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2007 Louisville Preview - Defense
Posted Jun 14, 2007

Preview 2007 Louisville Cardinals Defense Preview


Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Louisville Preview | 2007 Louisville Offense Preview
2007 Louisville Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Louisville Preview 

What you need to know: Not unlike the offense, the Cardinal D is aggressive, unpredictable and built on speed.  They’ll attack regularly which often means sacks, turnovers and the occasional busted play that goes for 65 yards.  The latter could happen a little more frequently in 2007, as the secondary adjusts to three new starters and uncertainty at cornerback.  Even without All-American tackle Amobi Okoye, the defensive line figures to be among the best in the Big East.  Sophomore end Peanut Whitehead and junior tackle Earl Heyman aren’t household names today, but both have the explosiveness to change that by November.  Senior linebacker Malik Jackson is a disruptive force with enough range to wreak havoc all over the field.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Malik Jackson, 57
Sacks: Malik Jackson, 9
Interceptions: Jon Russell, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Malik Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Woodny Turenne
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Peanut Whitehead
Best pro prospect: Whitehead
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson 2) Whitehead 3) Junior DT Earl Heyman
Strength of the defense: The front four, team speed
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback, depth at linebacker

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Known more for its offensive personnel, Louisville is beginning to carve out a reputation for perennially producing outstanding defensive linemen as well.  Even after losing Amobi Okoye to graduation, this year will be no different.  The curtain is ready to fall on a new wave of budding stars headed by sophomore end Peanut Whitehead and junior tackle Earl Heyman.  After bagging four sacks and playing more of a complimentary role as a true freshman, Whitehead is ready to explode on to the national scene this season.  At 6-6 and 250 pounds, he has an ideal frame to play the run, yet also possesses the burst and speed off the edge to ring up double-digit sacks very early in his career. 

Heyman took some time getting adjusted to a new position and belt size, but with Okoye gone, he’s ready to blossom into the Cards’ best interior lineman.  Despite being more than 40 pounds heavier than when he arrived from high school, he hasn’t lost the cat quickness and lateral speed that’s going to make him a devastating inside rusher. 

A leg fracture last September prevented junior nose tackle Adrian Grady from having the banner year he’d targeted.  That’ll happen instead in 2007.  A low-to-the-ground run stuffer at 6-2 and 295 pounds, he’s one of the strongest players on the defensive side of the ball. 

Four sacks in the 2006 Red-White game raised expectations for senior end Brandon Cox, however, a shoulder injury and some personal issues derailed those plans.  The converted linebacker is once again back at full strength and intent on recapturing the magic that made him one of last year’s kings of spring.             

Projected Top Reserves: Backup nose tackle L.T. Walker was one of just four true freshmen to see action last year, an indication of his ability and long-term potential.  A powerful lineman that can beat his guy with strength or speed, he’ll keep getting better without having to be the main man in the middle just yet.  After playing well in his first year removed from Georgia Military College, senior tackle Willie Williams is ready to step up his production in season two.  At 6-3 and 305 pounds, he’s a wide-body that’ll provide support to the smaller Heyman in run defense. 

Although a broken fibula stunted Jonathan Holston’s development in 2006, the sophomore is still considered one of the program’s best young pass-rushers.  He’s added considerable muscle to his once lanky 6-6 frame, and like Whitehead, can beat tackles with his upper or lower body. 

For the second consecutive year, Michael Adams will be a second-stringer at defensive end.  He logged valuable minutes in 13 games as a redshirt freshman and has bulked up to 260 pounds  in anticipation of increased reps in 2007.  

Watch Out For… redshirt freshman Aundre Henderson.  One of the program’s signature recruits from the Class of 2006 used last year to get bigger, stronger and more familiar with the Cardinals’ defense.  Now a more chiseled 6-4 and 285 pounds, Henderson is itching to remove his redshirt and begin showing why he was the top-rated tackle in the state of Kentucky two years ago.
Strength: Athleticism.  As athletic and quick off the ball that this group is, you’d think the ends were built like outside linebackers and the tackles were south of 300 pounds.  Uh-uh.  Louisville’s linemen are both big and fast which will cause nightmares for lumbering linemen that move as if they’ve got matching left feet.
Weakness: Run defense.  It’s a relative weakness for a line that figures to be very good, but you don’t get better by losing a tackle of Okoye’s caliber.  While Heyman and Grady have considerable upside and physical talent, they still need to show an ability to be top-flight interior linemen for an entire season.
Outlook: For the second straight year, the defensive line is about to regroup on the fly thanks to the recruiting efforts of Bobby Petrino and his staff.  While certain schools like West Virginia might be able to run right at this group, the maturing pass rush should be good enough to assist a secondary going through an extreme makeover.
Rating: 8


