There may not be another group that signified the depleted roster that Scott Satterfield took over more than the Outside Linebackers. Rodjay Burns was moved from Cornerback to the Card OLB spot. Boosie Whitlow went from being a hand in the dirt Defensive End to being a stand up Linebacker who would rush the passer but also drop into coverage. They just didn’t have what they needed to make it work. However, the group came together and ended up making a lot of big plays while being pretty consistent throughout the season.
The Card position is the spot on this defense that has the highest potential to make plays and Burns did just that last year. He was second on the team in tackles, led the team in tackles for loss, and returned a fumble for a touchdown against Western Kentucky. Burns has said that he’s bulked up to 210 pounds and he feels he will be able to handle blockers better. That should help him with setting the edge as well as covering Tight Ends who could use their size to gain separation. I think that Burns might be the biggest beneficiary of a second year in Bryan Brown’s system.
The Dog position should be Yasir Abdullah’s to lose at this point. He split time with Whitlow last year but he has put on a good amount of weight and Louisville needs more athletic players on the field this year. Earlier this summer, Cort Dennison said that Abdullah was one of the fastest players on the team. Getting him up to 225 pounds while keeping that speed is really big for the defense, in my opinion. He should be much harder to block as a pass rusher off the edge and he should be able to handle Tight Ends and Offensive Linemen who are tasked with pinning him on the edge.
Dennison values length, athleticism, and football IQ when it comes to his Linebackers and Nick Okeke seems to fit that mold. He ended up being a starter as a redshirt freshman and has always found himself on the field in some way. Without Whitlow to split time with Abdullah, Okeke will have a bigger role and should be more of a primary backup and a run stopper type of player. I haven’t really seen him rush the passer but he has great length which you need to hold the edge.
Thurman Geathers and Kam Wilson will be the other players who will be fighting for playing time at Dog. Wilson was the highest ranked recruit in this past recruiting class and he got her in the spring. I felt that he could be a guy we saw on the field early on but the way Dennison talks about the other guys makes me think he may be a little lower on the depth chart. Geathers should be a pass rushing specialist at the least this year. He’s up to 230 pounds and he made a couple of nice plays when we got to see him last year. There’s a good amount of reliance on just a handful of plays when it comes to the depth on defense but the potential is obviously there.
The Card position seems to be in good hands with Burns and Marvin Dallas as his backup. Trenell Troutman has been moved back to Safety so Dallas has to have made the staff feel good about where they are there. Zay Peterson has also been here since the spring and he’s been mentioned by some of his teammates as a young guy who has stood out in camp. Troutman is also still an option even though he’s been moved. That gives them another guy to work in if needed.
This defense is built to allow the Linebackers to make plays. The Defensive Line has to help them but being in the right gaps as well as setting the edge is paramount. What these guys lack in size and experience, they make up with speed and athleticism. I expect this defense to be less timid and that means they’ll play faster. It will probably be good that they have a bunch of fast guys playing.....fast.