Each year of Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville, he has gone into the fall looking for answers to how to replace at least one stud defensive lineman. Lorenzo Mauldin. Sheldon Rankins. DeAngelo Brown. The difference this year brings is that Petrino, and new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon, don’t really have a consistent playmaker that they know they can count on to make plays each game.
Louisville has plenty of talent at the top of the depth chart up front, but none of the guys that they will be relying on has put together a full season of strong production. Drew Bailey is the veteran of the group and his experience and versatility will likely help the most when it comes to replacing Brown. Bailey is a run stopper more than anything but he does a good job of pursuing the football. I think that will end up getting him a few more sacks this year as a pass rusher.
The return of Trevon Young has a lot of fans excited and it’s understandable why. Young went on a 3 game tear two years ago and ended up with 8.5 sacks on the year. Trevon is a guy that can really put the “consistent” comment I made earlier on to bed. Three very impressive games is just that. It’s three games. One of those games was FSU, which is obviously a good sign. The other two games, however, were against the 3rd worst offense in the country and the 3rd worst FBS offense UofL faced that year.
If there is a guy that can really change the total face of this defense, it’s Young. He is the best pure pass rusher on the team and he makes a combination with linebacker James Hearns that can truly impact how offenses have to pass protect. Hearns and Young can really force a deep pocket that could force quarterbacks to step up right into Drew Bailey, GG Robinson, or Jon Greenard. Louisville has been missing this potential over the last two years, somewhat. If they can get this duo to play to their potential consistently, Peter Sirmon can have a strong pass rush without blitzing.
Stopping the run wasn’t much of an issue for Louisville last year, but that might be where they miss Brown the most. Johnny Richardson will be a two-down nose tackle and he has plenty of size to play the spot well. Richardson isn’t a disruptor like Brown, but he should be able to eat up blockers. He and Bailey should do well as a combo when it comes to plugging holes on their side.
Young will be in a different role when it comes to stopping the run. He isn’t a small guy but he’s been used as a pass rusher during his time here more than being asked to stop the run. I think Young is up to it but it’s an obvious question of how well he will do it. Jon Greenard is in a similar spot having played as Devonte Fields’ backup last year. He did play as a down linemen more often, however, which should help his transition.
The last guy that we should see a lot of is Robinson. He was a popular addition as a recruit because he openly went back and forth between UofL and some SEC teams. Robinson hasn’t made an impact on the field yet but the dismissal of Chris Williams has made it critical for Robinson to be a real contributor this year. Williams had the size to slide down to nose tackle when needed and gave Sirmon some scheme versatility. Robinson is now in that role as he is the guy that will replace Richardson on third downs and passing situations.