2010 Louisville Preview – Defense

Posted Aug 4, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Louisville Cardinal Defense

Louisville Cardinals

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What you need to know: Charlie Strong is a defensive-minded coach. He and new coordinator Vance Bedford have a lot to think about in their first season on the job. The new staff inherits a dearth of overall talent, much of which was mined from junior colleges across the West and Southwest. Unlike what Strong and Bedford grew accustomed to in Gainesville, NFL scouts have few reasons to pass through Louisville in 2010. So now what? In lieu of a complete turnaround from last year's dismal results, the Cardinals will settle for implementing a new system, coaching up the holdovers, and preparing the young kids for 2011 and beyond.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Johnny Patrick, 53
Sacks: William Savoy, 5
Interceptions: Johnny Patrick, Brandon Heath, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Johnny Patrick
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Greg Scruggs
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Dexter Heyman
Best pro prospect: Patrick
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Senior LB Antwon Canady, 2) Patrick, 3) Junior DE William Savoy
Strength of the defense: Experience, speed
Weakness of the defense: Pass rush, pass defense, run defense, interior of the line

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The staff's biggest concern up front will be finding replacements for tackles L.T Walker and L.D Scott, who've graduated. To help bolster the interior, Louisville will shift junior Greg Scruggs inside from end and allow him to use his quickness to get penetration. Still undersized despite bulking up to 6-4 and 268 pounds, he'll need to lean more than ever on his preparation and work ethic to avoid getting engulfed by larger players. In his first full year as the starter, he produced 24 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.

At the nose, the defense will put a lot of faith in 6-2, 310-pound senior Tim High , who had just four tackles last season in limited action. A former transfer from El Camino (Calif.) Community College and one-year member of UNLV, he has a squat frame that allows him to eat up space and occupy blockers.

Contrary to the tackles, the ends are a couple of veteran returning starters. Junior William Savoy was a pleasant surprise a year ago, producing 23 tackles and five sacks, despite flip-flopping between the first and second team. Built more like a linebacker at 6-1 and 239 pounds, he trades ideal size for a quick burst off the snap and good closing speed.

Playing the role of a strongside end in this defense will be 6-3, 253-pound senior Malcolm Tatum , coming off a decent debut out of Gulf Coast (Miss.) Community College. Although he doesn't have the quickness off the edge of Savoy, he brings more girth in run support, leading the ends with 29 tackles a year ago.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Rodney Gnat is unlikely to develop into an every-down player, but he has played a lot of football at defensive end for the program. A 6-3, 253-pound veteran of 29 games, 10.5 tackles for loss, and six batted balls, he's a situational pass rusher, with a keen nose for the backfield.

Louisville is banking on a pair of JUCO transfers to add some much-needed depth on the inside of the line. Senior Joe Townsend played sparingly in five games after transferring from Foothill (Calif.) College, where he was a stalwart in run defense. Despite being 6-4 and 303 pounds, he slides well and can get penetration.

Battling Townsend for playing time at the nose will be 6-3, 291-pound sophomore newcomer Randy Salmon , a transfer from Hutchinson (Kans.) Community College. Thick, strong, and surprisingly nimble, he has the requisite talent to use this summer as a launching pad to a starting job and possibly more before he's through.

Watch Out For .... incoming blue-chip freshman B.J. Butler . There's an obvious need for more talent on the defensive line, which Butler is capable of filling early in his career. One of the gems of this latest class, he decommitted from Georgia to play for Charlie Strong. Once he fills out, he has the athletic burst and change-of-direction to become a special pass rusher.
Strength: The ends. Savoy and Tatum both showed enough quickness off the edge last year to be cautiously optimistic about the upcoming season. Although neither will provide too much help in support, if they can collapse the pocket from time to time, it'll give a big boost to a frail defensive backfield.
Weakness: Run defense. Unless High or Salmon suddenly morphs into the second coming of Amobi Okoye, Louisville will have plenty of problems on the interior of the line. No one has much experience at this level, and no matter how talented Scruggs may be, giving away 25-30 pounds on every play will eventually wear him down.
Outlook: Not unlike the offensive line, the D-line has plenty of upperclassmen, but precious few stars. Savoy will need to double last year's pass rush production, and someone has to plug the gaping holes in the middle of the line. Figure on the Cards to lose more battles at the point of attack than they win this season.
Rating: 6


