For the first time in four springs, Louisville opens practice without an established face for the program.
In fact, the Cardinals are in transition on both offense and defense – needing to find playmakers to replace DeVante Parker, Lorenzo Mauldin and Gerod Holliman, just to name three. There also is the little issue of settling on a starting quarterback.
While that story line is sure to grab plenty of headlines, the holes on defense cannot be ignored, either. Louisville loses its entire secondary plus Mauldin, who had 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Beyond the stats are the intangibles he provided as the unquestioned team leader.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has shifted some players around in order to find some early spring answers. Keith Brown is moving to outside linebacker, giving the Cards the potential to have Brown, James Burgess and Keith Kelsey on the field at the same time. Burgess and Kelsey are the top two returning tacklers.
“By moving Keith outside, you have a chance to get another playmaker on the field because Keith is really athletic, he can run really well,” Grantham said. “My philosophy has always been rank your players and then how can I get my best 11 on the field? Right now, Keith is in the mix as being one of our best 11, so we have to find a way to get him on the field with Kelsey and Burgess. Moving him to outside backer was the way to do it.”
In the secondary, Georgia transfer Josh Harvey-Clemons is eligible and will take over the strong safety spot James Sample leaves behind. In addition, Grantham said Harvey-Clemons also will play linebacker in nickel situations.
“From there, we’ll try to mix and match and let him do some things to affect the game,” Grantham said. “He is a physical player. He’s long, he’s got some speed to him, so we’re going to try to get him around the ball as much as possible.”
Chucky Williams, Jarrod Barnes and Zykiesis Cannon (moved from cornerback) will compete for the free safety spot, the position Holliman leaves behind. Jermaine Reve will be in the mix once he returns from injury in August.
At cornerback, Georgia transfer Shaq Wiggins is also eligible and a favorite to win a starting job. Trumaine Washington returns after playing as a true freshman last year; Cornelius Sturghill has moved from receiver to corner. Grantham says he is impressed so far with early enrollee Jaire Alexander as well. But of all the positions on defense, cornerback might be the thinnest at this point so developing competition and depth are two big aspects of spring practice.
Finding playmakers are, too, after losing Holliman and his NCAA-leading 14 interceptions. At this time last spring, Holliman was largely an unknown. Coaches didn’t identify his potential in the defensive scheme until they saw him during practice. So this is valuable time for the entire Louisville coaching staff as they retool for Year 2 under Bobby Petrino.
“To me, that’s what spring ball is all about, identifying your playmakers,” Grantham said. “We did the same thing last year. We want to identify our playmakers, we want to define the roles of all our players and put them in positions to let them be successful and to fundamentally be sound.