Louisville football: Cards recruiting strategy will yield much-needed depth

Louisville football’s staff has put together a loaded class for 2020, many of whom should contribute right away. The one area they focused on the most should make them a much stronger team next season.

By all accounts, the 2019 season for Louisville football season was a monumental success as first-year head coach Scott Satterfield and his staff led the Cards to a seven-win season, that will soon culminate with an appearance in the Music City Bowl against Mississippi State.

The culture at Louisville was broken. And while I always thought that Satterfield would be able to get things turned around for UofL the same way he led jumpstart FBS program Appalachian State to become one of the most winning programs across the entire country, I never expected it to be this fast.

The players nearly immediately bought into Scott Satterfield’s message and philosophy, and in a matter of months a team once looked at as having major competitive and talent issues,  now were winning games against top 25 teams on the road (for the first time in program history).

All three phases of the game saw major improvement, highlighted by the offense behind break out workhorse running back Javian Hawkins and the dynamic duo of Micale Cunningham and Tutu Atwell. Their improvement gave Louisville the ability to be able to consistently dominate on the ground while being able to break off big plays in the blink of an eye through the air courtesy of the speed of Atwell and precise route-running of Dez Fitzpatrick.

Defensively, the team took major steps forward in just about every area under the leadership of co-defensive coordinators, Bryan Brown and Cort Dennison. And while the statistics point to the Cardinals once again being a bad defensive team (which at the end of the season, they were), time and time again they made plays that resulted in wins.

Right away against a vastly superior team in Notre Dame during the season opener, you saw improvement. The team was fast. They played with effort. They pursued. They did everything in aa way that made the 2018 players nearly unrecognizable. With the help of a few graduate transfers and a few key seniors, the Cards continued to improve each week, giving it all they had.

Unfortunate as the season went on, it wasn’t pretty. The wear and tear of a long season finally caught up to the 34 scholarship players on defense who were being asked to play nearly every snap, and it opened up the door to bad tackling, mental mistakes, and big plays.

The narrative of the 2019 season should be the overall improvement from a group led by a program builder in Scott Satterfield and his staff and the complete change of a program in less a year.  Unfortunately, I believe it will likely always come with the caveat of, “yeah, but the defense was bad.”

The defense in 2019 was not great, the numbers don’t hide that. Louisville finished the season as the 107th best defense in the country, giving up over 446 yards per game on average. They finished t-84th in pass defense allowing 235 yards per game and 115th in the country in total rushing defense allowing 210.8 yards per game. There’s probably no need for perspective but Louisville finished four spots behind Rutgers in stopping the run.

We knew there was a ton of talent leftover on the roster on both sides of the ball for Scott Satterfield and his group of coordinators and position coaches. The running back, wide receiver, and linebacker positions were units seen as having ample playmaking, depth, and versatility, while the others needed work.

The biggest concern all along was depth. From the moment Satterfield arrived, he cautioned his fans to patient in the rebuilding process due to the roster mismanagement of the previous staff, and pure neglect of some areas of the ball. One of those areas was in fact defense, and it left Louisville with a lack of bodies needed to field a productive defense.

We saw that all season long, and while it wasn’t ever used as an excuse, the defense ultimately fell apart.

But there’s no need to worry. No, Bryan Brown doesn’t need to be fired or demoted or even thought of as being on the hot seat. Instead, we should applaud Brown and the entire Louisville staff for their work on the recruiting trail.

The class of 2020 sets up to be a big class for Louisville, both in quantity of incoming players and in terms of the talent and abilities possessed by the Cards’ new additions. Unlike classes of years past, the group of commitments in 2020 shows a precise plan meant to accelerate winning and getting the program back towards the top of the ACC.

That plan – build depth at all positions, starting in the trenches, and do it quickly. That means recruiting particular players who check multiple boxes (regardless of star rankings) such as:

  • Fits a need
  • Fits the scheme
  • Can do one or two things really good
  • Physically able to compete
  • Can enroll early
  • Love football and want to be in a “family” atmosphere
  • Want to be apart of something special

As things currently stand, Louisville holds commitments from nine players in the class of 2020 who will play on the defensive side of the ball once they arrive on campus. That list includes four players who play along the defensive line, as well as three players in the secondary. Out of Louisville’s top five highest-graded players according to 247 Sports, three of them play on the defensive side of the ball. The focus for 2020 was defense and it was executed (and is still being executed at a high level).

We also found yesterday, that Scott Satterfield will be gaining two other additional players in 2019 commits Ja’Darien Boykin, who was the top-ranked player in the class for the Cards, as well as three-star cornerback Jamel Starks.

Both players were unable to get the necessary academics in order to be able to enroll at Louisville with the remainder of 2019, instead of having to wait until 2020. Both will start classes in the spring semester and will be eligible to go through spring practice in February.

Incoming defensive players in the class of 2020

  • Ja’Darien Boykin – DE ( 6’2, 235)**
  • Jamel Starks – CB (5’11, 180)**
  • Kameron Wilson – OLB (6’1, 206)
  • Josh Griffis – DE ( 6’4, 245)
  • Marvin Dallas -OLB ( 6’1, 180)**
  • Henry Bryant – DT ( 5’11, 285)
  • Lovie Jenkins – CB (5’10,  180)\
  • Jared Dawson – DT (6’2, 255)
  • Zay Peterson – S (6’1, 190)
  • Josh Minkins Jr. -S (6’3, 185)
  • Dezmond Tell – DT (6’1, 270)

The staff is also not done. The Early Signing Period is just a matter of days away and Louisville will be in play for multiple more impact players who could also be potential starters right away.

Potential additions

Maureeese Wren – OLB (6’4, 220 – no. 1 JUCO ATH)

Yaya Diaby – DE (6’4, 255)

Mason Cobb – ILB (6’1, 220)

Jamoi Hodge– OLB (6’2, 225)

Greedy Vance – CB (5’10, 155)

Jakorian Bennett – CB (6’0, 185)

Louisville will officially lose 27 seniors by of graduation, including three starters on the defensive side of the ball and multiple reserves. Three starters is a dream when you talk about building continuity, something Bryan Brown should be able to build off of in 2019. Losing experienced players on the defensive line like G.G. Robinson and Amonte Caban will hurt, as will the tackling and run-stopping of safety Khane Pass, but Louisville will without question be able to handle the blow thanks to the incoming class.

From top-to-bottom, you see players who will be able to be “plug-n-play” guys from the start. And while they may not start right away, by seasons end they could be reliable players – especially those who enroll in January.

They’ll join the 18 returning players who either started in a game or played a good chunk of snaps over the course of 12 games, led by eight starters including leading tacklers C.J. Avery and Rodjay Burns, and experienced leaders in Russ Yeast and Dorian Etheridge.

No more missing easy tackles. No more being too gassed late in the fourth quarter to create a consistent pass rush. Eliminated are mental mistakes and the inability to create turnovers. All because of depth.

Gone will be the days of rotating four or five linemen, three or four linebackers, and a few corners, replaced with eight or more linemen, six or more linebackers, and as many as eight members of the secondary – all of whom should be able to help Louisville take the next step defensively in the ACC.

Next: 4 incoming freshman who could play a big role in 2020

It’s still going to require patience in the leadership of Scott Satterfield and his defensive coordinators Bryan Brown and Cort Dennison, but in 2020 the Louisville defense will have the depth necessary to begin building something special.

 

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