Projected Starters: Last year's top two tacklers, both linebackers, have graduated, leaving a large void at the position. It's a good thing the Cardinals have a couple of returning starters to help plug the holes. Senior Antwon Canady will take over in the middle after spending much of his career at weakside. After being a part-time starter in each of the last two seasons, he'll be asked to play a much larger role as a leader and a defender. A 6-0, 244-pound run stopper, he'll get every opportunity to double last year's 34 tackles.

The big-play guy of the group is senior Brandon Heath , who's going to take over at weakside. A 6-1, 220-pound linebacker in the body of a safety, he'll get shoved around at times, but can really deliver the payload and will makes plays all over the field. He has three career touchdowns and is coming off his best season, making 48 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss, and two picks.

The final piece of the puzzle at linebacker should be filled in by junior Dexter Heyman , who spent last season making just eight tackles as he tried to pitch in at defensive end. He'll be a far better fit at strongside, and at 6-3 and 238 pounds, brings some much-needed size and pop to the second line of defense.

Projected Top Reserves: Behind Heyman at strongside will be sophomore Daniel Brown , who made a couple of tackles in eight games and spent most of his time covering kicks on special teams. More like Heath than Heyman, he's just 6-1 and 205 and has the speed and range to be used on blitzes or wherever he's needed.

The heir apparent to Heath at weakside is 6-1, 210-pound sophomore Horace Miller , one of just four true freshman to letter a year ago. Appearing in every game, he made five tackles and got a better feel for the game on special teams. A good athlete, who needs to become a more disciplined defender, he ought to take a big step forward in his maturation this fall.

Watch Out For .... Canady to wrack up at least 100 tackles now that he's the man in the middle. It's his turn to clean up the mess now that Jon Dempsey and Chris Campa have exhausted their eligibility. He's an instinctive senior on a team that allows too many plays to get past the first line of defense. Do the math.
Strength: A veteran starting three. Assuming it's Canady, Heath, and Heyman in the opening day huddle, the Cardinals will be leaning on a pair of seniors and a junior at linebacker. That experience will be helpful, especially as the defense adjusts to a new system and an entirely new staff.
Weakness: Star power. No matter how you view it, this is a middling collection of linebackers, most of whom were lightly-recruited coming out of high school. There isn't a lot of size or a likely all-star in the bunch, and the backups are undersized and inexperienced.
Outlook: The linebackers figure to be a serviceable group, but little more. Although the tackles are sure to mount for the starters, don't expect too many big plays or stops behind the line of scrimmage. Heyman will be an interesting project for the new staff, particularly after honing his pass rushing skills as a defensive end a year ago.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: A shaky Cardinal secondary will be built around 6-0, 186-pound senior CB Johnny Patrick , the unit's closest thing to an all-star candidate. One of just two players to start all 12 games in each of the last two seasons, he collected a career-high 53 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two interceptions. A former wideout, he's still somewhat raw, but continues to improve and has the speed and hips to be the team's best cover guy.

After appearing in 10 games and starting a pair, 5-11, 190-pound senior Anthony Conner is looking for an even bigger role at cornerback in his final season. A speedy former running back at Butte (Calif.) Community College, he made 16 stops and four pass breakups, but still has a lot to learn at the position.

The staff is hoping to get back senior SS Terence Simien, who missed all but two games in 2009 with a lacerated kidney. The former transfer from San Mateo (Calif.) Community College brings a nice blend of range and pop in a 6-2, 210-pound frame. After having his debut cut short, he's hoping to pick up where he left last September.

