Only three more weeks until Louisville opens the 2023 season in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, so we are starting to wrap up our breakdown of the Louisville football roster. Let’s take a look at the linebacker group.
Louisville’s defense last year was undoubtedly the best in the Scott Satterfield era. After finishing the 2019 season ranked 102nd in total defense, the Cardinals finished 24th in that category in 2022 (331 yards allowed per game). Their 5.07 yards per play also ranked T-29th in FBS, a significant improvement from 2021’s 5.81 yards per play (81st in FBS that season).
Additionally, their run defense was solid. Louisville held opponents to 134 rushing yards per game (40th in FBS) on 3.58 yards per carry (28th in FBS). Their havoc defense was, as highlighted briefly in the defensive line preview, among the best in the FBS. Louisville led FBS in sacks and sacks per game, and was seventh nationally in tackles for loss (97). They also tied for third nationally in turnovers forced (30), with a +7 margin to boot.
A lot of that can be credited to Yasir Abdullah, who earned First-Team All-ACC honors with an outstanding 2022 campaign. Abdullah led the team in sacks (9.5), tackles for loss (14.5), QB hurries (seven), and tied for the team lead in forced fumbles (four) with two interceptions. Momo Sanogo had a solid season as a grad transfer, leading the team in tackles (89) and had 9.5 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks, earning Honorable Mention All-ACC. Monty Montgomery bounced back from a season-ending injury in 2021 to have a quietly solid 2022, logging 11 TFLs, six sacks, and two interceptions to go with four forced fumbles.
Louisville will have to replace a lot of production from last year’s linebacker group. Yasir Abdullah was drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Momo Sanogo was drafted by the XFL’s DC Defenders. Monty Montgomery transferred to Ole Miss for his final season of eligibility, while Dorian Jones (Cincinnati) and KJ Cloyd (Miami FL) also transferred in the offseason. Mark Ivey was retained by Jeff Brohm to serve as the linebackers coach this season.
Projected Starters: Keith Brown and T.J. Quinn
(Note: For the linebacker preview, we will solely focus on the two linebacker positions featured in the 4-2-5. The ROVER / STAR position will be saved for the secondary preview to close off our summer preview of the Louisville football roster).
Of any position group this season, Louisville arguably loses the most experience and production from the linebacker group. Having to replace one of the best defensive players in recent memory is a huge blow for any team, and losing two seniors on the starting lineup (plus two reserves that were expected to be elevated to a starting role) leaves Louisville without a lot of experience to carry over into the 2023 season.
Yet again, Jeff Brohm dipped into the transfer portal to find a starter at linebacker. Enter Keith Brown, who arrives at Louisville after spending two seasons at Oregon. He spent a majority of his time in Autzen as a reserve with the Ducks, and had a decent 2022 season with 21 tackles, one TFL, and one sack. His recruiting pedigree was very high coming out of high school, ranking as a consensus four-star prospect and a top-ten linebacker nationally. He’ll be looking to build momentum from his performance in the Holiday Bowl against North Carolina, where he logged a career-high seven tackles.
As far as returning contributors from last year’s U of L team, T.J. Quinn is not only the most experienced, he will also likely man the other starting spot. Quinn appeared in all 13 games last season and made 18 tackles, with a career-high seven in Louisville’s blowout win over Wake Forest last October. His experience as a safety in high school makes him a good fit for the weak side linebacker spot, allowing him to focus more as a coverage linebacker.
Key Reserves: Stanquan Clark, T.J. Capers, Jackson Hamilton, Jaylin Alderman
Because of the lack of experience at the linebacker position, this group appears to be the most likely to see true freshman contributors. Louisville will likely see Stanquan Clark contributing as a reserve (and possibly a starter), and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the highly touted T.J. Capers see significant reps at some point in 2023.
Clark was one of Louisville’s highest rated recruits in the vaunted 2023 class, and with him enrolling in January, earned valuable reps in spring practice. He plays very fast and can fly sideline to sideline, and was very impressive in spring practice throughout. He likely projects as a weak side linebacker currently, allowing him to utilize his athleticism and especially in pass coverage situations.
Louisville got a huge boost to their linebacker group when T.J. Capers reclassified into the 2023 class, going from possibly the highest rated recruit in the 2024 class, to the highest in 2023. Capers already has impressive size coming in at 6’2″, 230 lbs.. However, Capers was a late arrival to campus and has been recovering from a knee injury, so it could be a while before fans get to see him in action. He is a heavy hitter that does just about everything well in his game, and has pass rushing chops that could serve him well as a blitz linebacker, or an EDGE in 3-4 sets. Assuming that Louisville stays in the 4-2-5 for his entire tenure at Louisville, I think he lines up best as the strong side linebacker. Though it should be said that given his athleticism and wide range of skills, a spot at weak side linebacker is also entirely possible for him.
That leaves Jackson Hamilton, who is another reserve that will see his role significantly increased in 2023. He’s played very sporadically the last two seasons, logging five career tackles as a Cardinal. Expect him to line up as a weakside linebacker behind Quinn. Jaylin Alderman is another reserve that should see his role expand in 2023; many remember him from his game winning interception against UCF in 2021, but didn’t get to see any time on the field last season.