Projected Starters: This time last year, senior Malik Jackson was a really good special teams player without a start on his resume.  Today, he’s the unopposed leader of a linebacking corps that’ll be looking to replace starters Nate Harris and Abe Brown.  A bona fide playmaker from the strongside, Jackson parlayed 57 tackles and team-highs in tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles into a spot on the all-Big East second team. 

Replacing Harris in the middle will be Lamar Myles, an undersized defender who is a ferocious hitter.  He logged four starts and was sixth on the team with 45 tackles, laying the foundation for what will be a breakthrough junior season. 

Like Myles, senior Preston Smith is a seasoned veteran who’s been a valuable reserve and is ready for a promotion.  Recruited by Louisville as a quarterback, he now hunts them down from his weakside position.          

Projected Top Reserves: While not starter material, senior Terrance Butler has been a valuable reserve and special teams player for the last three seasons.  He’ll again be Jackson’s insurance policy, providing veteran leadership to younger Cardinal linebackers. 

Junior Mozell Axson has spent most of his college career trying to bust the wedge, but now will be expected to log key minutes as Myles’ backup in the middle.  Hardly imposing at 6-0 and 225 pounds, he relies on his speed and intensity to locate the ball. 

Sophomore Stephen Garr was recruited to Louisville as a defensive back and receiver, but is in the process of making a successful transition to weakside linebacker.  He’s added a dozen good pounds in the off-season to help in his pursuit of more playing time behind Smith. 

Redshirt freshman Eugene Sowell has the sideline-to-sideline speed to really make some noise in 2007.  Axson and Garr aren’t so entrenched at weakside that Sowell can’t play his way into the No. 2 spot as the summer progresses.    

Watch Out For… junior Willie Williams.  Yes, the same former Miami Hurricane that made more news away from the field than on it has resurfaced in Louisville with two years of eligibility remaining.  Because of his well-documented checkered past, giving Williams a second chance to get his life together is a high-risk, high-reward proposition.  No one doubts he has the talent to immediately upgrade this unit or the volatility to become a major distraction.  Stay tuned to one of the Cards’ juiciest sub plots of the upcoming season.
Strength: Athleticism.  The program has made a habit out of taking some of its better athletes from different positions, training them up and turning loose a bunch of undersized kamikaze linebackers.  Led by Jackson, the starters move real well laterally and when back-pedaling, two building blocks for creating turnovers.
Weakness: Depth.  When Myles and Smith were subs, they helped make the second team an asset, however, now that both have been promoted, it’s up to an inexperienced and less talented lot to pick up the slack.  In general, Cardinal linebackers are built like strong safeties which is going to be a problem against opposing linemen that are quick enough to get to the second level.  At 6-3 and 235 pounds, the still-talented Williams has the potential to dismiss both of these concerns.
Outlook: Losing Harris, one of the defense’s spiritual leaders, won’t be easily overcome, but Jackson is prepared to take that baton and the two new starters won’t be intimidated by increased playing time and responsibility.  While the starters could all finish among the team’s top 5 tacklers, the B team still needs a surprise or two to step forward.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: Three regulars and a couple of all-league players have graduated, making the secondary, particularly the corners, the biggest need area for Louisville in 2007.  With 13 career starts, junior Rod Council is the senior member of the cornerbacks and one of the most important players on this year’s defense.  After a solid freshman campaign, he lost his job to Gavin Smart following an ankle injury and played sparingly during the regular season.  If the Cardinal pass defense is going to be a strength, it’s up to Council to be a shutdown corner that can blanket the opposition’s best receiver. 

Joining Council will be junior Bobby Buchanan who has 21 games of experience, but has never faced the level of pressure he’ll see this season.  The younger brother of former Louisville All-American Ray Buchanan must quickly prove he can handle the promotion if he’s to fend off the competition creeping close behind him. 

