Evaluating defense in non-contact environments is difficult, particularly when trying to evaluate run defense effectiveness. We can get a good sense of pass rush and given that a great deal of personnel returns from last season it’s reasonable that we know what to expect on the Defensive Line.
Also, who plays with the #1 group here largely depends on package and situation. If we’ve learned anything from watching a Todd Grantham defense it’s that players rarely stick to one spot or role, which is great for the player & the Cardinal defense…..but much more difficult to write about when categorizing players. So keep that in mind when reading these.
DeAngelo Brown is the center piece of the Louisville Defensive Line at Nose Guard. Brown has been phenomenal in the middle of the Louisville defense and is what every coach running the 3-4 would like to have to begin building out their plan. Brown has been limited during Spring but hasn’t been held out entirely. That’s given opportunity to players like Kyle Shortridge and Johnny Richardson to play more reps inside.
While DeAngelo is almost primarily a Nose Guard, Richardson & Shortridge are not and can play outside of the Nose position on the end. This will happen whenever the Cards & Grantham decide to go to their PESO defense which requires bigger defensive ends than usual. Shortridge really took steps forward at the end of 2015 and I expect the RS-Junior to have a big year. Additionally Johnny Richardson fought after an injury during camp to get back on the field and was huge late in the year for the Cards, particularly in the Kentucky game when Grantham had no choice but use the PESO package. Richardson appears to be Louisville’s largest defender and moves very well for his size. Johnny’s versatility is also a big time weapon.
Drew Bailey on the other hand will always be on the outside at Defensive End. Bailey has the task of try to replace Sheldon Rankins (who is projected to be a Top 15 Selection in this month’s NFL Draft). Bailey came in and made an impact & played a lot of snaps despite playing behind Rankins. This is Bailey’s 1st Spring with the Cards and he’s getting a lot of run with the #1 group, but this isn’t a spot that is likely to be dominated by an individual player like Rankins a year ago.
Fans should fully expect to see JUCO Chris Williams make an impact this summer. So far this Spring Williams is with the #2 group as he has been on campus just 3 months. Chris was the Defensive MVP of the JUCO National Championship game, was highly recruited out of the same high school as Shaq Wiggins & Ja’Quay Savage and signed with Ole Miss originally. It’s a matter of time before Williams gets going as a Cardinal, but we’ll allow him time to get acclimated to the program.
We also expect a great deal out of G.G. Robinson who is also running with the #2 group. G.G. is B-I-G and it is clear why he was so hotly recruited out of high school. This is also Robinson’s 1st Spring with the Cards after redshirting the 2015 season. There is no doubt that G.G. will be a part of the rotation this year and we’re excited to see him in a game environment on Saturday for the Spring game.
Kordell Slater is a true freshman who graduated in December & enrolled in January and is participating in Spring drills. Slater looks the part and is adjusting to college football this Spring. This time spent will do well for him as he moves into summer & eventually Fall Camp.
Right now the #1 rotation appears to be DeAngelo Brown, Drew Bailey, and Johnny Richardson (or an OLB, we’ll get to that in the next section).
Post-Spring Thoughts for Defensive Line: We pretty much know what to expect from Louisville’s starting defensive line. What we don’t know yet is what level of depth they can depend on OR if anyone of the newcomers will challenge for a starting role this August. DeAngelo Brown, Kyle Shortridge, Drew Bailey & Johnny Richardson is a good CORE, but UofL is going to need either Chris Williams OR G.G. Robinson to be ready to play and perhaps BOTH.
The Cards will also get some help from incoming freshman Caleb Tillman and Michael Boykin. Both players possess the size to play early (like Kordell Slater) but until they arrive on campus it will be impossible to know their readiness. Eventually though, all 3 true freshman will be key pieces to the UofL D-Line.