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2014 Defensive Line Review 

The 2014 Defensive Line was DOMINANT for much of the season.  The Cards were the #10 Rushing Defense in the nation and faced top flight running backs like Duke Johnson, Kevin Parks, Karlos Williams, Dalvin Cook, Wayne Gallman, Shadrach Thornton, Tarean Folston, and the QB/RB combo of Tyler Murphy & Jon Hillman at Boston College.  Louisville played enough top level rushers that 10th prior to the season might have seemed out of reach, but the Cards allowed just 1416 yards (108.92 ypg) on the ground for an average of 3.26 ypc…..which includes Nick Chubb of Georgia going OFF on the Cards for 266 yards in a jaw dropping performance.

Chubb’s performance notwithstanding, Louisville held its ground upfront in 2014.  It got started like all 3-4 defenses do, by being strong in the middle.  NT DeAngelo Brown was AWESOME in 2015 and as we always say, don’t judge a Defensive Tackle by his statistics but by his middle linebackers (Keith Kelsey & James Burgess) who both a had tremendous season. DeAngelo did manage to get 20 takedowns, 1.5 sacks, and 2 TFLs on the season, but his best moment came vs. Notre Dame with his game saving tackle on QB Everett Golson (who transferred to FSU) who had a big lane to run for what would have been a game sealing Touchdown.

On the outside Sheldon Rankins got better each and every game and by the end of the season was one of the most disruptive defensive players in the country, and for the 1st time at UofL completed a season without missing time due to injury.  Rankins made the decision to return for this senior season after a 53 tackle, 13.5 TFL, 8 sack, 2 INT, and 1 FF performance. Those stats alone are a big season, but they don’t quite tell the full story of Rankins’ impact.  Rankins and DeAngelo Brown were almost entirely double teamed in 2014 which created a lot of room and freedom for Louisville’s 4 Linebackers and opposite ends.

On the other side BJ Dubose did enough to get selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL Draft’s 7th round.  Dubose had his best season as a Card since his freshman season tallying 41 tackles, 7.5 TFLs and 4 sacks.  Dubose always was a consistent defensive player and never overplayed his position leading to the players behind him to really perform.  Dubose split time with late enrollee Pio Vatuvei who showed up right at the beginning of Fall Camp.  Pio missed time with an injury but managed to play in 11 games and was able to get 18 tackles and 4.5 TFLs.

One welcome occurrence was the arrival of freshman Johnny Richardson who really showed his ability to play both end and tackle, particularly on 3rd down.  This group was relatively healthy in 2014 which limited Richardson’s opportunities….it also helped that the Cards were 10th in 3rd Down Defense on the season and got off the field early and often.

Also to note, that the Cards had 88 TFLs (27th), 41 sacks (11th), and finished with #6 in Total Defense allowing 308.5 ypg and 24th in Scoring Defense allowing just 21.8 ppg.

Players Lost

BJ Dubose – 41 tackles 7.5 TFLs, 4 sacks
Gabe Ahner – DNP (moved to OL)
Terry Ramsey -DNP
Tae Thibodeaux – DNP
Spencer Foy -DNP
Andrew Polston-DNP

2015 Numerical Roster
#14 Drew Bailey 6-5, 285 Jr.
#44 Pio Vatuvei 6-2, 296 Sr.
#59 Aaron Ahner 6-3, 259, RS-Sr.
#90 Johnny Richardson 6-3, 322 RS-Soph
#94 G.G. Robinson 6-4, 290, Fr.
#95 Kyle Shortridge 6-2, 305, RS-Soph
#97 DeAngelo Brown 6-1, 308 RS-Jr.
#98 Sheldon Rankins 6-2, 303 Sr.

Projected Depth Chart

#1 Sheldon Rankins
#2 Drew Bailey
#3 G.G. Robinson

#1 DeAngelo Brown
#2 Johnny Richardson
#3 Aaron Ahner

#1 Pio Vatuvei
#2 Kyle Shortridge

Johnny Richardson

Examining the 2015 Group

It’s reasonable to expect that with most of the production returning in 2015 that things might roll on the same as 2014.  But this year there is plenty of reason to believe that it could be better.  Losing BJ Dubose is going to hurt, he’s a steady player and you knew that he would make the right play.  Pio Vatuvei is more dynamic, plays extremely hard and at times found himself overplaying his position….but Pio’s potential is greater than BJ’s and Vatuvei also added weight to his frame and went through Spring Practice for the 1st time.  Pio’s ability to get into the opponent’s backfield is a premium for the Cards especially with the blitz packages that Grantham will deploy. Expect Kyle Shortridge to back up Pio and make an impact.  Shortridge has been in the program for 2 years and appears to have big time potential, it’s his time to show it on the field.

DeAngelo Brown will continue to be the plug in the middle for the Cards, fans should expect DeAngelo to make even more of an impact this year.  Brown did an incredible job of taking on double teams however, he is primed to expand on his statistics and begin to really push through those and create even more havoc of his own.  Brown is a STEADY player and is extremely strong.  DeAngelo’s biggest hurdle will be remaining healthy.

Todd Grantham talks about having players who can do multiple things and Johnny Richardson has that ability.  Johnny will likely play behind DeAngelo Brown at the NT position, but can also mix in from the outside.  Richardson can really hold the point of attack and he’s also capable to shedding blockers.  Richardson is the Wild Card here because of his versatility and his potential to really break out and become an impact player for Louisville in 2015.

Sheldon Rankins is AWESOME.  He’s strong, he’s athletic, he plays with heavy & active hands…and basically no one can really stop him from going where he wants to go. Rankins has the ability to get into the ACC 1st Team by the end of the year….and perhaps more. If Sheldon has the year that most people expect he can play himself into the first 2 rounds of the NFL Draft.  The biggest question mark for Rankins is his ability to remain healthy after playing just his 1st season without a hiccup.

Behind Sheldon is a bit of a mystery.  Incoming JUCO Drew Bailey has the respect of a lot of the people within the program for what he has shown since arriving on campus,  but so has true freshman G.G. Robinson.  If Rankins remains healthy, it’s unlikely that either sees a whole lot of time but this race is likely going to be decided in camp with Bailey having the early advantage.  Also, if anything happens to Rankins (or Pio or DeAngelo) Johnny Richardson has the ability to play the position.

The Cards have a lot of returning production along its defensive line and only lose one key contributor from a year ago. Louisville has more depth now, but it is still a bit thin.  The Cards did well by only losing Pio for a short while last year on the injury front.  If UofL’s Defensive Line stays healthy the unit can be one of the most dominant D-Lines in the nation and certainly the ACC and set the tone for the defense to remain one of the top units in college football.

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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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