Every year when I do my preview posts or any posts that are annual, I go back and look at my format from the previous year to see if I want to make changes. I landed on the defensive line preview this time around and I don’t know if I’ve ever been so harsh about a group. Mark Ivey and his position group just had not made a mark on the program coming into last season but they took a major step forward and ended up being a key group on the team.
There is more optimism this year after the group performed so well last season and I think the expectations have been raised a bit. The new defensive scheme shifts things a bit but it really worked out pretty well as the Cards had more options on the inside than they did on the edge after the season ended. Louisville enters this year with genuine arguments over who should start on the defensive line which has not been the case for a while.
The line is headlined by Ashton Gillotte who comes into the year with the potential to be a high draft pick in the draft next spring. Gillotte has been a strong contributor since he stepped on campus but with Yaya Diaby and Yasir Abdullah moving on to the NFL, Gillotte will have the spotlight to himself as a pass rusher. I’m really interested to see if Gillotte has developed more pass rushing moves as his career has progressed.
In the middle, we will get another year of Dez Tell as the long-time starter returns for his senior year. Tell has been a mainstay in the middle and last year he made an impact in Bryan Brown’s attacking scheme. Tell won’t have a bunch of numbers on the stat sheet, but he makes the disruptive plays you need from your interior guys that allow others to get the stats.
Ramon Puryear is another veteran defensive lineman and a year after earning a scholarship as a defensive end, he has now been moved inside to defensive tackle. Puryear is a bit undersized at 270 pounds but at no point during the time I’ve been able to watch the team did he look like he couldn’t hold his own. The motor and intensity that he plays with will also go a long way as he will see more one-on-one situations in this new scheme.
The new look for this defense will also show up a bit with the stand-up defensive end position that is somewhat similar to the “Dog” position we saw Yasir Abdullah dominate at. This new scheme doesn’t ask for this position to do much other than rush the passer and set the edge which is a slight difference from the previous scheme.
Stephon Herron will likely be the starter at this spot after transferring in from Stanford. The former Trinity star played in the same system at Stanford and he had a solid season last year. Herron is at his best playing wide and using his speed and length off the edge. It should be something to watch for if the staff decides to use the versatility of the group and move Ashton Gillotte down to tackle like we saw last year at times. That would make things easier for Herron on passing downs.
Depth on the line is something I’m personally excited about. Popeye Williams will get snaps behind Herron. Jermayne Lole and Tawfiq Thomas will be in the rotation at both tackle spots and both are 300 plus pounds. Jared Dawson will also return to provide a disruptive option in the middle.
Other guys that I would expect to make an impact or at least contribute are Mason Reiger and Ryheem Craig at defensive end, Adonijah Green and Victoine Brown at the stand-up spot, and Selah Brown and Jeff Clark inside. There are plenty of others that should make this the deepest group UofL has had in years.
I think it’s probably fair to say that Gillotte has already “broken out” but I think he has the potential to really take that next step. Gillotte is still raw as a pass rusher and his strength alone has helped him get to where he is now. But I think he could become a crafty pass rusher this year with developed moves and counters. I also think that the new scheme will allow him to show that he can defend the run as well. I have super high hopes for Ashton this year.