2011 Louisville Preview – Defense
Louisville SS Hakeem Smith
Louisville SS Hakeem Smith
Posted Jun 24, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Defense

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2011 - Defense

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What you need to know: The impact of head coach Charlie Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford in Louisville was immediate. Sans any scary talent, the Cardinals were better coached, tougher navigate, and generally feistier than at any point during the Steve Kragthorpe era. The goal is simple—attract outstanding athletes to Kentucky and coach them into disruptive weapons. Strong now has two classes of recruits on campus, which should heighten expectations. Surrounding seven returning starters is a handful of wide-eyed freshmen and sophomores itching at an opportunity to impress the coaching staff. The top priority will be to mine a couple of capable corners out of a mix of marginal talent. If that can be achieved, the Cards will be every bit as stingy as they were a year ago

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Hakeem Smith, 88
Sacks: Daniel Brown, Mike Evans, Darius Ashley, 3
Interceptions: Darius Ashley, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore SS Hakeem Smith
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior corners Preston Pace and Anthony Conner
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE B.J. Butler
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Greg Scruggs
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Smith, 2) Junior LB Daniel Brown, 3) Butler
Strength of the defense: The pass rush, front line depth, the safeties, athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, run defense, creating turnovers

Defensive Line

State of the Unit: One of last season's pleasant surprises, the defensive line figures to keep getting better at Louisville. The Cards deftly weaved in true freshmen with veterans, piecing together a rotation that consistently beat the block and got penetration. From that group, six players who started at least one game are back for another year.

One of the rookies to contribute right away was 6-2, 256-pound sophomore DE B.J. Butler , one of the top recruits of the 2010 class. After decommitting from Georgia to play for Charlie Strong, he quickly rose up the ranks, cracking the lineup and making 23 tackles, six tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. An explosive athlete, he has the burst and quickness to be the school's best pass rusher. After playing some on the inside last fall, 6-4, 273-pound senior Greg Scruggs is permanently shifting back to end. He's the strongside option, who's especially effective against the run. Somewhat miscast on the inside, he was limited to 14 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks. Senior William Savoy is a veteran of 13 career starts. An undersized 6-1, 248-pounder, he relied on his speed and motor to make 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack last year.

Butler's version on the inside was 6-3, 272-pound sophomore Roy Philon , who made four starts and a dozen tackles in his debut out of high school. A quality all-around athlete at the nose, he needs to get stronger to handle the rigors of the trenches. Hustling for playing time at defensive tackle will be 6-3, 291-pound sophomore Brandon Dunn and 6-3, 286-pound junior Randy Salmon . Dunn started four games and made 14 tackles, gradually getting more comfortable in his first season on campus. Salmon played sparingly after transferring from Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College, but has the power and leverage to evolve into a space-eater on a defense that needs to plug holes against the run.

Watch Out For .... the maturation of the true sophomores. Butler, Philon, and Dunn all started games shortly after arriving from high school and kept their heads above water. Now the staff wants to see them begin flourishing into playmakers. They're in good hands with Strong and his assistants.
Strength: A deep rotation. Who'd have thought? At this time a year ago, the Cardinals had major concerns about depth. Now they have options after avoiding a redshirt year on so many rookies. Few schools can boast six linemen who started games last fall.
Weakness: Run defense. This has been an issue over the past couple of seasons in the ‘Ville. Despite improvement, the Cardinals still finished seventh in the Big East against the run, allowing four yards a carry.
Outlook: Under Strong, the line made tremendous strides a year ago. It's the beginning of a trend that's going to continue this fall. There's a good mix of youth and seasoned players, all of whom play with great motors. There's a need for improvement inside, especially as it pertains to run defense.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: Last season, Louisville was forced to rebuild at linebacker. This year, the school is looking to add another level to the foundation. Despite the return of a pair of starters, this will continue to be a young and inexperienced group that's going to need support from as many underclassmen as possible.

The breakthrough player of the unit in 2010 was 6-1, 219-pound junior Daniel Brown , who's being slotted in to play at strongside. A playmaker from the second level, the Cardinals liberally turned him loose on blitzes, allowing him to create chaos whenever it was possible. After making 55 tackles, 10 stops for loss, and three sacks, even more is expected from him in 2011.

Senior Dexter Heyman excelled after being moved to the middle, starting nine games and making 48 tackles, 4.5 stops for loss, and two sacks. Well-sized at 6-3 and 239 pounds, he has the thickness to shed tackles and be an asset against the run. The biggest mystery is at weakside, where Brandon Heath needs to be replaced.

Sophomore Deon Rogers is hoping to end any intrigue long before the summer. Another of Strong's fine recruits from 2010, he showcase his speed and range in a 6-2, 200-pound frame on special teams, making seven tackles in 11 games. His stiffest challenge could come from 6-3, 208-pound senior Terence Simien, a former safety with more experience and better size. A big hitter who's made two starts in each of the last two years, he's been hampered by injuries since arriving from San Mateo (Calif.) Community College. Sophomore Preston Brown is likely to back up Heyman in the middle, with an eye toward succeeding him in 2012. A 6-2, 258-pound bull, he lettered and made 10 stops in his first season of action.

