2007 Louisville Preview - Defense
Louisville Cardinals Defense Preview
Preview 2007 - Defense
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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.
Malik Jackson, 9
Interceptions: Jon Russell, 3
Star of the
Senior LB Malik Jackson
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.