Louisville's defensive line has been a strong point for the last half decade but this upcoming season there are more uncertainties than we've seen recently. The line will be breaking in two new starters in Drew Bailey and Johnny Richardson. It will also have a very inexperienced second unit. Louisville also has to replace Sheldon Rankins who was drafted in the first round and Pio Vatuvei who was a great "motor" player.
One thing that Louisville does have coming back is one of the best nose tackles in the country. DeAngelo Brown is an absolute house in the middle and he makes everyone else around him much better. Brown is the strongest player on the team and he is also extremely quick off the ball. His role is to eat up blockers to allow the linebackers behind him to stay clean but Brown does plenty of damage on his own. He's made countless plays in the backfield even when he doesn't end up making the tackle himself. He's also been on really good defenses since he came to Louisville. As a leader, I'm sure he wants to keep that standard and the younger and inexperienced guys on the line are likely being made to understand that standard. Kyle Shortridge will backup Brown when he rarely leaves the game. Shortridge has been around for a few years but it's obviously hard to get snaps when you're playing behind a great player.
The man that will get the first shot at replacing Rankins is Drew Bailey. Bailey's numbers won't show it but he definitely flashed at times last year. He was disruptive and showed some nice athleticism when he got penetration. While he's not a first round pick type of player, Louisville doesn't really need him to be. They need him to be the guy that can help keep guys off of Keith Kelsey as well as providing help to the pass rush. Bailey will be pushed by JUCO transfer Chris Williams. Williams was a productive player last year and I'm sure the hopes are that his game translates.
G.G. Robinson got a lot of fanfare as a recruit when he spurned late advances from Auburn and Florida and stuck with the Cards. Robinson won't be the starter to begin the season but he should split reps with Johnny Richardson. Richardson is a huge guy that plays with a solid level of athleticism. He missed a good chunk of last season but immediately entered the rotation when he came back. I think that Robinson and Richardson will split snaps much more than other guys on the defense and I also think they will be situational players with Robinson being a third down guy.
AROUND THE ACC
Ejuan Price, Pitt
Price is an undersized defensive end who is a menace off the edge. Price killed UofL last year for 6 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He didn't just dominate Louisville. He ended the season with 19.5 TFLs which was right behind Devonte Fields. Price was a highly rated recruit that ended up transferring to Pitt but the hiring of Pat Narduzzi was a godsend for his career. Pitt brings a lot of front seven pressure that comes from everywhere and makes it hard to focus on one guy. Price exploited that and beat one-on-one matchups routinely.
DeMarcus Walker, FSU
I decided to go with Walker because he had a really consistent season last year when it came to making plays behind the line. Walker isn't a flashy player (at least not in my opinion) but he is a constant force as a pass rusher and against the run. I also think the emergence of Josh Sweat and others will make it harder for teams to key on Walker.
NEXT IN LINE
Harold Landry, BC
While I think that BC's defense will take a big step back this year without Don Brown calling the plays, Landry is one of the handful of guys that will continue to play very well. Landry is a speed rusher that really did well coming off the edge with BC's blitz packages that put a lot of pressure on the interior of the line. His pursuit is also outstanding. Being built like a linebacker is always helpful but Landry uses his speed so well in pursuit. I think that Landry's great season last year was much more about his ability than the system.
Austin Bryant, Clemson
I chose Bryant because Clemson has been producing high level defensive ends for a good while now and Bryant appears to be the next one in that line. A broken foot will keep him out for the first game or so but Bryant has the size at 6-5, 250 and he was known as a good pass rusher in high school. It will be interesting to see if Brent Venables can reload his defense for the second straight year. Bryant would have to be a big part of that if they do.