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Louisville Preview 2006 - Defense
Louisville Cardinals
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 1, 2006


Louisville Cardinals Preview 2006 - Cardinal Defense

What you need to know ... The offense gets so much attention that few pay attention to how good the Cardinal defense is. It finished a more-than-respectable 23rd in the nation last year and 21st in run defense, and now the expectations should be for even more production with nine starters returning and a slew of depth all over the place. There aren't any obvious all-stars, but there's no weakness to worry about. The secondary is solid, but it needs to make more big plays and force more mistakes. The linebacking corps will be a strength if it's consistent, and the front line, despite the loss of all-stars Elvis Dumervil and Montavious Stanley, should be one of the best in the Big East if the good young ends come through as expected.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Nate Harris, 66
Sacks: Nate Harris, 7
Interceptions: Jon Russell, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB William Gay
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore DT Adrian Grady
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Zach Anderson
Best pro prospect: Senior DT Amobi Okoye
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Gay, 2) Okoye, 3) LB Nate Harris
Strength of the defense: Depth and experience
Weakness of the defense:
Size in the secondary

Defensive Line
You don't lose All-Americans like Elvis Dumervil and Montavious Stanley and get better, but the Cardinals will be just fine as long as the promising ends become stars right away. Zach Anderson has all the tools to be a bigger Dumervil, while there shouldn't be a problem getting to the quarterback from the inside with the quick tackles. While there isn't a lot of bulk on the inside outside of a blossoming 312-pound Amobi Okoye, there's enough overall size on the line to not get pushed around.
The key to the unit: Develop a great rotation at tackle, and hope for Zach Anderson to blossom into consistent pass rusher on the outside.

Defensive Line Rating:
7.5

Projected Starters
- DE Zach Anderson, Sr. - 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 5.5 TFL
The former JUCO transfer was a solid reserve last season and now needs to fill the void left by All-American Elvis Dumervil. Anderson, a former quarterback, is 268 pounds, has tackle strength, and is very, very fast for a lineman. In other words, if you're looking for a breakout player in the Big East this year, Anderson could be it.

- DT Adrian Grady, Soph. - 30 tackles, 1 TFL
Grady played behind Montavious Stanley until late last year when he took over the starting role in the bowl game. At 292 pounds, he has the bulk to stop the run and is a good enough athlete to be expected to get into the backfield on a regular basis. No, he's not Stanley, but he'll be more than fine.

- DT Amobi Okoye, Sr. - 23 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 3 recovered fumbles
Okoye started off his Louisville career at 16, and 35 games later has matured into an All-Big East candidate. At 312 pounds, he's a key player inside as the team's biggest tackle. He's not bad at getting into the backfield, but his role will be as an anchor for the run defense.

- DE Brandon Cox, Jr. - 8 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss
Cox is a tall, rangy end at 6-4 and 253 pounds, but he's a good athlete and should flourish on the other side of Zach Anderson. He played behind Elvis Dumervil last year and while he won't be the same pass rusher, he'll be effective with his good size and excellent speed.

Top Backups
- DT Earl Heyman, Soph. - 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception
A very nice reserve and a potentially great starter down the road, the 282-pound Heyman will be a top backup behind Amobi Okoye. While he's not a huge run stuffer, he's an active, quick defender.
- DE Maurice Mitchell, Soph. - 4 tackles
Mitchell might not be a top pass rusher, but at 277 pounds he's a great-sized end to help against the run. He'll play behind Zach Anderson, but he could rotate to other spots where needed.
- DT Willie Williams, Jr.
The 310-pound JUCO transfer provides some much-needed bulk on the relatively undersized interior. He'll play behind Brandon Cox and he could step into an occasional starting role to give the Cardinals a pair of 300 pounders on the inside when Amobi Okoye is also playing.
- DE
Deantwan Whitehead, Fr.
One of the best and highest-rated defensive prospects to ever come to Louisville
, the 6-6, 245-pound freshman might be too good to keep off the field. He's a fantastic pass rusher with tremendous speed.

Linebackers
While there might not be any sure-thing all-stars, this is a rock-solid group. Big things are expected out of a linebacking corps with three players with starting experience and even more veterans among the reserves. With a little bit of turnover on the line, this group will have to be even better against the run and even more physical. There's good size on the outside and plenty of athleticism on the inside.
The key to the unit: More consistency and a good rotation to use all the available talents at each spot.
Linebacker Rating: 7.5

Projected Starters
- Malik Jackson, Jr. - 30 tackles, 1 tackle for loss
Is Jackson ready to handle the full-time role after making most of his big plays so far on special teams? He's a good tackler on the strongside and he has enough experience to be productive right away, and now he has to use all of his tremendous physical skills to become a star.

