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Louisville Football Position Preview: Linebackers

The most veteran group on the defense will rely on experience this season.

Florida State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Two of the top four leaders in tackles for Louisville’s defense last year played in the secondary. If you’re looking for an example of just how rough things were for the linebackers last year, that stat is a good one. The loss of Monty Montgomery early in the season exposed the fact that UofL was very young at linebacker and they weren’t in a position to plug in a backup at a key spot. That should change this year with plenty of depth at the inside positions and lots of potential on the outside.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS

Louisville has utilized the transfer portal over the last few years to help fill holes in the roster but they really worked to upgrade the roster this time around. Momo Sanogo spent five years in the SEC and may be one of the best leaders this program has had in recent memory. Sanogo will replace CJ Avery after his stellar career and I think the defense could transition well with such an experienced player stepping in. It’s fair to question if Momo can bounce back to his old form or not, but the depth that was built last year should make that less of a concern.

The defense missed Monty Montgomery last year for a multitude of reasons. The biggest one is his ability to rush the passer and spy quarterbacks. Montgomery has 9 sacks in his career and his closing speed is something that this defense can’t replicate. He can be utilized as an interior blitzer but he has also shown the ability to spy and chase down quarterbacks when they leave the pocket. This defense needs playmakers and Monty has been pretty consistent when it comes to making big plays.

One positive aspect of injuries is that they give reserve players the opportunity to see the field. After Montgomery went down with his injury against UCF, Jaylin Alderman iced the game with a pick-six on the very next defensive snap. For the rest of the season, we got to see Alderman, Deebo Jones, and KJ Cloyd combine for 76 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, and a sack. Jones is the top backup of the group but I think that Cloyd and Alderman will see plenty of time now that they have more experience in the system.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

Yasir Abdullah is the best player on this team, in my opinion. Yasir has become a real terror off the edge and his athleticism has helped him to become a more complete player in his role at Dog. The 10 sacks that he put up last year were impressive but I think where he has the most potential is as a run defender where he can improve on his 16.5 tackles for loss. Another thing that he can improve on is the ability to force fumbles as a pass rusher. I think he could really have a big season this year.

The Card spot is a key role in this defense but the production hasn’t been very consistent over the last few years. I think it’s fair to say that they are more athletic at the position this season even though it’s the only position on the team that doesn’t have a player in the two-deep with starting experience. This spot is all about potential but UofL will have two of their highest-rated recruits fighting for the spot.

As of now, I expect Ben Perry to earn the starting spot in fall camp and the 6-2/212 former safety could be a star, in my opinion. Perry has the size to hold his own when it comes to setting the edge and he has the speed and skill to handle the assignments in coverage. Where I think he will be most valuable is in space as a tackler. Louisville will see a lot of teams that like to get their speed players in space with quick passes and sweeps. Perry could be at his best in those situations.

Marvin Dallas will push for the starting spot but I don’t think it really matters who starts here. Dallas got a lot of snaps late in the season last year and he made the most of his time on the field. His interception against Duke was an outstanding play where he dropped into his short zone and read the play and the quarterback to jump into the passing lane and make a nice catch on the ball. Dallas is a little wiry when it comes to his frame and I think that will always worry me when it comes to handling blockers but he is a great athlete and he plays with a real passion. The more experience he gains, the more his willingness to throw his body around will help.

I would expect Nicario Harper to be the depth behind these guys at Card. He is a safety by trade but he has the size and toughness to play in the box. Dog has great potential from a depth standpoint with Kam Wilson healthy and ready to contribute. He and Allen Smith both flashed solid pass-rushing ability when they saw the field last year. Smith even lined up at defensive end in passing situations in a couple of games.

The most exciting young player out of the group is Popeye Williams. Coming in as one of the highest-rated recruits in the history of the program leads to high expectations. While I’m not sure that we will see Williams a lot this year, I would be surprised if he isn’t an option for the staff as a pass rusher. Williams featured a strong skillset in high school but transitioning to the college level in a few months is a tall task. However, this staff needs to play their young players and utilize them to keep the top players fresh. Williams needs to get snaps this year.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

This is going to be a shocker for anyone who has heard me on the radio or any podcast for the last year but my pick is Ben Perry. The former four-star safety has bulked up this summer and he very much looked the part in the spring game. Perry’s length is what stands out to me and I really liked that he looked comfortable when he saw the field as a true freshman. While I wonder if he will be effective as a pass rusher, I have no doubts that he will make some big plays for the defense. I think he could have a similar type of year to what Rodjay Burns put up in 2019.