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2008 Louisville Preview - Defense
Louisville DT Adrian Grady
Louisville DT Adrian Grady
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Apr 30, 2008


CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Defense

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Louisville Preview | 2008 Louisville Offense
- 2008 Louisville Defense | 2008 Louisville Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Louisville Preview | 2006 CFN Louisville Preview 

What you need to know: Although new defensive coordinator Ron English had success at Michigan, he also had a lot more to work with in Ann Arbor than he’s inheriting at Louisville. The same miserable Cardinal D that got ambushed by Middle Tennessee and Syracuse last fall must completely rebuild a back seven that’s been gutted by graduations, defections, and suspensions.  The only sliver of positive news is that the Cards are well stocked with five experienced down linemen, led by the inside-outside presence of Earl Heyman and Maurice Mitchell, respectively.  Miami transfer James Bryant is being counted on to stabilize a linebacker corps that’s without last year’s three starters.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Bobby Buchanan, 54
Sacks: Earl Heyman, 4
Interceptions: Richard Raglin, 1

Star of the defense: Senior DT Earl Heyman
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Woodny Turenne
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Maurice Mitchell
Best pro prospect: Heyman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Heyman 2) Mitchell 3) Senior James Bryant
Strength of the defense: Depth at defensive tackle
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Five linemen who started games a year ago are back, easily making this the deepest position on the roster. The Cardinals are especially solid on the inside, where seniors Earl Heyman and Adrian Grady will play tackle. Heyman is 6-3 and 285 pounds, yet slides and gets penetration with the quickness of an end. A nuisance for opposing linemen, he had 40 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks, and three fumble recoveries, laying the groundwork for an all-league final year. 

Injuries over the last two years have prevented Grady from reaching his full potential, but when healthy, he’s the program’s best run-stuffer at the nose. At 6-2 and 305 pounds, he plays with good pad level and is one of the unit’s strongest players. In his only five games of 2007, he had 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

On the outside, the Cards are hopeful senior Maurice Mitchell can spark a pass rush that was non-existent a year ago. Despite being limited to eight games and three starts, he had 33 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and a couple of sacks. An explosive presence at 6-3 and 272 pounds, he’s counting on parlaying a full season as the team’s best pass rusher into interest from the NFL. 

Mitchell will be joined in the lineup by part-time starters junior L.D. Scott and sophomore Rodney Gnat, two very different players. Scott is 6-2 and 268 pounds, big and strong enough to play end or tackle. He started the final seven games on the outside, but produced just 20 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a sack. 

Gnat, on the other hand, is a pure edge rusher with the speed, agility, and size of an outside linebacker. At 6-3 and 243 pounds, he has potential as a situational rush end after collecting 10 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack in limited appearances last season.  

Projected Top Reserves: Unlike at end, depth at tackle is going to be a major strength. Junior L.T. Walker and sophomore Aundre Henderson both lettered a year and have one more season to audition for the starting assignment in 2009. Walker is emerging as one of the program’s best run defenders, a 6-4, 305-pounder who can clog the middle and beat his guy with a bull rush. In the most extensive action of his career, he had 14 tackles and three tackles for loss in eight games as a sophomore.

A red-letter recruit from 2006, Henderson is counting on taking another stride in his development after playing in just four games last fall. He’s 6-4 and 285 pounds, combining a powerful upper body with good feet.

Watch Out For… Mitchell. The Cardinals are itching for an end who can consistently collapse a pocket, something Mitchell did frequently in the first substantive action of his career. He’ll get every opportunity to be the playmaker of the Louisville line.
Strength: The tackles. New coordinator Ron English inherits four tackles capable of starting and one, Heyman, who’s on the verge of an All-Big East season. The rotation is deep, allowing all four to remain fresh for four quarters.
Weakness: The pass rush. The defensive line produced a mere dozen sacks in 2007, which was part of the reason the pass defense was so leaky. Although Mitchell has upside, the situation after him at defensive end is dicey.
Outlook: There are plenty of big, experienced bodies up front, but to make tangible progress, the line needs to win more battles at the point of attack, taking heat off a rebuilt back seven. While the tackles have a chance to be outstanding, the situation outside is a lot more unsettled.
Rating: 7

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The linebacking corps will be broken down and rebuilt from scratch after three starters left the program. A lot will be expected of senior James Bryant, a Miami transfer who was once considered a can’t-miss prospect out of Reading, Penn. Physically imposing at 6-3 and 257 pounds, he plays with outstanding range and loves contact. The most physically gifted of the Cardinal linebackers, Bryant has a one-time opportunity at middle linebacker to make amends for a disappointing college career. The battles at outside linebacker are likely to rage on through the summer. 

At strongside, junior Stephen Garr looks to hold off redshirt freshman Patrick Grant. The 6-1, 223-pound Garr is a former safety who has beefed up in order to handle the rigors of playing a more physical position.  A career special teamer with 22 games of experience, he’ll have to elevate his game to be an impact player on defense. 

Although Grant has less experience than Garr, his ceiling is higher. A bigger, faster athlete at 6-4 and 218 pounds, he needs to fill out and continue learning the finer points of being a complete linebacker. 

The competition at weakside pits sophomore Brandon Heath against junior Darius Mann. The 6-1, 225-pound Heath is making a move from safety to bolster the depth at linebacker. While undersized, he’s a terrific wrap-up tackler with the instincts to excel in run defense. Heath had 10 tackles in eight games, while also contributing on special teams. 

Like Heath, Mann is a converted safety who can really bring the payload. Just 5-11 and 213 pounds, he’s excelled in 17 games as a special teams player.         

