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2009 Louisville Preview - Defense
Louisville LB Jon Dempsey
Louisville LB Jon Dempsey
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 20, 2009


CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Defense

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2009 - Defense

- 2009 CFN Louisville Preview | 2009 Louisville Offense
- 2009 Louisville Defense | 2009 Louisville Depth Chart
- 2008 UofL Preview | 2007 UofL Preview | 2006 UofL Preview 

What you need to know: At least in the early part of 2008, former defensive coordinator Ron English was doing a real nice job of getting more production from less talent. English’s replacement, Brent Guy, will need to weave the same kind of magic because there’s absolutely no star power on this unit. For the second straight year, the Cardinals will have problems getting to the quarterback and defending the pass. In fact, those weaknesses are likely to feed off each other. The strength of the defense will be at linebacker, where a bunch of familiar faces return, headed by all-star Jon Dempsey.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jon Dempsey, 80
Sacks: William Savoy, 2
Interceptions: Chris Camps, Johnny Patrick, 1

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jon Dempsey
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Johnny Patrick
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Greg Scruggs
Best pro prospect: Senior DT L.T. Walker
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dempsey 2) Walker 3) Senior S Richard Raglin
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: After losing three of last year’s key linemen to graduations, the Cardinals will have a new look here in 2009. There’s hope that senior DT L.T. Walker is finally ready to blossom into the next Louisville lineman with a shot at playing in the NFL. A good run stopper at 6-4 and 304 pounds, he started five games last year, making 14 tackles and getting better as the year progressed.

Bucking to line up next to Walker at the nose will be senior Tyler Jessen. As a key reserve in his first year out of Butler (Kans.) Community College, he made a dozen stops. A blue-collar player, he’s just 6-1 and 284 pounds, and prone to being bullied by more physical blockers.

Louisville will be looking for a couple of new starters on the outside who can generate pressure. Most of the excitement is reserved for sophomore Greg Scruggs, who lettered as a true freshman and even logged a few starts. Still growing and learning all the time, the 6-4, 250-pounder gives the Cards their best chance at having a consistent force from the edge.

Junior Rodney Gnat has played a lot of football over the last two years, but now he has to show he can be an every-down player. A 6-3, 253-pounder, he has a good burst and will be too quick for some opposing tackles. As a 10-game reserve a year ago, he made seven tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.

Projected Top Reserves: The Cardinals need more production from 6-2, 272-pound senior L.D. Scott, who has started 15 games over the last two years, but has just a single career sack. He did have a career year in 2008, making 22 tackles and six tackles for loss in nine games. An end throughout his career, he’s expected to shift inside to nose tackle and challenge Jessen for the job.

Louisville is counting on a pair of JUCO transfers to add depth and push the front-line players. On the inside, Joe Townsend is coming over from Foothill (Calif.) College, where he was a standout in run defense. Despite being 6-4 and 303 pounds, he moves well laterally and can get penetration.

On the outside, 6-3 and 255-pound Malcolm Tatum is an edge rusher, who’s capable of dipping his shoulder and quickly getting in the face of the quarterback. If he shows an ability for creating pressure, the Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College product won’t remain on the second team for long.

Watch Out For… Scruggs. Having played just one year of high school ball and one year at Louisville, he has an enormous upside as a pass rusher. Once he learns the finer points of the position, he’s got the burst and quick first step to be a star in this league.             
Strength: The tackles. Even if this group regresses from a year ago, it still has a chance to be very good. Walker has All-Big East potential, and Jessen and Scott are experienced veterans. If Townsend steps up, the Cards will have a solid two-deep rotation.    
Weakness: The pass rush. You want futility out of the front four? How about no sacks in the last five games and just 14 all year? Scruggs will need to impersonate Elvis Dumervil, or else it’s going to be a long and lonely year for the Louisville secondary         
Outlook: While Walker and Scruggs are interesting players with upside, this remains a mediocre overall defensive front that could get mauled by physical, north-south offensive lines. Last year’s group was chock full of seasoned players, yet too often got blown off the ball. That doesn’t bode well for this reshuffled unit.
Rating: 6

Linebackers

Projected Starters: The Cardinals welcome back three starters here, making linebacker one of the most stable positions on the depth chart. The leading man is 6-0, 241-pound senior Jon Dempsey, who had an auspicious debut in his first year out of junior college. A 12-game starter in the middle, he had a team-high 80 tackles to go along with eight tackles for loss. Fiercely competitive and highly instinctive, he’s dynamite against the run.

At weakside, 6-0, 244-pound junior Antwon Canady is another JUCO import, who made an immediate impact on the program. He appeared in 11 games, making six starts to close out the year, and finished with 39 tackles, three tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles.

Although junior Brandon Heath has a slight edge for the strongside job, he’ll have to fight right through the summer to hold on to it. A converted safety, he’s just 6-1 and 212 pounds, but hits like a much bigger player. He had 20 tackles and was playing well before being lost for the year to an injury.

Projected Top Reserves: While currently behind Canady at Weakside, sophomore Dexter Heyman could be the star of this unit in the second half of his career. At 6-3 and 238 pounds, he’s got the best combination of size and quickness among the linebackers. He also got his feet wet as a true freshman, playing in eight games and making 10 stops, while looking as if he belonged.

