The new look defense for Louisville will feature some guys that the fanbase has been waiting to beak out but will also have a handful of guys that we saw play on a very poor defense last year. Bryan Brown’s scheme is built on speed and aggression and we didn’t see either of those things last year. One thing that should help the new staff is competition. Not only did everyone get to start from scratch but the new staff will be able to insert some fresh blood into the depth chart that they know fit what they do.
Louisville just refused to recruit the defensive line a couple of years ago and then they had to move guys to the line or look to JUCO to fill spots. That strategy showed to be a bad one as we saw teams run and pass all over the Cards defense due to no pass rush or any push at all. That should change with the new scheme as well as some fresh competition. Amonte Caban was the most active guy on the line last year. He didn’t always make the play but he pressured things pretty well at points. That’s what the scheme demands so he should be penciled in over Ty Tyler right now. Derek Dorsey got some run on the left side in the spring, also.
Tabarius Peterson has the highest ceiling out of anyone but he hasn’t been able to play one spot consistently since he arrived. He has the potential to take a big step forward as an athletic defensive end with pass rushing skills and the size to hold the point of attack. The backup spot will be a bit of a logjam which is a good thing. Jarrett Jackson has a high ceiling with his size and athleticism but Boosie Whitlow has been a star in the weight room and he’s been the poster boy for the culture change within the program. Thurman Geathers is another guy I think we could see here.
I’m most excited for the nose tackle spot with G.G. Robinson and Jared Goldwire as a 1-2 punch. Robinson will likely get the lion’s share of snaps but I think both guys will be able to play and be impact players at the spot when they’re in the game. Both guys have shed some weight since the new staff took over and that will hopefully lead to quicker play off the ball. Robinson is a senior and he will have the perfect opportunity to play himself into a draft pick while Goldwire has prototype size and will be in a position to push for playing time and maybe be a third down specialist at the very least.
The strong side outside linebacker spot is Yasir Abdullah’s to lose in my opinion. Yasir showed some really good flashes last year as a freshman but Brian VanGorder’s defense had him playing in the middle of the field where he had to deal with offensive linemen a lot and he just doesn’t have the size to take on 300-pound guys. On the outside he will be able to play on the edge where he will be able to avoid taking guys head on and he will be the fourth rusher a lot as a blitzer. His athleticism will help him when he drops into coverage, also. Boosie Whitlow could also end up at this spot as opposed to defensive end. He has some versatility.
P.J. Blue makes more sense on the opposite side to me but he was behind Abdullah in the spring so I’m guessing he’ll stay there. He’s a converted safety so he should be a better fit in the role that drops into coverage more but maybe his bigger frame fits well in the spot where he will play closer to the line.
This inside linebacker spot plays on the strong side, I believe. Jordan Fehr played in that spot for App State last year and finished the year with 86 tackles and 5.5 sacks. To me, it seemed like Fehr was used more as a blitzer or a short coverage guy while the other ILB spot would be responsible for dropping deeper into zone coverage when they went that route. That’s why I think Dorian Etheridge fits well there. He struggles a lot in coverage but he is at his best when he’s closer to the line.
As of now, I think that T.J. Holl will be the backup at this spot but my hot take for this year is that Holl will take over this spot at some point this year. I think he’s just a flat out better player and this is the most vulnerable spot out of the linebackers in my opinion. Etheridge isn’t a “bad” player by any stretch of the imagination but he has some glaring limitations that don’t seem to fit this new scheme.
The key guy on this defense will be C.J. Avery and I think he will have a breakout year for Louisville. Avery was the best player on the defense last year but was injured at times as well as dealing with the fact that most of the other guys on the field were out of position or giving terrible effort. Avery led the team in tackles per game, interceptions, forced fumbles, and was third in PBUs. He has the ability to be a star player and he will likely man a spot that will put him in the position to play a little more freely.
Monty Montgomery was a guy that I expected to play outside for the defense but he will be inside and I think he’ll play the weakside spot behind Avery. Montgomery showed the skills that you normally want at an OLB spot but this position is responsible for playing in coverage a good amount and will have to be able to match up with tight ends at times. I really liked what I saw in Montgomery’s tape and it’s hard to dispute a guy that was a JUCO All-American. That bodes well for the depth in the middle.
The “Card” spot is a hybrid safety/nickel/outside linebacker spot that isn’t much different from what we saw from Charlie Strong’s defense as well as Todd Grantham’s defense. It is more of a linebacker position than it is a safety but everything the staff has done from a roster standpoint has made it obvious that they will be playing guys at this position that are more defensive back than linebacker.
