Louisville Preview 2006 - Defense
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.
Tackles: Nate Harris,
Nate Harris, 7
Interceptions: Jon Russell, 2
Star of the defense: Senior CB William Gay
Size in the secondary
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
Strength of the defense: Depth and experience
Weakness of the defense:
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:
- 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
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.
- DT Earl Heyman, Soph. - 17 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1
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.
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
- 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
- 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.
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
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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
- 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.