Projected Top Reserves: Whoever comes up short in the battles at outside linebacker will fill valuable roles as reserves in the rotation.  In the middle, Bryant will be backed up by Mozell Axson, a career caddy who’s no threat to the starting lineup, yet is valuable on special teams and brings 31 games of experience to an untested group. The 6-1, 243-pound senior has made 27 tackles in three years, topped by 13 a year ago.   
 
Watch Out For… Bryant. This is a salary run and a final chance to make a splash for the former Hurricane.  He passes the eye test, but now must go out and be the leader of the Cardinal linebackers, while shaking off years of rust in the process.
Strength: Lateral speed. They might all be undersized, but they all can fly to the ball and close in a hurry.  While pulling guards at the second level could be a little scary, the Cardinal linebackers give away nothing in terms of athleticism.
Weakness: Proven talent. Even if everyone exceeds expectations, this is an average collection of linebackers.  The savior is Bryant, who was a backup fullback the last time he had pads on two years ago.
Outlook: Whenever a unit relies too heavily on transfers and position switchers, red flags go up. Lamar Myles’ decision to leave early for the NFL Draft was a crushing blow to a corps of linebackers that’s in dire need of a sure thing.
Rating: 6

Secondary

Projected Starters: An unsettled Cardinal secondary went from bad to worse when starting CB Rod Council was kicked off the team in February for an alleged armed robbery. The dismissal thinned an already weak position, heaping more pressure on senior Woodny Turenne, a JUCO star who was slow to adapt in his first season. At 6-1 and 182 pounds with next level speed, he has the raw tools to rebound, but needs to tighten his technique and reduce the number of times receivers get behind him. 

Joining Turenne is 6-0, 184-pound sophomore Johnny Patrick, who started four games and had 19 tackles just months after making the move from wide receiver. His speed and footwork are exceptional, but his cover skills need the kind of work that’ll only come with more reps.

Senior safeties Richard Raglin and Bobby Buchanan split time last season, and might do so again if junior Latarrius Thomas can bounce back from a season-ending knee injuries that limited him to just two games. A budding star before getting injured, he’s a 6-2, 206-pound thumper and a terrific all-around athlete. As a true freshman in 2006, Thomas showed hints of his potential, starting nine games and making 20 stops. 

Buchanan is a veteran of 33 games, who logged nine starts a year ago. A 5-11, 200-pound former corner, he transitioned nicely to safety, finishing second on the team with 54 tackles. 

The 6-2, 198-pound Raglin can pack a wallop and has keen instincts in run defense. A career backup, he finally cracked the starting lineup in 2007, making 38 tackles and contributing on special teams.          

Projected Top Reserves: In dire need of depth at cornerback, the Cardinals are banking on junior Chaz Thompson being ready to swim in the deep end of the pool. A junior college transfer in 2006, he sat out last year to learn the defense and hit the weights. At 6-1 and 200 pounds, he has the foot speed and cover skills to evolve into a breakout player. 

Like Thompson, the coaching staff is excited about the future of redshirt freshman C.J. Peake, one of the top reserves at safety. A 6-2, 220-pound enforcer, he’s physical and flashes good instincts in run and pass defense. 

Watch Out For… Thomas. To give it an attitude and a physical presence, the secondary needs Thomas to return to his pre-ACL injury form. The tear occurred early enough in the season that he should be at full strength long before the opener.
Strength: The safeties. Assuming Thomas is healthy, the Cardinals will have three safeties with starting experience and a fourth one, Peake, who’s ready to blossom into a solid reserve.
Weakness: Pass defense. It wasn’t all its fault, but the defensive backfield got routinely burned a year ago, allowing a Big East-high 25 touchdown passes. Council’s off-field problems will force someone like Patrick into the lineup a year before he’s ready.
Outlook: The healthy return of Thomas will help the run defense, but this is still a suspect group of defensive backs who will struggle against quality passers.  Turenne needs to perform like the monster pick-up he was supposed to be, and even then, Louisville is going to labor to stop the pass.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Consistent with the key losses being felt throughout the rest of the roster, Louisville is taking a hit on special teams as well. Art Carmody, one of the best collegiate kickers of all time, has exhausted his eligibility. There’s a line forming to fill his rather large left shoe. At the head of the line is sophomore Tim Dougherty, a Purdue transfer, but he’ll get challenged by redshirt freshmen Ryan Payne, Nathan Overall, and Evan McKeon.  As an all-state senior in high school, Dougherty nailed 9-of-11 field goals, including a career-best 44-yarder.  

At punter, there’s far less uncertainty. Junior Cory Goettsche is back for his third season as the starter.  Over the last two seasons, he’s lacked consistency, averaging just 38.5 yards a boot and taking much of the blame for Louisville’s middling punt coverage numbers.   

Watch Out ForJaJuan Spillman.  The junior averaged nearly 28 yards a kickoff return two years ago, declaring himself one of the most dangerous young returners in the country. Back from suspension, he’ll be looking to regain the form that made him so combustible as a rookie.
Strength: The return game. Not only will Spillman give the special teams unit a boost, but Trent Guy and Bilal Powell have shown a tendency for bringing the home crowd to its feet as well.
Weakness: Punting. For the third straight season, it appears that the Cardinals are going to be no better than average in the punting game. Goettsche is one of the Big East’s worst punters, bad news for a defense that’ll already be playing on its heels.
Outlook: No matter how good Dougherty winds up being, it’ll be impossible to replace Carmody, Louisville’s Art-o-matic. Toss in the concerns at punter, and it doesn’t appear that the Cardinals will have the special teams edge in many games this season.
Rating: 6