Rodjay Burns was the biggest position change that Bryan Brown made when he was hired because he was a guy that seemed like a likely starter at cornerback but Brown felt that he fit perfectly in this role and he was the first man up in the spring. Burns has added significant weight and now checks in a few pounds away from 200. That will help him take on blockers on run plays but his overall physicality will help him transition well, in my opinion. Burns was always a safety to me but he had played corner through high school and college. I think this move will take advantage of his solid speed and physical play.
Allen Smith is a wild guess to back up Burns. I think it makes more sense for him and Blue to switch spots but he was also featured in a graphic that listed all of the inside linebackers. The official roster has him at outside linebacker and now you know what it’s like to try to write about detailed roster things when it comes to Louisville football.
I also see Smith at this spot because I don’t really know what other options they have right now. I think Khane Pass actually fits here but going by the roster and what I saw in the spring, he’s not there as of now. Malik Staples was the back up here in the spring but he plays for WKU now. So this is a spot where the first official depth chart could have a surprise. I’d expect a defensive back to end up as the back up here before we see a different linebacker.
Cornelius Sturghill/Justin Ford
Anthony Johnson in CB1 and I don’t see that changing at any point. Johnson played extremely well late in the season last year and he is a prime example of a guy that should have been on the field all year but wasn’t. Johnson fits what this staff wants to do because he’s extremely aggressive and he has no issue with tackling in the open field. In coverage he made some really impressive plays last year even if he was a little grabby and clunky at times. I think better coaching will help him play the ball better and improve his positioning.
I personally think that the second corner spot is completely up for grabs. P.J. Mbanasor has the edge from an experience standpoint so I could see him having some extra motivation in his last year. Cornelius Sturghill also has that same motivator and could find himself on the field because of his great speed.
Justin Ford and Chandler Jones are the wildcard guys to me. Ford showed some really good things in JUCO last year and does a lot of the things that Brown likes at corner. But, JUCO guys are a crapshoot at times and those things might not translate. Jones was an Army All-American and had a yo-yo year last season as a true freshman. He doesn’t have great speed on the field and got lost in coverage a lot. But, he never had any issue with sticking his nose in there to make a tackle and played with good energy. It’s a good thing that they have options but this is one spot where that could be an issue because none of the options are proven commodities.
I’ve watched a lot of App State games and from what I’ve gathered, Bryan Brown will play a safety that will play in coverage and in the box more and a safety that will be a “deep” safety. I tend to think of the former as a strong safety and the latter as a free safety. I have no clue how the staff terms those spots but that’s how I’ll differentiate them until someone hopefully confirms I’m right or corrects me.
With that being said, Russ Yeast will be the starter at the strong safety spot. Bryan Brown pointed out that VanGorder had multiple guys playing the wrong position after he was hired and Yeast is the most glaring example of that. To me, if Burns was a safety that was playing the wrong spot at corner, Yeast might as well have been at left tackle. We all watched him struggle to just play off man coverage for two years but Brown saw him as a guy that could excel playing in a spot where he will be facing the action more often than not. Yeast should be a really good fit in this safety role as a guy that get to the edge and cut down outside runs. He should also do well covering slot guys that are running across the field as opposed to running down the field. He’s a guy that I think will finally reach his potential with the new staff.
Trenell Troutman was the back up here in the spring and he looked really good in the handful of hours I got to watch. This will be another position that will have solid competition which should push starters for the full season. Troutman is a former four-star that has the ability to be on the field. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to push Yeast to be at his best each day.
Khane Pass was the first guy up at this spot in the spring but TreSean Smith wasn’t practicing that day for whatever reason and I think he’ll be the starter in the fall. Smith has battled injuries while also being a guy that inexplicably would not play after having a really good game the week before. He is the best option as a deep safety in my opinion, and we saw that on both of his two career interceptions. That includes the one in his first career game as a true freshman against Purdue in 2017.
Pass is a guy that has been on the field on and off for three years with mixed results. He’s played really well in run support as an edge support guy and he has been used as a third level blitzer with some succes. He just hasn’t been that good in coverage or in space. Those two things are key as a deep safety. I really do beleive that he might fit best at the “Card” spot and maybe Telly Plummer could slot in as the back up here. Proven depth is a bit of a concern if they do that but they do have some versatility in the secondary.
App State had a Freshman All-American punter last year so I’m hopeful that the team having a real live special teams coach will help him be an even better asset to the team. King has been entrenched in his spot and has played well over the time he has been the guy but there’s always room for improvement just like any other spot.
I don’t know that you can take the one spot that provided any highlights last year and make a change. Burns doesn’t have unbelievable speed or moves but he reads his blocks well and knows how to find the crease. I think those are the most important skills for a punt returner because every return won’t go for a touchdown. But, every return can get you chunk yardage and set up the offense with a short field. Burns bring that ability and I think it would be crazy to take that away.