Now, a week before the start of preseason practice, Clint Hurtt's defensive line figures to be the strength of one of the best defenses in the Big East.
Last year, Hurtt, Louisville's defensive line coach, used smoke and mirrors, along with a few talented freshmen, to forge an overachieving unit that helped the Cardinals to a surprising 7-6 record, including a win over Southern Mississippi in the Beef O'Brady bowl.
"Last year we were light. Now we're starting to get some size," Hurtt said. "But the best thing we have going right now that we didn't have last year is competition and depth. A lot of things can be fixed through recruiting, and kids have bought in and accepted coaching. The next things you know you've got a good group, some depth and you're going in the direction you want to go."
The physical transformation of Hurtt's linemen has remarkable, and largely due to strength coach Pat Moorer. A few notable examples of Moorer's work: Sophomore tackle Brandon Dunn played last year as a true freshman at 280-pounds. Dunn is up to 307 now. Sophomore end B.J. Butler weighs 275-pounds after playing last year at 260. Greg Scruggs, an undersized tackle last season, checks in at 284 despite sliding outside to end. It goes the other way, too. Redshirt freshman Jamaine Brooks has shed 40-pounds after arriving on campus last summer at a whopping 373.
"They've had an unbelievable off-season," Hurtt said. "The one thing I've noticed from the spring through now is we're getting some maturity in the group. The time in the weight room with Coach Moorer has helped us out tremendously – guys have put on weight and gotten bigger."
Though Louisville lacked depth up front last season, Hurtt won't have trouble relieving his starters this season. That should allow Strong and defensive coordinator Vance Bedford more options in attacking opposing offenses.
"It will allow us to do some different things, but the greatest advantage of improved depth is we can rotate in fresh bodies," said Hurtt. "Last year we had guys playing 55-65 snaps per game. That's cruel and unusual punishment. The starters should only play 35 snaps per game and the backups should take the rest. That way your guys stay fresh and you can develop the guys behind them. That's how you build a program."
"Some key kids got experience last year, but it's still a relatively young group," Hurtt said. "There are only two seniors in the group. The kids know they have to play great for us to have a great defense."
"Brandon Dunn [has] put on 20-pound of great weight and is running very well," Hurtt added. "Butler [is] fully cleared and was able to participate in the weight room. He played last season at 260, and right now after being in the weight room this summer B.J. is 275-pounds. He's strong, athletic and is running with everybody. He's looking great."
Scruggs, Dunn and Butler figure to be the stalwarts, while sophomore end Marcus Smith, a converted linebacker, junior Randy Salmon, sophomore end Malcolm Mitchell and sophomore tackle Roy Philon will be key contributors.
"Marcus Smith is up 260," Hurtt said. "It may take him some time to become a first and second down player – he will because he will be physical. But now he gives you someone on third down who can rush the passer. As he matures and gets stronger physically and polishes his technique he'll get better in the run game."
A trio of true freshmen – B.J. Dubose (6-5, 257); Lorenzo Mauldin (6-4, 235); and Deiontrez Mount (6-5, 230) – should boost Louisville's talent at end. "All those guys are 6'4, 6'5, long and athletic," Hurtt said. "I'm really excited about the future of the group."
Another true freshman, Fern Creek tackle Jamon Brown, enjoyed success in the weight room this summer redefining his body and preparing himself to play this season if called upon.
"Jamon Brown, when he arrived, tipped the scales at 330. Now, he's in the 321-range. He had a great physique even though he was out of shape. His midsection is tightening up and he's a big guy that can bend, move and change directions. So he's promising."
"I would like to be able to redshirt Jamon Brown to let him develop," Hurtt added. "If you can get a kid, get him in the weight room and give him a year to practice and truly develop that's when you're building a program. If you look at Greg Scruggs, if he had another year….my goodness."
Hurtt pointed to Jamaine Brooks, a budding redshirt freshman tackle, as a prime example of the benefits of spending a season getting stronger in the weight room, while getting ‘coached up' on the field.
"He's looking good," said Hurtt, noting that Brooks checks in at a svelte 329. "He came in here weighing 373-pounds. He was completely out of shape and had no idea how to step, shed a block or no pass rush move. But he redshirted, worked with Coach Moorer, and got countless reps and he wasn't the same guy last spring who reported to campus."