The safeties will be much less of a concern with senior Johnathan Russell and sophomore Latarrius Thomas back to patrol the secondary.  Russell is a solid 6-2, 205-pound strong safety playmaker who had three interceptions and a couple of fumble recoveries despite starting just four games.  Not unlike Malik Jackson in 2006, he’s good enough to author a statement year this fall. 

Thomas was a revelation a year ago, starting ten games as a true freshman and laying the groundwork for what’s going to be a stellar Cardinal career.  At 6-2 and 213 pounds, he can really pack a wallop, yet also has the wheels and hips to be a stopper in pass defense.      

Projected Top Reserves: The program absolutely loves the potential of safety Brandon Heath who redshirted through an injury-filled first season, but will push for playing time the moment he hits the field.  A terrific all-around athlete with great instincts, he could be preparing for lift-off in 2007. 

Rangy junior Richard Raglin is a big-hitting safety with 13 games of experience and the hands of a former wide receiver.  He’ll be Thomas’ caddy at free safety this fall.  

Adding depth at corner will be juniors Lamar Alston and Travis Norton, neither of whom have many relevant minutes outside of special teams.  If Louisville is forced to rely too heavily on either of these players, it could be an ominous sign for the pass defense.   

Watch Out For…JUCO transfer Woodny Turenne.  The hyperbole surrounding the signing of Turenne is rooted in his potential to transform the secondary from a question mark to a team strength.  Last year’s top-rated JuCo corner is a 6-1, 190-pound ball hawk with next level speed and instincts.  In other words, Turenne is already good enough to beat out Buchanan or Council and contribute immediately.
Strength: The safeties.  While Russell and Thomas are well-sized athletes that detonate on impact, Heath has shown flashes that he’s not too far behind at strong safety.  What’s even more delightful to Louisville fans is the prospect of having Thomas and Heath together in the secondary, intimidating receivers for the next three seasons.
Weakness: Creating turnovers.  Louisville has gotten a measly 17 picks from its defensive backs over the last two seasons, and three-quarters of last year’s interceptions left when Smart and William Gay ran out of eligibility.  The secondary needs to make more big plays while developing a reliable rotation at cornerback.
Outlook: If you’re looking to poke holes at the defending Big East champs, this is a good place to start.  Can Council rebound from last year?  Is Turenne as good as advertised?  Will depth concerns haunt the defense?  There are plenty of questions that still need to be answered.  If the front seven isn’t applying pressure, teams like Kentucky and Utah could pile up the yards on this group.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The icing on the cake for the explosive Louisville offense is that it has last year’s Lou Groza Award winner to clean up any drives that don’t finish in the end zone.  Senior Art Carmody is another offensive weapon who has a strong leg and has missed just 9-of-56 field goal attempts in his three years as a starter. 

The punting game, however, got a little muddled for the Cards in 2006, resulting in a freshman walk-on, Corey Goettsche, replacing struggling starter Todd Flannery.  Goettsche wasn’t lights out, averaging under 38 yards a punt, but he did place 7-of-29 kicks inside the 20 which is enough to make him the favorite to keep the job in 2007.

 JaJuan Spillman averaged almost 27 yards per kickoff return as a freshman, stamping himself one of the most combustible young returners in the country.  However, the punt returners were awful last year and need to step it up considerably in 2007.         

Projected Top Reserves: Flannery is hardly out of the punting picture in 2007, particularly with the way Goettsche performed in the second half of the year.  He has a very strong leg, but needs to harness that power and become more consistent with his kicks.       

Watch Out For… Goettsche.  He certainly struggled at times last season with his distance, but after being thrust into a highly unexpected situation as a freshman, he should be much improved this fall with a season of experience in the rear view mirror.
Strength: Carmody.  From distance and accuracy to being clutch in pressure situations, Carmody is the blueprint for what every special teams coach seeks in a kicker.
Weakness: Punting.  The punting situation was a mess a year ago and may not get much better this season unless Flannery reverts back to his 2005 form.  Louisville was 87th nationally in net punting in 2006 which won’t make life any easier for the defense.
Outlook: Carmody is Art-o-matic, but go beyond him and Louisville’s special teams unit has warts that need to be fixed.  In 2006, the Cards were second-rate in the Big East in net punting, punt returns and kickoff returners, all of which will be addressed by the new staff this spring and summer.
Rating: 7.5


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