This preview is a bit different than the previous position groups we’ve looked at, simply due to the fact that there’s hardly anyone returning to the position who recorded any stats last year. The secondary lost all four of its starters and while there’s still enough experience stepping up at the safety position to remain positive, you’ve got to be a real optimist to feel good about the corners who are unproven at best and brand new at face-value.
Returning 2017 Stat Leaders:
Russ Yeast (sophomore): 23 total tackles, 15 solo, 1.0 tackles for loss
Aaron Floyd (senior): 2 total tackles, 2 solo
Cornelius Sturghill (rs-senior): 2 total tackles, 2 solo
Related: Previewing Louisville’s Safeties
Questions were raised when the week one depth chart was released because while we were given a clear-cut starter on one side in P.J. Mbanasor, the cornerback slot opposite him was listed as an “OR,” suggesting a tie at the position. The two players vying for that spot, redshirt sophomore Rodjay Burns and fifth-year senior Cornelius Sturghill, enter the Alabama game as co-starters, which really just means one will line up at the traditional cornerback position and the other will be used primarily as a nickelback. We won’t know with certainty who plays where until we see them dig in against the Alabama offense, but we can count on both guys seeing a healthy share of playing time on Saturday.
Mbanasor is a redshirt junior who sat out last year after transferring to Louisville from Oklahoma. The 6-1, 198-pounder saw action in 10 games with the Sooners, making a couple of starts during their 2015 season. Formerly rated as the No. 20 overall prospect in the state of Texas and the nation’s No. 13 cornerback, he entertained scholarship offers from Florida, LSU, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Texas and a handful of others before heading to Norman.
Rodjay Burns is also a former transfer who joins the Cards after initially suiting up as an Ohio State Buckeye. It’s more of a homecoming for Burns, however, who is originally from Louisville and starred at Trinity High School. At 6-0, 190-pounds, he’s a decent-sized athlete who can play both corner and safety and was also an admirable wide receiver in high school. He appeared in seven games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2016, highlighting his season with a touchdown off an interception return. His versatility lends itself nicely to the either-or situation headed into week one as he can be a traditional cornerback or move inside to cover slot receivers in the nickel packages.
Although he’s listed as a receiver on the roster, veteran Cornelius Sturghill will be pushing Burns for starting reps and filling in where needed, whether that be at the nickel or cornerback position. It comes as no surprise after the 5-11, 188-pounder bounced between WR and CB last season, appearing in four games on the defensive side of the ball and recording a handful of tackles. He quickly earned a reputation as one of the fastest on the team after he ran a scorching 4.20-second 40-yard dash in the spring of 2016, but a gunshot wound sustained later that spring caused him to undergo surgeries and miss significant time. Known to teammates as the “Bionic Man,” Sturghill looks to end on a positive note as his college eligibility draws to a close.
Listed as the primary backup to P.J. Mbanasor is Chandler Jones, the 5-10, 181-pound true freshman out of Miami, Florida. Jones was ranked as a four-star recruit by the all the major services and was selected to play in the Under Armour All-America Game.
Sophomore Russ Yeast rounds out the depth chart behind Cornelius Sturghill, so depending on how you look at it, he’s either a third-stringer or the first backup when the Cards are in the nickel package situations mentioned above. He’s a 5-11, 185-pound athlete from Greenwood, Indiana where he was formerly rated as the No. 3 player in the state and earned Under Armour All-American recognition in addition to being selected as the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year. Fun fact, he’s also the son of former Kentucky great and Cincinnati Bengal Craig Yeast.
Marlon Character joins the team after playing at Northwest Mississippi Community College where he was rated the No. 1 JUCO safety. He chose the Cards over schools like Alabama, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU.
Redshirt freshman Anthony Johnson and senior Aaron Floyd add depth to the position and will serve the team in reserve roles if necessary, as well as incoming freshmen Jairus Brents and Telly Plummer.