Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Previewing the D-Line

For a team that gave up over 200 yards and five games last year, one being Middle Tennessee St., the Louisville defensive line has nowhere to look but up. To their own credit, the Cards' lack of pass coverage in the secondary caused teams to get ahead fast and then work the clock by running the ball on a tired, frustrated line. There is no excuse why this line gives up the amount of yards per game (165.3) and TDs (20) that they gave up last season. In 2006 the Cards gave up only 105 ypg and recorded 44 sacks as opposed to only 18 sacks in 07. The loss of Amobi Okoye and the injuries to Adrian Grady and Peanut Whitehead could be reasons for the downward turn, however effort seemed to decline last year. New line coach Ken Delgado (top right) seems like the type of guy that won't let that trend continue.

"I had a hard time at first believing in his system, but after watching what [Delgado] wanted and him showing us film and how it all works I saw something and said ' I think we can make this work'." said senior DT Earl Heyman, "From then on, I saw it in a whole new light. Adrian Grady and I have been believing in him since. Believing his technique, believing his coaching, believing he won't point us in the wrong direction because he wants to win...I think I've learned more pass rushing moves under coach Delgado than I have my whole career combined"

Delgado comes in to help coach a line that returns three starters if you include Grady who missed 5 games with a torn pectoral muscle. The Cal import [Delgado] has been working hard with the players these first couple weeks on technique and explosion, something he felt they were lacking last year. The number of attempted sluggish arm tackles on ball carriers has to stop this season whether it means training what the Cards have or finding a new mix that will give 100% effort. Delgado has coached in 10 bowl games and sent numerous players to the NFL including La'Roi Glover and Kabeer Gbaja Biamila.

The leader of the line has to be senior and Louisville Ballard product Earl Heyman who has the quickness and ability to add to Delgado's list of pros. Earl had a career-high 40 tackles last year. I would like to see that number increase this year. Some fans like myself would like to see him play more end but it would leave a gaping hole at DT which is more difficult to disguise. Heyman is ready to assume the role of defensive leader:

"I am the leader of this defense and I embrace that. If they run the ball on us, I'm not blaming anyone but myself. I look up in the stands and see my family and people I know and feel a responsibility to lead the defense"

Senior Adrian Grady has started at one point in his first three years. and will start at DT next to Earl this season. Two years ago it was a broken fibula and last year a torn pectoral which kept him out of a significant amount of action. Grady is considered one of the strongest members of the team and when healthy will cause problems. As a true freshman in 05, Grady started 6 games and tallied 30 tackles (5.5 for loss).

Not much is known about JUCO transfer Tyler Jessen, but he has already gained the respect and admiration of his teammates. The learnig curve will work faster for Jessen due to his JUCO experience. Heyman told me he is one of his impact newcomers. He will come in handy to spell Grady and Earl on long drives or late in the game.

Aside from Jessen, the talent level drops at the tackle after Heyman and Grady. LD Scott might have to move from his natural end position to help give the DT spot some much needed depth. The losses over the offseason of Michigan transfer James McKinney (grades) and Aundre Henderson (no love for the game) devastated the Cards' line and left them completely hamstrung when it comes to finding a replacement for Earl or Adrian in case of injury. LT Walker will be Mr. Reliable and run stopper in those situations where one or the other needs a breather, yet the depth is about as shallow as it gets.

The defensive end position will be manned on one side by maybe the most underrated player on the team, Maurice Mitchell. Mo was forced into the unfortunate role of replacing Peanut Whitehead and stood up to the occasion by earning 9 TFLs while missing 4 games with shoulder problems. Mitchell will help with the run stopping while putting pressure on the QB when needed. If the Glasgow native stays healthy he could be due for a good year.

The other end is where it starts getting blurry. There are 4 guys with a legitimate shot at getting the starting job. All have their positives and negatives. It would make sense to have a pass-rushing type opposite Mitchell. Delgado will choose from Rodney Gnat, Rashad Roberts, Will Savoy or Greg Scruggs. Gnat was plugged in at end last year for one start although they were trying about anything at that point. He was a lone bright spot in the So. Florida game last year with 2.5 TFL. Roberts and Savoy are walk-ons with great energy who both saw time with the first team during the open practices. Both lack the talent of a Brandon Cox or Whitehead but make up for the majority of it through effort. Scruggs is a true frosh from Cincy St. X who looks the part at 6-4 235, he started all 15 games for the #1 ranked high school team in the nation. I don't know what Kragthorpe or English's plans are for him, but don't be surprised to see him starting if the redshirt is kept off. Zach Kiernan is coming off of surgery. If and when healthy Kiernan could help with he depth.

"We're coming together as a defense. Chemistry is something we lacked last year and we have that now. I feel like we're getting better everyday" said Heyman.

I see much improvement from a unit that has a new coordinator, coach and mindset. Delgado is going to have them conditioned and well-prepared for the 4th quarter when the Cards need the line to hold the runners the most.

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