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2015 Position Previews: Defensive Line

Entering the 2014 season, defensive line depth was thought to be a serious question for Louisville. By the end of 2014, it wasn't. Not only were the questions about new players in new roles answered, but new faces developed over the course of the season so that entering 2015, Louisville has one of its deepest defensive line groups in recent memory, all of which fit well in Todd Grantham's defensive scheme. Barring total collapse, this should be the strength of the Louisville defense and maybe the team, in 2015.

The Cast

Name Pos Class Ht Wt Tackles TFL Sacks Games
Sheldon Rankins DE/DT SR 6'2 303 53 13.5 8 13
Pio Vatuvei DE SR 6'2 296 18 4.5 1 11
DeAngelo Brown DT SR 6'0 308 20 2 1.5 13
Kyle Shortridge DE/DT SO 6'2 305 2 - - 4
Johnny Richardson DT SO 6'3 322 9 - - 11
Drew Bailey (JC) DE SO 6'3 284 7 3 4.5 9
Nick Dawson-Brents DE JR 6'2 265 5 - - 12
GG Robinson DE/DT FR 6'4 303 - - - -

Breaking Down the Battle

There is no battle. At least not for the three normal starting positions. Sheldon Rankins has rightly been named to numerous preseason award watch lists and should have a dominant senior season. His blend of size and athleticism allow him to play both inside and outside depending on need and offensive personnel. I mean, the guy even had two interceptions last year. Once, Boston College didn't even bother trying to block him.

Pio Vatuvei will again hold down the other defensive end spot. When healthy he was a late, welcome addition to the defensive front that helped occupy a ton of space and free up linebackers to freely flow to the ball (this is what Todd Grantham loves to do. Have an enormous front seven be what he calls "a 7.5 man front").

The real development from last year was the emergence of DeAngelo Brown as the quintessential 3-4 nose tackle. You all remember DeAngelo Brown:

Backing up the three established starters will be guys who began to see increased playing time in the second half of 2014. Kyle Shortridge and Johnny Richardson played extensively down the stretch and now look to maybe keep the snaps the starters are forced to play down a bit more while also helping to ease the loss of BJ Dubose to the NFL.

Drew Bailey, a JUCO signee with three years of eligibility remaining enrolled in January and James Burgess praised his athleticism at ACC Football Kickoff. There might be too many guysin front of him for GG Robinson to avoid redshirting, but if not, he's built and looks very similar to the way Rankins did on his high school film and could ultimately be destined for that inside/outside role in the future.

Breakout Potential

With an established group it's hard to say someone is going to "break out". Still, offenses are going to have to make a choice. Sheldon Rankins will be at end. Devonte Fields will be rushing from the outside probably opposite Rankins on the other side. With teams being forced to account for both guys, it's easy for me to see DeAngelo Brown facing fewer double teams and being allowed to be much more of a force inside than he was last year. So it might be a cheapy to call a starter a breakout guy, but that's where I'm at.

Better or Worse than Last Year

Due to familiarity with the scheme, the returning depth, and the addition of several guys who can push for playing time and play multiple positions, there's no reason not to say this is a much better group than heading into the 2014 season.