. This may have been prompted (or what prompted) by Lyn Clark's decision to transfer. Thomas looked like he took to the position change well. A play that stood out in practice was a very nice interception where he undercut a receiver and extended to make the catch with his hands. Not always an easy play for a defensive player.

In terms of overall depth, I personally think linebacker is the deepest position on the field. Most of the players in the to-deep have solid game experience in a defensive system that has a similar philosophy. Young guys like Isaac Stewart and Henry Famurewa have also gotten rave reviews so far. Getting past the two-deep it looks like the position will be strong for a few years.

AROUND THE ACC

TOP PLAYERS:

Denzel Perryman

Miami's defense was a major issue last season but they got great news when Perryman decided to return for another year. If he can get better production from the defensive line as well as his comrades at linebacker, Perryman should improve on the 108 tackles he finished with last season.

Stephone Anthony

Anthony doesn't do much that jumps off the screen at you, but he does have eye-popping production. Finishing last season with 131 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss is about as impressive as it gets. Anthony could actually be in for a bigger year with a great defensive line playing in front of him.

Terrance Smith

I almost made it through a position without mentioning a FSU player but Duke linebacker Kelby Brown tore his ACL and is out for the season. That leaves us with Smith who runs like a safety and hits like a ton of bricks. Smith is the leading returning tackler for the Seminoles.

NEXT IN LINE:

David Helton

Helton will be asked to step up with the absence of Kelby Brown. Helton finished last season with 133 tackles but 87 were registered as "assists". Duke's defense played pretty well last year but returners like Helton have to be that much better if they want to make a repeat visit to the championship game.

SLEEPER:

Steven Daniels

Daniels had a solid season last year which should only improve in year two under Steve Addazio. At Temple Addazio had outstanding production from his group of linebackers and BC did well last year. Daniels is a big guy that runs extremely well for his size. He should do well in Addazio's aggressive system.