2009 Louisville Preview - Defense
Louisville LB Jon Dempsey
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Defense
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need to know:
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.
Star of the defense: Senior
LB Jon Dempsey
Tackles: Jon Dempsey,
William Savoy, 2
Interceptions: Chris Camps, Johnny Patrick, 1
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:
Weakness of the defense:
Pass rush, pass defense
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
Watch Out For…Trent
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
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.
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.