Bryan Brown has coached the secondary for years and he will spend the majority of his time during practice focusing on the cornerbacks as their position coach but his linebackers will lead his defense. Last year at App State, the four starting linebackers led the team in tackles and if Brown’s defense hipes to play at it’s best, the same will be true in year one for Louisville.
This group will be led from the inside out with Dorian Etheridge likely manning one of the two inside roles. Etheridge is the most veteran member of the backer on the roster and that should help him stay on the field even though there are guys behind him that will push him. Etheridge seemed to be the guy that didn’t fit all too well in this new scheme when the new staff took over but he has held off other guys so far. His leadership is extremely important with all of the new changes and the staff looking to revamp the culture of the team.
C.J. Avery will be the MVP of the defense, in my opinion. Avery has the speed, instincts, and tackling ability to take a major step forward and he will actually get help from the guys up front this year. Run fits are key in this defense and the two middle linebackers absolutely have to be in the right place at the right time. Avery showed that ability last year but rarely was everyone else in the right spot. An underrated aspect of his game that will help him reach his potential in this defense is his coverage ability. Being a converted safety will help him a lot.
The depth in the inside should be very good this year with T.J. Holl and Monty Montgomery being the early leaders to form a rotation with the starters. Montgomery definitely leads the team in mentions as a newcomer that has stood out. He was a JUCO All-American last year but wasn’t very highly rated by the recruiting services. He does fit this system well, however, because he can really run and plays well in short areas. Montgomery also showed skills in coverage at the JUCO level so he might be an option as a package guy for Bryan Brown.
Holl played at a very high level in the Patriot League last season but it’s still a question if he can play at this level. He hasn’t been mentioned much during camp but he definitely looked the part to me on film. I think that Holl will battle Robert Hicks to back up Etheridge this year. All three guys have some limitations when it comes to playing in zone coverage but I think that Avery and Montgomery could help hide that issue some.
The outside linebacker spots will have a new look this year with Rodjay Burns manning the “Card” position on the field side and Nick Okeke leading the way so far for the “Dog” spot on the boundary. Burns is being converted from cornerback in the spring and he looked very comfortable at the spot in the limited time I got to see him. Burns has bulked up a bit and he has always had a physical style to his game which should bode well for him. I think his versatility will be very big for him as he will be able to stay on the field and play as a true nickel in passing situations.
Okeke has been the guy mentioned the most since camp started at the opposite outside linebacker position. He also is one of the chosen few that have been selected to speak with the media after practice. Cort Dennison praised his football smarts and skill set and he seems to be a really good fit for that outside edge spot. I think he will still be battling Boosie Whitlow for the starting spot as Whitlow has been a guy that the coaches have raved about as it comes to his leadership. At the very least, Dennison has options here and he can rotate players and potentially package some guys for different situations.
Behind Burns at the Card spot is Queen Head and P.J. Blue. Both players have played safety in the past so they should fit well. Head was one of the guys that spoke with the media and he has been a good special teams player in the past. That usually is a good sign that coaches see his value. Blue hasn’t had a lot of good luck when it comes to staying healthy but he did see good time last season. Blue ended last season with 39 tackles and 2 tackles for loss last year so don’t be surprised to see him push his way onto the field.