Switching sides on the trenches, we’re continuing our breakdown of the 2022 Louisville football roster by looking at the defensive line.
Louisville’s front seven had an okay 2021 season as far as creating havoc. The Cardinals finished eighth in the ACC with 2.54 sacks per game (33 on the season), and 6.23 tackles for loss per game (81 on the season), both improvements from 2020.
Louisville will have to replace a few significant contributors from previous seasons, including Tabarius Peterson, Malik Clark, Derek Dorsey, Dayna Kinnaird, and Jacquies Turner.
Projected Starters (3-4 Scheme): DEs Yaya Diaby and Ashton Gillotte, DT Jermayne Lole
Yaya Diaby returns as a starter for Louisville on the defensive line, while Ashton Gillotte elevates to a full-time starter in 2022. With Diaby and Gillotte, you have a pair of defensive ends that are very athletic on the edge and can showcase their speed outside.
Diaby finished with just 1.5 sacks and three TFLs in 2021, but led the team in quarterback hurries (seven). He has great length at 6’4″ and 270 lbs., and is generally a plus defender against the run.
Gillotte had a lot of hype from the Louisville coaching staff entering the 2021 season, and delivered on it as he finished second on the team in both tackles for loss (eight) and sacks (four). It’s tough to see a 3-4 defensive end as a breakout player given that linebackers Yasir Abdullah and Monty Montgomery will likely lead the team in sacks, but Gillotte has all the tools to be an impact player for Louisville. He has a high motor, great speed off the edge and with more moves in his arsenal, he could be an all-conference player in the coming years.
Perhaps the most important acquisition this offseason for Louisville was landing Arizona State defensive tackle Jermayne Lole from the transfer portal. Lole enters this season with 20 career TFLs and 11 sacks in three seasons played for the Sun Devils (2018-20), but he did not play in 2021 due to a triceps injury.
The first thing that stands out in Lole’s tape is his quickness. He’s nimble and has a decent selection of moves. His high motor allows him to work through double teams and still make the play, and his closing speed on quarterbacks and running backs is very impressive. The addition of Lole should command double teams inside and free up opportunities for both Diaby and Gillotte for one-on-one matchups.
Lole is a good enough athlete to play at multiple spots on the line. He will likely spend most of his early down reps inside (likely anywhere from 0-to-3 tech), but he does have the ability to play as a 3-4 defensive end in some pass rush sets. Doing the latter will likely command double teams from tackles and guards, freeing up EDGE players like Montgomery or Abdullah to one-on-one assignments or even run freely.
Key Reserves: Mason Reiger, Ramon Puryear, Dezmond Tell, Caleb Banks
Other than the three starters, I’d expect the two-deep battles at defensive line to be extremely competitive across the entire line. I could see as many as eight or nine guys getting relevant game reps this season, which can only be a positive for a position group that has lacked depth until very recently.
Mason Reiger showed flashes of being a solid pass rusher as a reserve last season. He’s likely still behind Diaby and Gillotte on the depth chart, but he should see some time on the field in 2022. Ramon Puryear has had significant playing time the last two seasons and even started games for Louisville, but will likely be a reserve alongside Reiger in 2022. Guys like Victoine Brown, Zach Edwards, and RJ Sorensen will also compete for reps and it wouldn’t be surprising to see any of the three crack the two-deep once the season starts.
Had it not been for Lole’s arrival, Dezmond Tell would likely be the starter at defensive tackle. Tell will still see significant reps this season, especially if the staff tries to move Lole across the defensive line in certain sets. Having a three-man front of Lole, Tell, and Gillotte/Diaby would give Louisville a potentially stout pass rush that will be extremely fast off the line. A four man front with all four guys would be even more exciting, just a thought.
Caleb Banks will likely also see the field at some point this season. He definitely strikes me as a player in Jermayne Lole’s mold; an athletic defensive tackle that has excellent finishing speed, can work through tough matchups with a finesse, and a quick burst off the line. The growth that Banks has made since arriving on campus is also similar to Lole; Lole arrived at Arizona State at 270 pounds, and is currently listed at 324 pounds; Banks last season played around 265-270, and is now listed at 300. Banks could be a guy that you can slide across the defensive line and play either 3-4 DE or 3-4 DT to create mismatches.