When injuries hit the defensive backfield last fall, 6-1, 195-pound sophomore Shenard Holton stepped up as a rookie and picked up some slack. That experience over the final eight games could propel him to the starting spot at free safety. He has good range and loves to lower his shoulder in run support, which has the new coaches excited about his future in Louisville.

Projected Top Reserves: With the logjam in the offensive backfield, sophomore Darius Ashley has been moved to cornerback, a shift that's looking shrewd at this time. In his debut, he responded by rushing for 462 yards and four scores on 106 carries, including a 164-yard outburst versus West Virginia. A 5-8, 184-yard jackrabbit, with the athleticism to be versatile, he possesses the foot speed and toughness to beat out Conner or replace Patrick if his legal problems don't go away.

Junior CB Preston Pace lasted just five games in 2009 before a shoulder injury and subsequent surgery shut him down. Yet another fleet-footed import from the junior college ranks, the 6-1, 197-pounder did his apprenticeship at Butte (Calif.) Community College before accepting an offer to play in the Big East.

Unless he can rise up and win a job, the veteran among the backups will be 5-11, 180-pound senior Bobby Burns , who made three starts and nine tackles in his first year out of Butte (Calif.) Community College. He appeared lost at times and needs to use this offseason to get better acclimated with the defense and the speed of the game.

Watch Out For .... plenty of shuffling. Aside from Patrick, there are so many unknown commodities in the secondary, largely due to injuries. The old staff relied heavily on JUCO transfers to populate the defense, but none of them have had much time to show off their abilities.
Strength: Athleticism. Hey, no one doubts that Louisville has been able to attract really good athletes over the past few years. Many of the defensive backs used to be skill position players on offense, and all of them can get from Point A to Point B in a hurry.
Weakness: Coverage skills. This has been an ongoing problem with the program for the past few seasons. And it's a trend that doesn't appear likely to end soon. The Cardinals lack any lockdown types in the secondary, and are coming off a season in which they were next to last in the Big East in yards per attempt, interceptions, and pass efficiency D.
Outlook: It's a hodge-podge collection of players, most of whom needed a stint in junior college before making it to the big leagues. Simien, Conner, and Pace do have potential that went untapped in their debuts with the program. If the staff can't coach at least two of them into steady performers, it'll be another long and humbling year for the Louisville pass defense.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The uncertainty that plagued Louisville on special teams last year might linger for another season. Question marks and competition will be commonplace leading up the opener. For beginners, the Cards need a punter to replace Cory Goettsche, who has graduated. Senior Jon Payne is the top contender, though he has very little experience at this level. He's being challenged by junior Josh Bleser , who has an equally vapid resume.

Payne will also compete for the placekicker's job, but is currently looking up at junior Chris Philpott . While inconsistent in 2008, he bounced back a year ago, hitting all five of his field goal attempts, including a career-long 44-yarder versus West Virginia.

Watch Out For… the return game. Now that explosive Trent Guy is gone, the staff will be forced to evaluate return men in the offseason. Sophomores Scott Radcliff and Jacques Caldwell saw some action on special teams last year, but didn't do enough to shut the door on the competition.
Strength: Punt coverage. For the second straight year, the Cardinals did a nice job of limiting the big play on punts, ranking 34th nationally and third in the conference at just 6.6 yards and attempt.
Weakness: Punting. With the question marks facing the defense heading into 2010, Louisville is in dire need of punter who can pin opponents deep and boom the team out of trouble. Maybe Payne or Bleser is that guy. Or maybe his lack of experience and big leg will add insult to injury for the star-less D. The latter is the more likely scenario.
Outlook: Doing the little things well, such as special teams, could throw a much-needed life line to the offense and the defense. Don't bank on it. The Cards have a dearth of sure-things here and enough question marks to give the assistants a lot of sleepless nights between now and the opener.
Rating: 5.5  

- 2010 Louisville Preview | 2010 Louisville Offense
- 2010 Louisville Defense | 2010 Louisville Depth Chart
- Louisville Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006