We are 44 days away from the start of the 2019 football season, and it is now time to meet the 2019 Louisville football team.
To get started, we are going to take a look at the offensive line.
The offensive line, much like the rest of the team, struggled mightily throughout the season. The Cardinals allowed 43 sacks, which was tied for 126th in the country (and second-worst among Power Five schools, behind Oregon State). For all five years of the second Bobby Petrino era, Louisville’s offensive line did not rank above the top 100 nationally in sacks allowed.
Run blocking was not a strength of the Louisville team either. In 2018, 20.8% of all carries were stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage (93rd in the FBS) and had a 66.7% power success rate, according to Football Outsiders.
Departures: Linwood Foy, Kenny Thomas, Nate Scheler, Lukayus McNeil
Starters: Mekhi Becton, Caleb Chandler, T.J. McCoy, Cole Bentley, Tyler Haycraft
Due to a lot of graduations, departures, and transfers, the offensive line position was left very thin for the 2019 season. For Louisville to take a step towards an improbable bowl run, the offensive line will need to stay together and be as close to completely healthy as possible.
Despite the shallow depth in U of L’s offensive line, the position group has perhaps the best NFL prospect in left tackle Mekhi Becton. Becton enters 2019 as a three-year starter and a massive anchor for the blindside, coming in at 6’7″ and 360+ pounds. In addition to his impressive size, Becton has good agility and footwork, able to step out wide and handle one-on-one assignments. Becton has a good, but not great, chance to be taken by day two of the 2020 NFL Draft if he declares early, with the upside for a mid-to-late first round grade.
Starting next to Becton is Caleb Chandler, who received an opportunity as a starter during the final four games. Chandler staying on as the starter is good for Louisville’s new offense, which is expected to be more run-heavy under new coach Scott Satterfield. During that four-game stretch to close the 2018 season, Louisville rushed for 200+ yards in the final three, including a season-high 254 against North Carolina State and 226 against Kentucky (with a season-high 7.53 yards per carry against the Wildcats).
While the left side of Louisville’s offensive line should be a lock, the center and right side of the line is still up for grabs. Junior Cole Bentley and graduate transfer T.J. McCoy are listed in a battle for center. McCoy transferred from Florida to Louisville for 2019, having made nine starts in 2017, but had four appearances last year with the Gators. McCoy was also named to the Rimington Trophy Watch List this preseason, putting him among the best potential centers in college football.
Cole Bentley is a three-year veteran with the Cardinals, making 15 career starts across his freshman and sophomore years. If he isn’t able to supplant McCoy as the starting center, he can possibly slide to right guard and be a starter there. Having a starting offensive line with Becton, Chandler, McCoy, and Bentley would possibly give Louisville their best lineup for run blocking.
Tyler Haycraft is listed as the starter at right tackle, and would be the only Louisville Cardinal making his first career start in that lineup.
Reserves: Robbie Bell, Adonis Boone, Joshua Black, Renato Brown, Zach Williamson
As a result of numerous departures, Louisville’s depth at offensive line is very thin, with only Robbie Bell returning with any substantial experience. Bell was the starting center for U of L for all of 2017, but made only one appearance in 2018 in garbage time against Georgia Tech. He’s currently listed as the starting right guard in the depth chart, but if Bentley slides over to right guard, that will be a battle to watch throughout the preseason.
Adonis Boone made sporadic appearances last season, and his return gives Louisville some brief experience in their two-deep.
If injuries overwhelm certain spots of the offensive line, it could force some true freshman to get some playing time. Joshua Black, Renato Brown, and Zach Williamson were late signees upon Satterfield’s arrival at Louisville, all of whom were three-star prospects out of high school. Joshua Black was originally a Georgia Tech commit, but the All-State Georgia native signed with Louisville after the Yellow Jackets saw Paul Johnson depart. Brown was originally committed to Miami but chose the Cardinals in the second signing period.
Despite a lot of the original 2019 recruiting class decommitting from Louisville, Williamson was one of a handful to stay on with the Cards. Williamson’s early enrollment should give him a leg up in his development, and solidify himself as a backup candidate at either tackle spot.
JK’s Takeaway: For Louisville to exceed their win projections in 2018 (around 3-to-5, depending on the book), the offensive line will need to have as optimal of a season as possible. It will need to see Mekhi Becton become one of the most dominant offensive linemen in the ACC. It will need Caleb Chandler and Cole Bentley to be road graters for Louisville, as they embrace a new run-first philosophy under the new staff. And it will need to stay healthy, avoiding the continuous rotation of starters and putting inexperienced linemen in tough situations.