Finishing out the defense previews, our look at the 2022 Louisville football team will now focus on the secondary. You can read up on our earlier looks on the defensive line and linebacker groups, in addition to the offensive line.
After a solid 2020 season, the Louisville pass defense took a step back in 2021. The Cardinals finished 94th in the FBS in passing yards allowed per game (244.6), along with 72nd in yards per attempt (7.2).
Kei’Trel Clark once again earned All-ACC Second Team honors last season, leading the team in both interceptions (three) and pass breakups (nine) in eight games played. However, Clark will also be coming off a torn ACL that ended his 2021 season prematurely.
Trey Franklin finished second on the team with two interceptions, while Chandler Jones and Greedy Vance both tied for second on the team with seven pass breakups.
Louisville had to address its depth in the offseason, as freshmen Greedy Vance and Kani Walker transferred to Florida State and Oklahoma, respectively. Qwynnterrio Cole also departs, leaving Louisville to replace a starter at safety. Wesley McGriff was hired from Florida to be a co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for Louisville, as well.
Projected Starters: Kei’Trel Clark & Quincy Riley (outside cornerbacks); Chandler Jones (nickel); Kenderick Duncan, M.J. Griffin (safeties)
Louisville got huge boosts in the transfer portal with Jermayne Lole and Momo Sanogo arriving to bolster the front seven, but no position group saw more acquisitions from the portal than in the secondary. Four players listed on the roster (Quincy Riley, Jarvis Brownlee, M.J. Griffin, Nicario Harper) will likely contribute in the two-deep this season, and Louisville had more commitments in the offseason that did not make it to campus. That’s before getting to guys like Kei’Trel Clark, Kenderick Duncan, and Trey Franklin, all whom came to Louisville via transfer portal under Scott Satterfield.
Clark returns as the undisputed CB1 for Louisville this season, and barring any setbacks, he should be in the mix for all-conference honors once again. He’s a great man corner and can play the zone well. Clark is a ball-hawking cornerback that can change the game for Louisville. Clark is likely a day two selection in the 2023 NFL Draft as things stand.
The battle for CB2 should be very competitive heading into the start of the season. I could see any one of Quincy Riley, Chandler Jones, and Jarvis Brownlee all starting there on week one. Right now my current lean is Riley at CB2 and Jones as the nickel.
Riley is coming off a fantastic 2021 season at Middle Tennessee State, one that saw him lead Conference USA in interceptions (five), second in the conference in passes defended (14), and fifth in pass breakups (nine), earning All-Conference USA First-Team Honors. He’s another ball-hawking cornerback with solid coverage skills. With Louisville set to face a few top quarterbacks this season (Kentucky’s Will Levis, Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, and NC State’s Devin Leary, among several others), Riley could prove to be an X-factor for Louisville in many of its games.
Chandler Jones also returns as a veteran presence in the secondary, logging 34 career starts in his five-year career at Louisville. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Jones as the CB2 this season given his experience under Bryan Brown’s scheme, but nickel is probably better suited for him. He’s had an up-and-down career in pass coverage, but he’s a very capable run stopper. He could move to safety if Louisville is in a pinch, but Louisville shouldn’t have to worry about that with their current depth there.
Moving to safety, Louisville gets Kenderick Duncan back for one more season at the free safety spot. Duncan is a tough player that isn’t afraid to play against the run, he’s also solid as a back end safety in pass coverage. He’s Louisville’s top returning tackler from last year, logging 76 combined tackles last season. If he can show more as a pass coverage safety, Duncan could be a viable draft prospect.
Strong safety is another position battle that could go into late August, between transfer M.J. Griffin and Josh Minkins. Griffin likely has the edge as of now, as a former starter from Temple. Griffin was second on the team in tackles (65) and pass breakups (four). Duncan and Griffin should be able to play the run fairly well, but both will need to improve in their pass coverage for Louisville to achieve its upside on defense.
Key Reserves: Jarvis Brownlee, Trey Franklin (cornerbacks); Josh Minkins, Nicario Harper
Louisville’s cornerback rotation should be much deeper than it has been in recent years, especially when it comes to pure experience. Clark, Jones, and Riley are all names to watch, but another will be Jarvis Brownlee. Brownlee was a late get for Louisville in the transfer portal, coming from division rival Florida State. He made 11 starts at FSU last season, logging 51 tackles and two interceptions for the Seminoles. He’s another guy with decent ball skills and is a plus against the run, but will need to avoid letting the big plays by him. With Jones and likely Clark departing after this season, Brownlee should be in line for a starting job in ’23 with Riley.
Trey Franklin showed some playmaking on the ball as a reserve last season, and he’ll likely be in the fold at cornerback this season as well. I could see Franklin as a guy that can play outside or inside corner, he just needs to show more against the run to have a shot at becoming a starter. Rance Conner and Derrick Edwards could be in line for reps this season, also.
Josh Minkins will likely compete for the starting job at strong safety this season, but he can easily be a guy that starts at free safety in ’23. He’s likely the next man up at both spots, as he can play both the run and pass fairly well. I like Minkins’ upside as a two-way safety, especially with his size (listed at 6’2″, 196 lbs) and intangibles as a cover safety.
Though listed as a linebacker on the roster, Nicario Harper will likely be another key reserve at safety. Harper arrives at Louisville after earning All-American honors at Jacksonville State in 2020, logging 92 tackles (2.5 for loss), three interceptions, and a forced fumble in 2020-21. He also earned All-Atlantic Sun honors from the conference in fall 2021, before transferring to Louisville. He’s another guy that Louisville can call upon to make plays against the run. There’s a possibility he could see time as the CARD in Brown’s scheme as a reserve, but for now, I’m leaning towards him staying at safety.