Last Season: With Lorenzo Mauldin leaving for the NFL, Louisville recruited former Big XII Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields to replace him. While Fields struggled in the first half of the season to find some rhythm, he eventually led the team with 10.5 sacks last season, including 7.5 in the final three games against Pitt, Kentucky and Texas A&M. Keith Kelsey led all Cardinals with 106 tackles, and Louisville saw a bevvy of linebackers come in and have a major impact on the team. Louisville also saw Trevon Young have a nice spurt of 8.5 sacks in a four-game stretch, as the linebacker group became the strongest group in Louisville’s defense.
James Burgess is the lone starter gone from last season’s team, now signed as an undrafted free agent by his hometown Miami Dolphins. Keith Brown and Nick Dawson-Brents, who Louisville saw used in a reserve role last season, both transferred to Western Kentucky.
This Season: It goes without saying that this is not only Louisville’s strongest position on the entire team, but this may be the strongest linebacker group in the country.
As mentioned, Devonte Fields leads the group as the main edge rusher for Louisville. Fields has the potential to be yet another first-round pick for the Cardinals; the senior has strong hands at the point of attack, and has some great agility to sidestep pass blockers. Fields has received a lot of praise as an All-American and All-ACC candidate, and could be in for an outstanding 2016 season if he stays consistent for all 12 games.
The other edge rusher remains a mystery to most. With Trevon Young sitting out the 2016 season due to a hip injury suffered in the Music City Bowl, James Hearns will be the guy to replace him. Hearns was a highly touted prospect when he signed with the team in 2013, but hasn’t quite cracked the starting lineup due to so much talent at the position the last three seasons. He got a lot of playing time as a reserve last season and got to audition for his role, after Trevon Young was injured. Hearns has also lined up as a 3-4 defensive end, so it’ll be interesting to see if Todd Grantham will occasionally move Hearns there in certain blitz packages and get more speed from reserves like Henry Famurewa and Jonathan Greenard.
Keith Kelsey and Stacy Thomas are the starting inside linebackers, and both figure to be solid All-ACC candidates. Kelsey is an outstanding tackler, and a consistent, reliable playmaker for Louisville’s defense. Kelsey is a solid leader and has been an all-around threat for Louisville. It will be interesting to see what Kelsey does this season without his fellow “Bash Brother” Burgess, but most fans are excited to see what Stacy Thomas has to offer as his replacement. Thomas had an impressive showing in the Music City Bowl, and possibly stands as the X-factor for this defense after being a special teams ace. He was thought to miss a couple games to start the season, but he recently returned to practice and is ready to go for Thursday’s game against Charlotte.
Even if injuries and transfers left the linebacker position without more players, the team has amazing depth in their two-deep lineup that will allow them to compete. Henry Famurewa and Jonathan Greenard are two guys that could see more time as edge rushers this season; both were highly touted . Amonte Caban and Isaac Stewart are two young, impressive linebackers who could spell Kelsey and/or Thomas this season, and they figure to be the future for Louisville at the position once those two graduate.
Gary McCrae, who was featured in the Netflix hit documentary Last Chance U, signed with Louisville after failing to qualify academically for Georgia. McCrae is a guy that could see time this year as a reserve, but this is a very deep group and most of the incoming players may see a redshirt this season.
Since it was reported Monday that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was the top choice to take the same position with the Oakland Raiders, things have been pretty quiet on that front. Not only is it big news because it is a coach possibly leaving, but this is happening just over a week before National Signing Day, which is February 4.
A couple of Louisville’s verbal commits tweeted tonight that they talked to Grantham. What they had to say seems to indicate that Grantham will remain at Louisville. Of course, nothing is official just yet. But you have to like what they said at least, and it’s all the information that is available right now.
The regular season may be over, but recruiting season is in full swing for college football. Bobby Petrino and his staff will be hosting a crop of impressive visitors this weekend. Most of them are committed to other schools, so we will see if any of them flip to UofL. Let’s take a look at the list…
*Like always, the “four recruiting sites” are Rivals, Scout, 247, and ESPN*
Jonathan Greenard, an outside linebacker from Hiram, Georgia, committed to Bobby Petrino and the Cards about a week ago. The 3-star player (according to 247 Sports and Rivals) talked to CSZ about what he liked at Louisville, what he plans to major in, and more.
Greenard visited both Kentucky and Louisville last weekend for their football camps. Kentucky was thought to be the favorite, but after visiting Louisville, the Cards got the commit. So what was the main reason that Greenard picked Louisville over Kentucky? “Better coaching and a rich tradition of winning,” he said. Well that pretty much answers the question doesn’t it?
Bobby Petrino got some good news today when OLB Jonathan Greenard picked the Cards over UK.
The Cats had been the heavy favorite for Greenard but after visiting both campuses this weekend the 6’4 220 lb OLB felt the Cards were the better fit. Greenards size and athleticism will fit very nicely in Grantham’s 3-4 defense so expect to hear this name called many times in the future. Follow Jonathan Greenard on twitter @_ayejon_