LOUISVILLE, Ky. – With a number of key veterans on the football team graduating, there were some key position battles at the University of Louisville to watch for during fall camp.
The Cardinals graduated a number of contributors on defense, but still brought back nine starters from a defense that allowed just over 300 yards of offense per game.
One area that didn’t have much mystery was in the secondary. Four starters return, including All-America candidate Jaire Alexander at cornerback.
The Charlotte native registered a career-best five interceptions and had 11 passes defended last season, which means a lot of footballs might be traveling to the other side of the field this season.
Alexander, a first team Associated Press preseason All-American, was mentioned for almost every major defense award in the offseason, rightly deserved after an outstanding sophomore campaign.
“Jaire deserves all the accolades,” Zykiesis Cannon said. “He works very hard. He deserves everything he’s going to get. I’m sure no team is going to try him four or five times a game, so I’m sure I can expect more balls my way.”
With a new defensive scheme, having a veteran presence in the secondary, and safeties Chucky Williams, Cannon and Trumaine Washington flanking Alexander — that experience is going to be a key with some holes to fill in the front seven.
“We are very experienced back there,” Cannon said. “We just communicate more than the younger guys out there. When the younger guys are out there, there can be some miscommunication and some things get misread because they aren’t communicating motions and formations.”
Settling into the secondary last season, Cannon, who was used sparingly during his first two seasons, totaled a career-high 66 tackles and registered his first career interception. He started 10 games and totaled a personal-best eight tackles in three different games.
With the lack of playing time during his first couple of years, Cannon doesn’t want to focus on his role, but is appreciative that he has a great opportunity in front of him in his final season.
“My career has flown by,” Cannon said. “Freshman year I played special teams, and sophomore year didn’t go as I had planned. My junior year I was prepared to more safety, but I ended up playing more nickel. It’s been difficult sometimes, but I can’t help but be grateful.”
With so much experience returning in the back end of the defense, one would think that there wasn’t an opportunity for freshmen to battle for playing time, but there are a couple of rookies who will crack the two-deep, if not be one of the 11 on the field, for the first defensive snap of the season.
One of those fortunate youngsters appears to be safety C.J. Avery from Grenada, Miss. An early enrollee, Avery came to Louisville in January and was fortunate to compete during spring practice.
From the moment he stepped on the field in March, Avery was one of the players the coaching staff felt needed to be in the rotation.
“I think my physicality is my strength,” Avery said. “I think I have great instincts to play football. I’ve been doing that since high school, just playing with a lot of instincts. However, now I’m playing with knowledge and instincts.”
While Avery is one of the freshmen who could see significant time this year, he isn’t the only talented rookie in the class who should see the field.
Cornerbacks Russ Yeast and Anthony Johnson and safety TreSean Smith will also hit the field at some point this year, but Avery relishes the opportunity in front of him.
“I’m very blessed to be in this position,” Avery said. “I’m grateful and I won’t take it for granted at all. I just want to keep working hard the best I can, and just have fun with the season.”
The season that Avery refers to is just around the corner – 10 days to be exact. After a grueling camp, the anticipation of game day is starting to creep into the players’ minds.
“I’m really excited,” Avery said. “I think the whole defense is really excited. Coach (Peter) Sirmon talks about thinking about the national anthem and when that time comes be ready. I think our whole defense just thinks about that.”