- Nate Harris, Sr. - 66 tackles, 7 sacks, 11 tackles for loss
The 235-pound Harris stepped into a starting role after transferring over from the JUCO ranks and had an uneven season. He made plenty of big plays, but he wasn't consistent. Even so, he's the team's leading returning tackler and sacker helped by three double-digit tackling performances highlighted by a brilliant 13-stop, three sack performance against UConn late in the year.

- Abe Brown, Sr. - 51 tackles, 2 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss
Brown had a great year considering he missed time with a banged up knee. He's like a big, 6-4, 230-pound safety playing weakside linebacker with 19 games of starting experience and 115 career tackles. He's great when unleashed into the backfield, and even better when he drops into pass coverage.

Top Backups
- Preston Smith, Jr. - 35 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
Smith made the bizarre journey from quarterback to outside linebacker. Most of his big plays have come on special teams, but he's smart, strong, and expected to challenge for more time as the season goes on behind Abe Brown on the weakside.
- Terrance Butler, Jr. - 14 tackles
The former safety will be a fast, playmaking linebacker on the strongside. He's a good special teamer and has 23 games of experience. Now he has to be key reserve behind Malik Jackson.
- Lamar Myles, Soph. - 23 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
He's not all that big at 216 pounds, but he's tough in the middle and provides a big wallop on special teams.

Defensive backs
All four starters return to a secondary that wasn't all that bad last year, but could stand to be a lot better. Granted, many of the passing yards allowed came from offenses in comeback mode after getting down big early, but there should've been more production considering how good the pass rush was. There's speed and depth, but not a lot of size. There has to be more big plays and more interceptions.
The key to the unit: Force more turnovers and hope for some of the great young backups to play big roles early.
Secondary Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- CB Rod Council, Soph. - 48 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 broken up passes
Council started every game last year and handled himself well, and now he needs to take another step in his development and grow into an all-star caliber shutdown corner. He's a terrific athlete who isn't afraid to tackle, but his real worth will be as more of a ball-hawk against the pass.

- FS Brandon Sharp, Sr. - 48 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 4 broken up passes
This is Sharp's fourth season in the mix with 33 games of experience under his belt. He isn't all the big, but he's really, really fast and isn't afraid to get his nose dirty. He went from being a good special teamer to a steady safety last year, and now he needs to be more of an overall playmaker.

- SS Jonathan Russell, Soph. - 27 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 broken up pass
A good reserve in his first season, Russell grew into a strong starter last year after he got the job. He's a good-sized 6-2, 194-pound defender with good range and athleticism. Now that he knows what he's doing, he has to make more big plays.

- CB William Gay, Sr. - 20 tackles, 3 broken up passes
Ready to be acknowledged as one of the Big East's best corners, Gay is starting his third season on the right side and will be the team's number one cover corner. He's 5-11 and 184 pounds with the best speed in the secondary. His 4.4 jets allow him to stay with just about any receiver, and now his experience should pay off in a huge year.

Top Backups
- CB Gavin Smart, Sr. - 16 tackles, 1 broken up pass
Smart would be a huge factor in the corner mix if he could stay healthy. A shoulder problem knocked him out in 2004, and he only played in nine games last year as a reserve. He's not all that big, but he's fast and should be a good backup behind Rod Council.
- SS/CB Deon Palmer, Jr. - 8 tackles
Palmer could grow into one of the secondary's most valuable players. At 6-0 and 203 pounds, he can be UL's biggest corner, or he could be a fast safety behind Jonathan Russell.
- FS Richard Raglin, Soph. - 7 tackles
Expected to be a big factor this season along with Brandon Sharp at free safety, Raglin is tall and very athletic. He's like a wide receiver who can hit like a ton of bricks.

Special Teams
If the kicking game isn't the best in the Big East, it'll be close. Arthur Carmody is one of the nation's best placekickers, and punter Todd Flannery has a steady, strong leg. However, he'll be pushed by Gabe Mullane when he hits camp. The return game was decent last year, but nothing special with Montrell Jones handling all the duties, and now it'll be up to receiver Harry Douglas to handle most of the kickoff returns after averaging 29.3 yards on seven tries last year and quarterback/receiver Patrick Johnson, a transfer from Georgia Tech, to handle the punt returns.
The key to the unit: A bit more explosion from the return game and better punt coverage.
Special Teams Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters
- PK Arthur Carmody, Jr. - 14-16 FGs, 63-65 extra points
Carmody is one of the nation's best kickers with range and consistency nailing his final 13 field goal attempts of the year going without a miss after the third game of the season. He hit nine of ten attempts from behind 30 yards and all five from beyond 40 topping out with a 47-yard kick against Pitt. He'll also handle kickoffs.
- P Todd Flannery, Jr. - 34 punts, 1,389 yards, 40.9 average, 10 inside the 20
Flannery might not be the best punter in the Big East, but he's not going to hurt the team if he averages close to 41 yards a boot again. He could use a little more hang time, but he only put two in the end zone and ten inside the 20.

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