Watch Out For .... sophomore Tarik Rollins . Three years ago, Rollins was fielding offers from all over the country and considered one of the nation's most athletic linebackers. Today, he's a Cardinal after transferring from Clemson. A physical 6-2, 223-pounder, he's looking to resuscitate his career and compete for a job on the outside.
Strength: Athleticism on the outside. When Strong was at Florida, his outside linebackers were typically undersized and extremely hyper. The coach is looking to duplicate that model in Louisville. With athletes, such as Brown, Rogers, and Rollins prowling the periphery, opposing players better keep their heads on a swivel.
Weakness: Holding up against the run. Yes, small and fast is an objective, but it cost the Cards against physical running teams a year ago. While the outside linebackers have added weight and toughened up during offseason conditioning, they're still prone to getting bullied by guards and fullbacks that can get out to the second level.
Outlook: The linebackers are an improving group that could have a feast-or-famine quality about it. While they'll be vulnerable at times and prone to occasional missed assignments, they'll also create turnovers and plays for minus yards. Better days are ahead, meaning the unit could be far better in November than September.
Rating: 7


State of the Unit: No defensive position is causing more sleepless nights on campus than cornerback, which is looking to replace both of last year's starters, Johnny Patrick and Bobby Burns. It's the antithesis of the situation at safety, where both regulars are young and back to man the middle of the secondary. The Cardinals are looking to maintain last season's high level of pass defense, in which quarterbacks struggled to connect on the big play.

The budding star of the defensive backfield is 6-1, 183-pound sophomore SS Hakeem Smith , a Freshman All-American and Big East Rookie of the Year in 2010. After scaling the depth chart in the summer, he posted a team-high 88 tackles and six stops for loss. More than just a good athlete, he showed crisp technique in the open field and an ability to stay with receivers. Already exceeding expectations as a recruit, he's just getting started for the Cards.

Smith should be joined once again at free safety by 6-1, 187-pound junior Shenard Holton , a returning starter and second-leading tackler. He made 74 stops, most of which were solo stops, and has the range and right mindset to continue being a factor in run defense. The veteran among the safeties is 5-11, 188-pound Mike Evans , a well-traveled senior who's made stops at Nevada and El Camino (Calif.) College. An effective three-game starter, he chipped in 25 tackles, four stops for loss, and three sacks.

The competition at cornerback will be essential to the team's overall success in 2011. While Anthony Conner and Preston Pace are seniors, neither played a down last season. Conner, in his second game out of Butte (Calif.) Community College, was shelved with an ACL tear. He's a speedy one-time running back who started two games in 2009. Pace, who also did an apprenticeship at Butte, has been battling shoulder problems since shortly after arriving two years ago. Nipping at the heels of the vets are a pair of underclassmen, redshirt freshman Jordon Paschal and sophomore Titus Teague , who'll be looking to offset their inexperience with hard work and athleticism. Teague, in particular, has played well this offseason, passing Pace on the depth chart.

Watch Out For .... the recoveries of Conner and Pace. If both are able to go at full strength, that could plug the hole in the Cardinal pass defense. Based on the past couple of years, though, that could be asking a lot of two players who've struggled to stay out of the trainer's room.
Strength: The safeties. Not only do both starters return, but Smith and Holton will be vying for all-star recognition. They're active defenders who support the run and have the agility to hold up well versus the pass.
Weakness: The corners. Patrick and Burns started all 13 games in 2010, keeping Louisville from developing much depth. Heck, the program is putting a lot of faith in Conner and Pace, two cornerbacks who haven't played a down in almost two years.
Outlook: While the Cards overachieved last fall, repeating that performance is a big challenge now that Patrick has graduated. The cornerbacks hold the key to the secondary's—and possibly the defense's—fate in 2011. If at least one defender doesn't emerge, opposing quarterbacks are sure to exploit the weakness as much as possible.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

State of the Unit: For the second straight year, Louisville will be a one-man gang on special teams, putting its fate on the foot of senior Chris Philpott. After handling kickoffs early in his career, he successfully took over both punting and placekicking duties in 2010. As the kicker, he connected on 14-of-18 attempts, with a career-long of 46 yards. As the punter, he averaged 40.5 yards and was especially effective at impacting field position. On kickoffs, he showed off a strong leg, averaging 66 yards a kick.

Watch Out For… the emergence of a punt returner. Dangerous Doug Beaumont is gone, leaving Scott Radcliff and Josh Bellamy to try and replace his production. It won't be easy since Beaumont ranked eighth nationally and tops in the Big East.
Strength: Punt coverage. Louisville continues to be one of the nation's top teams at getting downfield and limiting big plays in the punt game. With plenty of help from Philpott, the Cards ranked 16th nationally, yielding just 5.1 yards a return.
Weakness: Kick coverage. As good as the special teams was on punts, it was equally bad containing kickoffs. In fact, no team in the Big East was more generous, allowing almost 24 yards a touch and a long touchdown return.
Outlook: As much as any other unit, the special teams benefited from the new staff in 2010, particularly assistant Kenny Carter. The pieces are in place, namely Philpott, for the positive trend to continue. With concerns on offense and defense, special teams has a chance to provide a much-needed boost to both.
Rating: 7.5

- 2011 Louisville Preview | 2011 Louisville Offense
- 2011 Louisville Defense | 2011 Louisville Depth Chart
- Louisville Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006