Louisville begins its 2021 football season in two months, heading to Atlanta to face Ole Miss in a first-time ever matchup between the Cardinals and the Rebels on the gridiron. It’s time that we start to breakdown what the 2021 Cardinals will look like, starting with the offensive line.
Louisville’s offensive line saw a mixed bag of production. While it showed improvement in pass protection, it did show some minor regression as far as run blocking.
A year after ranking in the top half of the FBS in both opportunity rate and passing down line yards from FootballOutsiders.com, Louisville dropped to 60th in both categories. The Cardinals had a 48.8% opportunity rate (which measures how many carries gain at least four yards), and 2.91 line yards on passing down carries.
Louisville’s average line yardage dropped from 2.43 in 2019, to 2.40 in 2020. However, the Cardinals had a slight improvement in standard downs line yards (2.15 in 2019, 2.19 in 2020).
In pass protection, Louisville improved from year to year. The Cardinals gave up 29 sacks in 11 games played, an average of 2.64 allowed per game (tied for 92nd in the FBS in 2020). That is an improvement from 2019’s numbers, where the Cardinals allowed 40 sacks in 13 games played, averaging 3.08 sacks per game (tied for 119th in the FBS). Louisville also improved its standing in unadjusted sack rate, standard downs sack rate, and passing downs sack rate.
|Year||Unadjusted Sack Rate||Standard Downs Sack Rate||Passing Downs Sack Rate|
|2019||11.6% (125)||11.1% (128)||12.1% (107)|
|2020||7.6% (94)||6.2% (85)||10.9% (99)|
* 2019 and 2020 stats courtesy of FootballOutsiders.com
Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford left in the offseason to take over as the offensive line coach with the Atlanta Falcons. Jack Bicknell Jr. comes in as the new offensive line coach for Louisville this season, having previously coached at Auburn in 2020, and Ole Miss from 2017-19.
Louisville will also have to replace two starters on the offensive line from last season (Robbie Bell & Cam DeGeorge).
Projected Starters (from LT to RT): Trevor Reid, Caleb Chandler, Cole Bentley, Adonis Boone, Renato Brown OR Bryan Hudson
The offensive line group has a lot of versatility in the two-deep, with several guys that can play multiple positions for the first time in what seems like a long time for Louisville.
Caleb Chandler returns as the likely starter at left guard, having made 24 straight starts dating back to last season (27 overall). He’s a stout run blocker and when he’s able to win matchups, Louisville generally has had its best days on the ground. He does have the potential to play all five spots on the line, but his best spot remains at guard.
Cole Bentley also returns at center, becoming a rare five-year starter for the Cardinals. Bentley has made 31 career starts in his Louisville career, dating back to his true freshman campaign in 2017. Bentley has made starts at both center and guard, but his best position has always been center. He has the potential to be drafted in the late rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft as a balanced center, but he will need a strong 2021 campaign to solidify his draft status. He was also ranked as one of the best pass protectors in the ACC by PFF College, which is impressive given that he was up there with Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg last season. Bentley was tabbed as all-conference by Athlon Sports magazine this preseason, as well as Pro Football Focus (Chandler also earned preseason All-ACC honors from PFF).
The remaining three spots — left tackle, right guard, and right tackle — should all be competitive heading into the fall. Left tackle might see a change with Trevor Reid emerging as a favorite to man that spot. Reid was a consensus top-10 JUCO prospect coming out of Georgia Military College, but only played in nine games last season (mostly on special teams). He was also named one of the most improved players this spring, and if that translates to game scenarios, that will really elevate Louisville’s potential in 2021.
That leaves the right side of the line to figure out, which likely comes down to three guys: Adonis Boone, Bryan Hudson, and Renato Brown. I am (sort of) cheating by including six guys in a five-man starting unit, but (A) Satterfield hasn’t been opposed to using six offensive linemen in heavy sets, and (B) all three guys are starting caliber.
Let’s start with the guy that absolutely will start for Louisville (no ifs, buts, or coconuts), and that’s Adonis Boone. Boone has primarily played at left tackle for Louisville so far, making 13 starts at that spot (including all 11 games last season). And honestly, Boone was pretty solid at that spot in both pass and run blocking. However, the coaching staff moved Boone to guard this offseason, which does a couple things for Louisville. It allows the aforementioned Reid to start at left tackle, thus creating a lineup with more upside for the Cardinals in 2021. It also bolsters the interior offensive line with another experienced player, especially one that has been solid at run blocking. That could help Louisville bounce back from its below-average 2020 in that department, while also potentially improving its pass protection.
With Boone as the favorite to land the right guard spot, Renato Brown should return as the starting right tackle for Louisville. He made nine starts at the position in 2021, and has quality size at 6’4″ and 309 lbs. He did have some growing pains as a freshman starter, but there’s reason to believe he can grow into a fine player in the coming years.
As for the ‘sixth man,’ that will likely go to incoming transfer Bryan Hudson. Hudson comes to Louisville after spending his last two seasons at Virginia Tech, making 12 career starts for the Hokies (ten at center in 2019, two at right guard in 2020). He is a Georgetown, Ky. native that was a four-star prospect and ranked top-200 nationally (per 247Sports). He will likely push Boone and Brown for either spot on the right side of the line this season, and the team has praised him for his ability to play at all five spots on the line. Hudson’s best upside is likely on the interior, and he could be an option to start at center in 2022.
It wouldn’t surprise me, though, if the staff does opt to run a lineup of Reid / Chandler / Bentley / Hudson / Boone. That would give Louisville a better option at right tackle while also giving Hudson an opportunity to showcase his potential at the position he has the biggest upside for.
Key Reserves: Austin Collins, Joshua Black, Luke Kandra, Michael Gonzalez
Both Austin Collins and Joshua Black started in the season finale for Louisville, in lieu of Bentley, Bell and DeGeorge all being unavailable for the contest. Louisville ended up with 254 rushing yards (third highest total in 2020) and 5.4 yards per carry, so they’ve shown they can produce in a reserve capacity.
Collins was recruited to play at guard, but he made the start at center despite never having played the position. He drew rave reviews in his one game played, and should be the favorite to back up Bentley in 2021. Next season, Collins could be competing for the starting center job with Hudson, if Hudson hasn’t cracked the starting lineup by the end of the 2021 season.
Black and Luke Kandra will likely be the backup guards this season. Black started at right guard in the season finale, but with Hudson’s arrival, he will likely be the second man called up if Louisville has injury issues at guard. Kandra still has a chance to be a solid starter down the line, but will likely remain behind the more experienced options currently fighting for the starting spots.
Michael Gonzalez drew a lot of praise from the staff this spring as an incoming freshman. His high school tape showcases him as a guy with great feet and a consistent ability to finish defenders in either pass protection or run blocking. Those are all good traits that should make him an eventual starter at guard or tackle within the next 2-3 seasons, especially if he can add some muscle to his frame.