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Louisville Football Position Preview: Inside Linebackers

The most experienced group on the roster gets some help with depth.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Mississippi State vs Louisville Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

The Louisville coaching staff was able to hold on to nearly all of the on the field coaches this off season but they did lose one position coach. Dale Jones returned to App State to take over as the Defensive Coordinator. Scott Satterfield was able to land Derek Nicholson to replace him after pulling him away from his Co-Defensive Coordinator position at Southern Miss. Nicholson takes over a group that has more experience than just about any other position group on the team.

C.J. Avery led the team in tackles last year and he should be in position to improve on his havoc stats this year. Avery is a big hitter who has solid coverage skills as a former safety. However, he didn’t make a lot of impact plays last year against the run or the pass. Louisville needs Avery to be in double digits in tackles for loss and they need him to catch some of the passes he knocked down. A second year in the defense should help those things happen.

The other starter inside will be Dorian Etheridge who will be starting for the fourth straight year. Etheridge really seemed to get the new scheme late in the season. Early on he played timid but you could see that he was playing on instincts late in the year and it led to two straight games with double digit tackles. As someone who has always been a little down on him, it was nice to see him actually play fast. If UofL gets the Dorian they saw late in the year, we should see an improved defense.

Where Louisville will be better this year is behind the starters. Monty Montgomery got plenty of snaps last year but he was mostly used on third downs. This year, we should see him playing more on early downs as a true rotation player to give Avery some rest. I also think that Montgomery’s style of play should work well against the run. He’s obviously undersized but he plays like his hair is on fire. With a scheme that looks to get the linebackers free room to shoot gaps, that speed and aggression should work well.

Louisville doesn’t have much experience outside the top three guys in the group but they do have options. Robert Hicks has the inside track to back up Etheridge at one spot with Dorian Jones pushing him for the job. Hicks dropped about 15 pounds after the season and he should be quicker and more nimble. Those two things were an issue for him because of his stocky build. A slimmed down version of Hicks is something to be excited about.

Jones is a guy that Scott Satterfield mentioned by name multiple times last year when he spoke about freshmen who could play early. Unfortunately, Jones tore up his knee on his first play of the season. Personally, I’m excited to see him play this year as I thought he was extremely underrated as a recruit. He fits what they’re trying to do at that spot so well and he has the luxury of learning one system from the get go.

The three deep will be filled out by Allen Smith and KJ Cloyd. Smith is another guy that I really liked as a recruit but I’m not sure they knew where to play him early on. I’m not sure what spot he ends up playing inside but he has the size to play the “Mike” spot like Etheridge. Cloyd is a guy that just recently joined the team and I don’t know that Louisville would have added him if they didn’t plan on playing him in some way. My suspicion is that Cloyd will have a role similar to Monty Montgomery. He’s shown great pass rushing skills and plays with a similar passion as Montgomery.

Louisville needed to add speed to the defensive side of the ball but they also needed to add some versatility. The experience they have inside is great, but they should also be able to rest the starters more often and they can package their backups. We could see Etheridge and Avery off the field completely at times so that they can get Montgomery and Cloyd in as pass rushers or just to have more speed on the field. The only question is how ready are the guys that haven’t played at this level.