Louisville defense begins overhaul

Louisville middle linebacker James Burgess said he’s spent this offseason dedicating his time to being a “student of the game,” studying the new playbook in meetings, working on it at home and going over the plays that give him the most trouble again before he goes to bed.

“I want to know the defense in and out from my position, the D-line and the safeties,” he said. “I put a lot of time in, and I still have a lot more time to put in it.”

This spring is just the beginning of a major defensive overhaul for the Cardinals, who have to replace seven starters on defense, welcomed in a new staff and introduced a 3-4 scheme under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. Louisville has to replace its two leading tacklers from 2013 and two all-conference safeties. As the team’s top returning tackler, Burgess has more of a leadership role this spring, but there will also be more emphasis on his position in the new scheme.

“It’s a really big change, from everything, but that comes with new coaching,” said Burgess, who recorded 75 tackles last fall. “You have to adjust. It’s going really slow right now, but the more we take reps, the more we get better at perfecting our craft.”

After one week of spring practices, Louisville held its first scrimmage on Saturday and it was a good day for the offense -- perhaps a little too good. Senior wide receiver DeVante Parker highlighted the 70-play scrimmage with a pair of long touchdown catches from quarterback Will Gardner, and senior wideout Matt Milton also scored on two long plays.

"I'm happy with the enthusiasm on defense and how we run to the football," first-year coach Bobby Petrino said, according to the team’s scrimmage report. "We tackled pretty well, but we gave up big plays. You can't give up big plays on defense, but overall it was a good first week."

Burgess said Grantham’s new scheme is “pretty complicated” but that the Cardinals can still be one of the top defenses in their first season in the ACC. It’s going to be a whole new challenge against Atlantic Division heavyweights Florida State and Clemson, especially after losing five of seven starters up front. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin is the only returning starter on the defensive line, and Burgess is the only returning starting linebacker.

“We still have good players; we’re just all trying to get on the same page now,” Burgess said. “Everyone has a great knowledge overall of the game. Even though it's different, at the end of the day it’s still football.”