Cardinal Preseason Drill is a series of pieces that will focus on specific areas and positions of the University of Louisville football team and their role in what Cardinal fans hope will result in back-to-back BCS bowl appearances, an undefeated season and potential BCS National Championship birth.
It is no secret that much if not all of the hype surrounding the University of Louisville football program is centered around the offense which includes Heisman hopeful quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a loaded receiver core affectionately nicknamed the AFROS (Americas Favorite Receivers On Saturday), that may arguably be the deepest and most talented in the nation. All accompanied by a powerful stable of stallion running backs, even before the addition of the 2011 BCS Championship MVP Michael Dyer.
I want to pause here and add that prior to proofing this piece I went on a 2 paragraph rant on the AFROS. There is a lot more here than a fresh hair cut…Next piece is cued up!
Charlie Strong and company realize that they are sitting just ahead of the perfect storm – a Red Storm of talent, experience, and depth that could put the University of Louisville football team in the National Championship conversation. And while Charlie Strong is trying to temper expectations, make no mistake about it, every cell in his body oozes competitiveness and he knows that if all the tracks fall into place, this train could make its final stop on January 6th, 2014 in Pasadena, CA. One of those tracks is the defense.
The Cardinal defensive squad gave up 4,424 yards of total offense at an average of 5.3 yards per play and a staggering 23.8 points per game. Compare that to the BCS National Champion University of Alabama who only gave up 2,432 yards for the season at 4.2 yards per play and 10.9 points per game. Overall, the Cardinals defense ranked 78th with 22 sacks, 11 interceptions and 1 defensive touchdown. AAC member SMU (Southern Methodist University) ranked 69th with 24 sacks, 21 interceptions, and 8 defensive touchdowns. The teams that rounded out the top 10 averaged over 38 sacks, with Stanford leading with 57, 15 interceptions (Fresno State 22), and 3 defensive touchdowns (Fresno State 6).
The improvements needed include a stronger pass rush and run defense able to penetrate the line of scrimmage and create havoc in the opposing backfield. This organized chaos will force quarterbacks to make quick and often poor decisions, force passes, and create turnovers. The linebackers must keep the ball in front of them with a relentless “fly around the field” tenacity. They need to be more involved in disrupting the offense, making open field tackles, and force offenses to consider taking their ball and go home. The secondary must take advantage of opportunities the defensive front is going to create. They must make opposing receivers “hear footsteps” and the safeties must make the crossing routs pay dearly!
Louisville is returning 9 of 11 defensive starters! This includes the entire D line with Tackles Lorenzo Mauldin and Marcus Smith. I expect huge things out of Mauldin, a junior with the nickname QB Predator. He and his 6″-4″ 245 lb NFL frame is equipped with lightning speed, strength, and moreover – heart. Like Bridgewater, Mauldin is man of character and mission. He considers his teammates and coaches his family. I know Mauldin will do what ever it takes to represent them and make them proud. I have personally met and spoken with the QB Predator and you can definitely sense that this is a man destined for greatness. Video of Mauldin overcoming his past through football.
Opposite Mauldin is Senior Marcus Smith who led the team with 9.5 sacks and has the opportunity and potential to garner attention from pro scouts. Senior Preston Brown, a Rotary Lombardi award watch list nominee, leads a loaded linebacker corps that includes 1st Team Freshman All-American Keith Brown. Preston has the size to challenge Brandon Dunn for his nose tackle position, but the speed and reaction to make cross field solo tackles. Imagine a young, slightly slimmer, William “The Refrigerator” Perry playing linebacker and you have Preston Brown. At practice I’ve noticed several Cardinals who have dropped some weight and I believe we all know who is stealing their snacks… I also expect senior B.J. Butler to make some noise in his final year as a Cardinal.
Rounding out the defense is a deep and talented secondary led by Senior Strong Safety Hakeem Smith. While Teddy Bridgewater is on the Heisman Trophy watch list, no Cardinal is nominated for more awards than Hakeem Smith. Preseason honors include Jim Thorpe Award watch list, Bednarik Award watch list, and Bronco Nagurski Award watch list. These are not names or awards that are thrown around lightly. Joining Smith are returning starters, juniors Calvin Pryor (also a Thorpe and Bednarik watch list nominee), Andrew Johnson, and Terrell Floyd. Reserves include juniors Stephan Robinson, Jordan Pascal, and sophomore athlete Charles Gaines.
This defensive group is extremely talented and solid with experience that truly under-performed last year until late in the season. This group of gifted athletes MUST put the noise out and realize, that as far as this season is concerned, they haven’t done ANYTHING yet. Coming off of a storybook performance in the Sugar Bowl and with much pre-season hype could be the doom of the group unless they focus on each team, each and every week. They cannot look ahead to anything but the next snap and dominating it. They must stay hungry. They have to shut down opposing offenses. They must control the line of scrimmage. In order for the University of Louisville football team to have an undefeated season and become part of the National Championship conversation, this defensive unit must play to their potential and beyond!!!
GOALS for the Defense: Mauldin and company must seek 5 sacks a game. Preston Brown must become a leader and dominate the middle of the field with a “you shall not pass” mentality and help force at least 2 turnovers a game. Hakeem Smith and the secondary must lock down opposing receivers and look to get at least 2 interceptions a game. As a unit they can not allow more than 14 points per game. When the defense hits the field we as the fans must make Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium rumble with the violence of a collision between out of control freight train and a UPS 747! Stand behind this group with all you have and you will see something special happen on that field this year.
Tags: AFROS Cardinal Defense Dominique Brown Football Hakeem Smith Heisman Keith Brown Lorenzo Mauldin Louisville Louisville Cardinal Football Teddy Bridgewater Heisman Defense AFROS Michael Dyer NFL Dominique Brown Defense Michael Dyer National Champion NFL Preston Brown Teddy Bridgewater Undefeated