This week, we move our preview of the 2022 Louisville football team from defensive line to the linebacker group. You can check out our previous looks at the offensive line (here) and defensive line (here), in case you missed it.
The linebacker group was the strength of the team in 2021. Yasir Abdullah emerged as the star of the Louisville defense, tallying ten sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss from the edge spot. Abdullah became the first Louisville player since 2015 (Devonte Fields) to hit double digit sack totals in a season, and earned All-ACC Second Team honors from the conference.
Louisville slightly improved in its run defense last season, allowing 156.7 yards per game on the ground (73rd in FBS). They also improved as a havoc team from the year prior; the Cardinals went from 1.91 sacks per game in 2020, to 2.54 in 2021 (tied for 46th in FBS). They also upped their TFLs, going from 5.64 per game to 6.23 (53rd). Louisville finished eighth in the ACC in both categories.
Louisville will have to replace CJ Avery, who led the team in tackles each of the last three seasons. The Cardinals will also have to replace starter Jack Fagot, and key reserve Nick Okeke in 2022.
Listed Starters: Yasir Abdullah (EDGE), MoMo Sanogo & Monty Montgomery (inside), Ben Perry (CARD)
In Louisville’s 3-4 scheme, Abdullah returns as the EDGE, meaning his primary responsibilities will be in pass rush. He’s a strong pass rusher with great closing speed, and is also solid against the run. He can discard blockers with a nice set of moves, and when he can get outside and uses his bend, he can take away a lot of stretch plays. He’s also shown an ability to play in coverage, and at the next level, scouts may want him to move towards a conventional linebacker role (though I think he can play as an EDGE or ILB at the next level). Replicating his 2022 success could position Abdullah to go very early in the NFL Draft, possibly as high as the second round.
Louisville’s linebacker group will get a huge jolt with Monty Montgomery returning to the lineup, after suffering a season-ending knee injury in September. Montgomery led the team in sacks in 2019 & 2020, and is still a threat as a pass rusher from the inside linebacker spot. Montgomery has also shown flashes of being a capable pass coverage linebacker, which would bode well for his NFL aspirations. Louisville’s pass rush will not be short on options with both Abdullah and Montgomery, on top of what should be an improved defensive line this season.
As if that wasn’t enough, Louisville gets another boost inside with former Ole Miss linebacker MoMo Sanogo coming in from the transfer portal. Sanogo had a prolific 2018 season, tallying 112 combined tackles (6.5 for loss), two forced fumbles, and an interception. However, a season-ending ankle injury in 2019, along with other nagging injuries (h/t WHAS11) kept Sanogo from returning to 2018 form. Sanogo gives Louisville a great run stopper with solid measurables (6’1, 235 lbs.). And if Louisville needs an emergency kicker this season, Sanogo would make for a viable option.
45 yds@CoachSattUofL just let me know pic.twitter.com/Fh8GU2JeCT
— S A N O G O (@_momosanogo) July 23, 2022
With Fagot leaving in the offseason, the CARD position battle could go up to opening week. I could see either Ben Perry or Marvin Dallas starting, but my current lean is going towards Perry as the guy. Perry fits a profile similar to Fagot, a safety converted to the hybrid position with some size (6’2, 212 lbs.). He’s a heavy hitter and will definitely add to Louisville’s defense, as far as being able to stop the run. If he can show more in pass coverage, the potential is there for Perry to be a great player in the coming years.
Key Reserves: Dorian Jones, Marvin Dallas, Popeye Williams, Kam Wilson, K.J. Cloyd, Jaylin Alderman
Dorian Jones returns as a key reserve for Louisville. Jones started the last six games of the 2021 season, and filled in at middle linebacker after Montgomery went down with a season-ending injury. He had a respectable campaign with 48 combined tackles, four for loss, and a sack. Barring any big transfer gets for Louisville, he should be in line for a starting job in 2023.
I could see Marvin Dallas working his way into starting at CARD in week one, but if not, he would definitely be a solid backup. He’s a massive hitter and that definitely shows up on his tape in special teams. I honestly cannot remember a Louisville player that brought the lumber on special teams as often as Dallas has. He fits the profile as a guy that plays above his measurables, making him an ideal player for the hybrid position in Louisville’s defense.
If any freshman from the 2022 recruiting class is in line to break the two-deep at some point this season, Popeye Williams seems like the likely candidate. He was the top-rated prospect in Louisville’s 2022 class (per 247 Sports), and he’s definitely worth the buzz after watching his tape. He plays fast and has a relentless motor, with a great ability to discard blockers and bend to get around them. He definitely projects as a force at 3-4 OLB or 4-3 DE, especially if he can add more to his already impressive size (6’3″, 232 lbs. currently).
Both Kam Wilson and K.J. Cloyd could also be in the mix to crack the two-deep, but both played sporadically in 2021. Wilson and Cloyd are likely to play as reserves at EDGE and inside linebacker, respectively.
Of course, Jaylin Alderman has to be mentioned as a possible reserve linebacker. Many remember Alderman as the hero of the UCF game last season, scoring a pick six in the closing seconds to beat the Knights. He’s shown some promise as a coverage linebacker and can play sideline to sideline.