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2014 Safety Review

The Cards put both safeties into the NFL Draft after a very successful 2014 that produced a Jim Thorpe Award for Gerod Holliman.  Holliman tied the single-season interception record with 14 INTs and was also a consensus All-American.  Late arrival James Sample had a terrific season at Strong Safety and was drafted in the 4th round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Both Holliman and Sample left Louisville early, Sample as a junior and Gerod Holliman as a redshirt sophomore.

Jermaine Reve came back from an injury during the Clemson game and really steadied the Louisville defense at the Nickel spot allowing Terell Floyd to move back over to corner.  Reve mostly played really well, but did not have his best game against Florida State getting burned for a long TD and missing a couple of key tackles.

Even though Louisville’s defense and defensive secondary was outstanding in 2014, there was a lot of room for improvement.  Particularly in run support.  Sample exceptional for much of the season against the run, but did take some poor technique and angles against Florida State that proved deadly.  Holliman while dealing with a shoulder injury throughout much of the 2nd half of the season really shyed away from contact on the affected shoulder.

It’s difficult to complain about the productivity here. But it wasn’t a perfect position for the Cards in 2014.  Louisville’s physicality wasn’t exactly the same as it was in 2013 with sure tackling Hakeem Smith and hard hitting safety Calvin Pryor.  But the coverage was better in 2014 so it is tough to balance which is better given that both 2014 & 2013 were excellent defenses.

Players Lost
James Sample – 90 tkls, 2 TFLs, 4 INTs, 8 PBUs
Gerod Holliman – 44 tkls, 3 TFLs, 14 INTs, 3 PBUs
Jarrod Barnes – appeared in 10 games, transferred to Ohio State

Numerical Roster
#11 Dee Smith 6-1, 200, Jr.
#22 Chucky Williams 6-2, 204 RS Soph
#24 Zykiesis Cannon 6-0, 195 Soph.
#25 Josh Harvey-Clemons 6-5, 230 Jr.
#27 Jermaine Reve 6-0, 192 RS Sr.
#28 Terrence Ross 6-1, 208 RS Soph.
#36 Kevin Houchins 5-11, 201, RS Jr.
#37 Khane Pass 6-1, 200 Fr.

Projected Depth Chart

FS
Chucky Williams
Jermaine Reve
Dee Smith OR
Zykiesis Cannon

SS
Josh Harvey-Clemons
Terrence Ross
Kevin Houchins OR
Khane Pass

Nickel
Jermaine Reve (Pass Nickel)
Josh Harvey-Clemons (Run Nickel)

Wild Card
Dee Smith of Khane Pass

Examining the 2015 Group

So this is interesting.  Chucky Williams and Josh Harvey-Clemons are the starting Free Safeties and Strong Safeties on paper.  But what actually manifests itself on the field is going to be another story entirely.  First the background on both:  Chucky Williams redshirted 2013 and played in 9 games during 2014.  He’s learned from Hakeem Smith, Calvin Pryor, Gerod Holliman, and James Sample.  It’s Chucky’s time now and we’re hoping that he plays well enough for fans to bring out “Chucky Dolls” during the season.  Williams played every position in high school and flipped to the Cards after originally committing to Ole Miss.  Chucky can cover A LOT of ground and is extremely athletic.  He’s also an upgrade over Holliman in the tackling department…but no player is getting 14 INTs in 2015.

Josh Harvey-Clemons will finally hit the field for the Cards after transferring in from Georgia.  Harvey-Clemons played 2 years under Todd Grantham with the Bulldogs appeared in all 25 games including being named a captain during his freshman season.  Josh has numerous accolades during his 2 seasons at UGA and after sitting out 2014 while redshirting as a transfer, it appears that this former 5-star prospect is ready to make a huge impact on Louisville’s defense.

In fact, Harvey-Clemons might be the key to Todd Grantham’s defense in 2015.  We’re listing Josh at SS, but in Grantham’s defense he’s what the coaches refer to as the “STAR”, meaning that he will do multiple things.  Louisville will play a lot in the nickel this season and the “STAR” position is custom made for a player like Josh Harvey-Clemons.  Harvey-Clemons can cover a player in man, he can play the deep third, or he has the size to stay up for run support.  This versatility means that Josh Harvey Clemons will likely slide from Safety to Nickel a great deal based on situations but it also means that Louisville can make adjustments to their defense from the sideline and not with personnel when teams (like Auburn) go hurry-up.  Having a player like Josh allows Todd Grantham to ‘be multiple’ and that’s something that Todd talks about often, having players and defenses that can do more than one thing.

The real question is if Harvey-Clemons is playing a lot of nickel, who plays the Strong Safety?  That answer is not yet clear as Chucky Williams could be asked to play that role moving Jermaine Reve into Free Safety OR Williams could remain at FS and Terrence Ross could get a great deal of time.  There probably isn’t one answer, but the Williams, Reve, Harvey-Clemons combo seems as if it is the most likely as it gets the most experience on the field.

Jermaine Reve has been a part of some really great Louisville teams and has a great deal of experience.  Ross had some off the field issues that set him back in Spring, but it’s clear that Terrence has elite ability given that the coaches turned to him when they were in a pinch during the Belk Bowl and asked him to return kicks. Also Ross is extremely physical and made several special teams plays.  Both of these players will play quite a bit but watching who is in the normal rotation is going to be very interesting.

All of that being said we need to see Kevin Houchins, Zykiesis Cannon, Dee Smith, and Khane Pass and how they might mix in here for 2015.  Houchins and Cannon both have intermingled some time during their careers at Corner and have been in the program for quite a while and both quite a bit of ability.  Additionally true freshman Dee Smith and Khane Pass come in with big time reputations as play-makers and we’re going to have to see if they can displace any of the more experienced players on the depth chart.

The safety position is extremely interesting for Louisville in 2015.  They lose two really great players, but have an ability to be even better individually but also as an effect of the Louisville Front 7 being a year better than it was in 2014 in which the Cards created an tremendous amount of pressure.  Who & How is still yet to be determined but the safety position is looking bright for the Cards in 2015.  Josh Harvey-Clemons could easily make a run at ACC Defensive Player of the Year and also will have a decision to make about the NFL after the season.

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@UofLSheriff50. Louisville native, University of Louisville Business School Grad c/o 2004. Co-Founder of TheCrunchZone.com

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