Among all the position groups on last year’s team, the Louisville offensive line arguably faced the toughest challenges. Scott Satterfield inherited a team that had eight offensive linemen on scholarship, and a program that had consistently ranked among the worst in the FBS in pass protection.
Depending on which stats you’re looking at, Louisville’s offensive line made a ton of strides in 2019. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Cardinals finished 17th in passing down line yards (which measures yards per carry on passing downs), and 38th in opportunity rate (the percentage of carries that get four yards or more, whenever available). These numbers highlight Louisville’s tremendous growth in the running game, raising their yards per game average from 141.5 in 2018, to 212.85 in 2019.
But in pass protection, Louisville still has ground to make up. They finished in the bottom ten among three of Football Outsiders’s four advanced pass blocking categories, and tied for 118th in sacks allowed per game (3.08). Louisville also finished last among 130 FBS schools with 129 tackles for loss allowed, averaging 9.92 per game.
Heading into 2020, Louisville has to replace both starters at the tackle positions left by the departing Tyler Haycraft and Mekhi Becton. Becton would go on to be drafted 11th overall by the New York Jets this past April.
Listed Starters (from LT to RT): Adonis Boone, Caleb Chandler, Cole Bentley, Robbie Bell, Renato Brown
Year one of the Scott Satterfield era at Louisville proved to be a tremendous success, with an 8-5 record and a Music City Bowl victory over Mississippi State to cap it off. But as the numbers show from last year, some units are still a work in progress heading into year two.
Louisville is also trying to reverse a trend that has plagued the football program for the last decade. Since 2009, they have finished in the top half of the FBS in sacks allowed per game only twice (2010 and 2013). In the last five seasons, Louisville hasn’t finished better than 99th in that category. For the Cardinals to take the next step and become a potential New Year’s Six bowl contender, they’ll need to see the offensive line improve and prevent going behind the chains.
One thing that Louisville has going for them is stability. The Cardinals have a wealth of experience and versatility on the interior, led by seniors Cole Bentley and Robbie Bell.
Bentley has 21 career starts to Bell’s 26, and both have the flexibility to play at center or guard. Bell has started a full season at both center (2017) and guard (2019), while Bentley has made starts at both positions throughout his college career. Due to Caleb Chandler anchoring the left guard spot, you’ll likely see Bentley and Bell play at center and right guard, respectively.
Chandler returns as the starting left guard after making all 13 starts at the position in 2019. Chandler excels in run blocking, and can really move on pull blocks for some of Louisville’s outside zone plays. He emerged in late 2018 and helped the Cardinals average over 200 rushing yards per game in the final three games of that season, later becoming a key part of Louisville’s rushing attack in 2019.
Chandler, along with standout left tackle Mekhi Becton, became the strong side of Louisville’s offensive line that helped make life easy for everyone last year. There are some concerns about having to replace Becton, but Adonis Boone will definitely be a capable starter for Louisville. Boone made his only two starts in 2019 in crucial moments, appearing at left tackle in Louisville’s huge win at NC State that helped secure bowl eligibility, as well as the Music City Bowl. He also has the flexibility to play at guard like he did occasionally last year, but unless Louisville has an injury at that spot, it’s unlikely you’ll see Boone slide to guard.
The only position battle that I could see taking place in August is at right tackle, which looks like a three-man race. Right now, Renato Brown is the projected starter. He played in four games last season, which allowed him to retain his ability to redshirt and not burn a year of eligibility. Brown has bulked up to 330 lbs. in his 6’4″ frame, which should make him a potential anchor that Louisville needs on the right side. Like Boone, Brown has the flexibility to play at guard as well.
Key Reserves: Trevor Reid, Cam DeGeorge, Luke Kandra
I mentioned that right tackle would be a three-man race, with Renato Brown already highlighted. The other two I could see as the starter are a JUCO standout, and an experienced grad transfer.
Trevor Reid recently went viral on Twitter after a video surfaced of him doing a handspring backflip (keep in mind, he’s a stout 6’5″, 285 lbs). But Reid’s skills on the field are as impressive as his gymnastics. He was the top JUCO offensive tackle in the 2020 class, and should be able to contend right away for the right tackle spot. If he is able to crack the starting lineup, it would give Louisville a strong weakside blocker who can really run and create lanes in either zone scheme.
Whether or not Cam DeGeorge is able to get into the starting lineup, he will give Louisville much needed depth and a veteran presence in the two-deep. DeGeorge made 33 career starts at Connecticut at guard, but can play at tackle if needed. His experience at the position could give Louisville’s younger players at the position an opportunity to learn the system and develop their technique, similar to what TJ McCoy was able to provide last season.
A lot of people are very high on Luke Kandra as a true freshman, and based on the depth chart released last week, he could very well get some reps in 2020. Kandra was a three-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite rankings, and earned a late four-star rank in 247Sports own rankings before the 2020 class wrapped up. At minimum, he should be a lock to take the right guard spot once the seniors graduate. He’s a very polished guard with great hands and feet, and has the potential to be a real game changer in his junior and senior seasons.