The third junior-college transfer to contribute in 2008 was Chris Campa, a six-game starter, who had 37 tackles and three tackles for loss. More physical than his 6-2, 210-pound size might indicate, he’ll go toe-to-toe with Heath over the next few months for that starting strongside job.

Watch Out For… improvement. The linebackers did a pretty good job in 2008, despite using a slew of first-time players either at the school or at the position. With that year of experience now in the vault, they should be ready to take another step forward in 2009.                
Strength: Sideline-to-sideline speed. The advantage of having so many undersized players at the position is that they all can fly to the ball and close in a hurry. While pulling guards at the second level could be a big concern, Louisville’s linebackers give away little in terms of athleticism.        
Weakness: Pass defense. When most of your linebackers are either 6-0 or 6-1, it makes the defense vulnerable to tall receivers and tight ends, who can work the middle of the field and create mismatches. This is not the kind of unit that’ll pick off or bat away many passes.                
Outlook: All things considered, Louisville regrouped nicely last year, when it was forced to replace three starting linebackers. Now that everyone is back, the unit is expected to make further progress as the foundation of the D. Dempsey is an underrated player, who should have no problem targeting 100 tackles in his second season.             
Rating: 6.5

Secondary

Projected Starters: There is plenty of work to be done for a secondary that finished 92nd nationally in pass defense and has parted ways with three starters. The bulk of the pressure rests on 6-0, 186-pound junior Johnny Patrick and sophomore Karldell Dunning, the favorites to start at cornerback. Patrick started all 12 games a year ago, making 50 tackles and breaking up 32 passes. A converted receiver, he has good and speed and footwork, but is still raw as a cover guy.

Dunning is one of the building blocks of the future, playing eight games as a true freshman and starting one after Woodny Turenne was injured. Like Patrick, he’s a tremendous athlete from the state of Florida, but is going to be vulnerable until he adds more weight and hones his coverage skills.

If he can remain healthy, senior FS Richard Raglin has a chance to be the leading man of this group. He’s started two games in each of the last two seasons, although last year was cut short in September when he suffered a season-ending wrist injury. A physical 6-2, 202-pounder, he packs a wallop and can be a real asset in run defense.

Rounding out the secondary at strong safety will be 5-11, 206-pound senior Daniel Covington. In his first season of action with the program, he played well, finishing No. 2 on the team with 66 tackles to go along with a couple of pass breakups.

Projected Top Reserves: There’s hope that depth at cornerback will be provided by senior Chaz Thompson. Although he’s hardly played since arriving from junior college in 2006, he’s a mature 6-1, 192-pounder with the overall athleticism to contribute on defense and special teams.  

Although just a redshirt freshman, Daniel Brown is already itching for playing time at safety behind Covington. At 6-1 and 205 pounds, he has the right combination of strength and blazing speed to be a factor on running downs and pass plays. At the very least, he’ll be able to cut his teeth as a special teams ace.

Watch Out For… more of the same. There’s no tangible evidence that the Cardinals will be any stingier than a year ago, when they yielded 26 touchdown passes, including seven in the finale with Rutgers. If the pass rush doesn’t do an about-face, quarterbacks will feast on this secondary for a second straight year.                  
Strength: The safeties.  Assuming Raglin is healthy, the Cardinals will have a couple of veteran safeties, who can press up to stop the run and make receivers pay for crossing over the middle.     
Weakness: Coverage skills. Two years ago, Patrick was a receiver and Dunning was in high school. And those projected starters, it doesn’t get a whole lot better at cornerback for the Cardinals.      
Outlook: As bad as things were bad for the Louisville pass defense a year ago, they might be about to get worse. Where are the lockdown performers of this group? There just isn’t enough proven talent on the roster to expect noticeable improvement from 2008, when the Cards were vulnerable whenever the ball was in the air.     
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: What a mess. The Cardinals used three placekickers a year ago, who combined to miss more field goals than they made. Junior Tim Dougherty has the most talent and best pop of the returners, but only attempted two field goals in 2008. The former Purdue Boilermaker was suspended in the middle of the season and never got back on track.

Sophomore Chris Philpott had the job in September, but squandered it with missed field goals and muffed extra point attempts.

Even bare-footed former walk-on Ryan Payne was pressed into action, but he displayed ongoing issues with accuracy.

At punter, there’s far less uncertainty. Although senior Cory Goettsche won’t contend for the Ray Guy Award, he is back for a fourth season as the starter. He averaged a career-high 40 yards a punt in 2008, dropping one-third of his kicks inside the other team’s 20-yard line.   

Watch Out ForTrent Guy. If anyone is going to light a spark under the return game, it’ll be the slipper senior, who led the team in kickoff return average in 2008, taking one back for a touchdown for the second straight year.    
Strength: The coverage units. Relative to the rest of the special teams, the Cardinal coverage units did a solid job of preventing the big play a year ago. The program has enough good athletes to bust the wedge and gain edges in field position.   
Weakness: Kicking. After going 5-of-11 on field goal attempts and missing a couple of extra points, there’s justified concern about a trio that failed to adequately replace Art Carmody.    
Outlook: Considering the question marks on offense and defense, Louisville needs to do the little things, like special teams, well to win more games. It’s unlikely to happen. The kickers, in particular, are average, which could cost the school a game or two during the year.
Rating: 5
   

    

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