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2021 Way Too Early Defensive Depth Chart

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 26 Louisville at Pitt Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisville’s defense saw a big improvement in the 2020 season but there is still a lot of room to grow. With the addition of a key transfer as well as a handful of freshmen who are on campus for spring practice, the unit should have the depth it’s been chasing for two years.

DEFENSIVE END

Yaya Diaby

Dayna Kinnaird

Ramon Puryear

At some point early in the season I see Victoine Brown forcing his way into this rotation but I’m not sure that he will get into game shape in time to be a regular contributor. The group has played a lot of snaps now, so experience isn’t an issue any more. The question, of course, is how productive this group can be. I personally see Diaby having a good year with the others providing good depth.

NOSE TACKLE

Dezmond Tell

Malik Clark

Henry Bryant

Jared Dawson

This will be a key group for the defense now that Jared Goldwire has moved on. Dezmond Tell played very well for a freshman last year and should be the starter going into the fall. Clark should fit nicely as the second man up with a group of young players behind him that have a lot of promise.

Look for Caleb Banks and maybe RJ Sorenson to find themselves in the rotation if Bryant and Dawson don’t take that next step in year two.

DEFENSIVE END

Tabarius Peterson

JaDarien Boykin

Zach Edwards

This is what I think this spot should look like in the fall but I’m not so sure I’ll get my wish. Boykin and Edwards haven’t gotten nearly the amount of snaps that I’ve expected but I don’t really know why that is. My hope is that they at least see the field as pass rushers in some form this fall.

While no freshmen are listed for me, Ashton Gillotte will definitely see the field this fall. I don’t think he’ll play on early downs but he will be a situational player for sure and we should see him on third downs. I could see Victoine Brown doing the same and Ryheem Craig playing that role at some point.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Yasir Abdullah

Nick Okeke

Kam Wilson

Louisville is stacked here with Yasir Abdullah starting to reach his potential and Nick Okeke being a well-rounded talent. Abdullah has always been athletic but he showed last year that he can rush the passer off the edge. Okeke can do a bit of everything and is known for his football IQ. I think he can be one of the guys Bryan Brown can rely on to be a vocal leader on and off the field.

Kam Wilson didn’t see the field much last year (supposedly due to injury) but I think he will be a fixture on special teams as well as finding his way into the rotation.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

CJ Avery

Dorian Jones

Getting CJ Avery back for this season was huge for Louisville. While I think they have some very good young players to work with, Avery will be the veteran playmaker that this defense needs.

Dorian Jones finally got some playing time last year after suffering a season-ending injury on his first play two years ago. Jones is a guy I’m really high on and I think he should see the field a lot this season. He’s also the future at the Linebacker spot.

INSIDE LINEBACKER

Monty Montgomery

KJ Cloyd

It’s finally time for Monty Montgomery to show that he can be a consistent playmaker for this defense. While he’s shined as a rotation guy who the staff could let loose like an attack dog, he will now be called on to play at a high level for three downs and for a full game. I tend to think he’ll do just fine.

Depth is a bit of a concern here as KJ Cloyd didn’t get a lot of snaps last year and looked in over his head at times when he did. A full off season should help him more than just about anyone on this defense.

CARD

Marvin Dallas

Jack Fagot/Allen Smith

Zay Peterson

I expected this to be a position that the staff addressed with a transfer but I think the fact that they didn’t do that shows how they feel about the guys they have here. I’ve gone on record as saying that I didn’t see the promise that others did with Marvin Dallas as a recruit but he was a very good special teams player last year and the staff made it clear that he was the clear backup here last season. I would be completely fine with owning being extremely wrong about Dallas if he can be the guy here.

Jack Fagot has moved to Card from Safety and I think he should be able to fit well as he was much better in run support than in coverage. However, I refuse to give up on Allen Smith and I think he could be a depth option here along with Zay Peterson.

CORNERBACK

Ke’Trel Clark

Greedy Vance

Tre Clark is one of the top corners in the ACC and he should only improve with a full off season with the program. I said this a few times during the season but Clark is exactly the “type” of corner Bryan Brown needs for this system. He’s aggressive and quick while also being physical and sticky in coverage. The other positive? Greedy Vance looks just like him.

CORNERBACK

Chandler Jones

Jamel Starks

I’ve eaten my words plenty of times and Chandler Jones continues to make me do so. While I don’t think he’s a star, Jones is very good in coverage and helped this defense get to the point that they did when it comes to defending the pass. Jones has also done well as a blitzer when called upon. It may not seem like a big deal but not all corners can line up correctly, deceive the offense, angle correctly, and make the right play in the backfield. He does pretty well with it.

I tend to think that Greedy will be the third corner on either side but one of the other young guys will have to be an option. Starks was one of my favorite recruits in his class so I’m going to go with him. Derrick Edwards is on campus early so he could also have a chance to play this fall. Kani Walker is the other guy to look for in this spot.

FREE SAFETY

Kendrick Duncan

Josh Minkins/Ben Perry

After signing day I predicted that Ben Perry would have a shot at starting at this spot. I’d like a mulligan on that one. Bryan Brown went out and landed Kendrick Duncan from Georgia Southern and he’s already lining up with the first group in spring practice. Duncan is huge. Like comically huge. My initial thought was that he would take over at Card but the staff made it clear that he will be a Safety and he should fit well. If you watch his highlights from GSU you can see that he is a much quicker and faster athlete than you expect at 6-3/225. He can play the ball really well, also.

The Free Safety spot plays the boundary in this defense so you have to have a guy who can set the edge, tackle in space, take on blockers, and cover Tight Ends and Running Backs. If Duncan can do those things, the defense should be improved here from what we’ve seen over the last two years.

Josh Minkins looked very much like a freshman when he saw the field last year but that game experience should help him going forward. Ben Perry arrived on campus much smaller than his recruiting profiles said he was, so I’m a little concerned about him getting to the needed weight to play this spot. If he packs on the pounds this summer, I could see him pushing Minkins for the backup role.

STRONG SAFETY

Lovie Jenkins

Braylin Oliver

The most exciting new starter this season will be Lovie Jenkins, in my opinion. He was a big time recruiting win for the staff when they flipped him from Tennessee and he looked very good in the snaps he got last season. Jenkins ended up dropping a couple of interceptions but he showed he can cover in space as well as in man coverage. I think he could be a star.

UofL will likely have a freshman backing up Jenkins here but I do think there is potential for a guy like Jamel Starks to slide over to Safety. Oliver being here this spring and arriving on campus at 190+ pounds bodes well for him. Jenkins getting here early is a key reason that he saw the field last year.

PUNTER

Ryan Harwell

Logan Lupo decided to transfer before spring practice so Ryan Harwell has the job to himself now. If he can’t go for any reason look for Brock Travelstead to be his replacement.

PUNT RETURNER

Jordan Watkins

Shai Werts

Louisville’s top two options have moved on so this spot is truly up in the air. I think Jordan Watkins is the likely choice to take over here because the staff seems to value ball security over explosiveness here. Watkins is pretty high on the list for both things.

Shai Werts is a complete guess on my part because I know that he was looking to transfer to a school that would give him the chance to return kicks.