Spring Preview: Defense

With spring practice set to start on Wednesday, Cardinal Authority previews the University of Louisville defense, which returns nearly all from a squad that finished among the nation's top 25 in total defense last season.

The University of Louisville returns nearly all of its defense, 23 letter-winners and 11 starters, from last seasons Big East Champion and Sugar Bowl winning squad. Often displaying signs of inexperience last season, the group improved throughout and finished among the nation's top 25 defensive units.

As spring practice begins, U of L defensive coordinator Vance Bedford is excited for the chance to compete against an offense that is one of the nation's most difficult to defend.

"I believe that we are going against the best offense in the country," he said. "We have the best receivers in the country and the best quarterback in the country, so I'm excited to see what we can do this spring."

Following a year that was capped off with the unit's best performance of the season in the 33-23 win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, the confidence of the defense remains high heading into spring practice and Bedford wants that to translate into improved focus and hard work as the team begins preparing for 2013.

"Right now the confidence factor is there," Bedford explained. "Right now we need to get that focus in the right direction and that's through hard work. You got to a point last year where you went to the Sugar Bowl and won a big game. Why? Because you worked hard. One thing this coaching staff will do is work and the players around us, they will work. So, therefore the confidence factor is there and now we are going to continue to work to get better and hopefully that will pay dividends when the season starts."

With so much of last seasons defense returning, Bedford singled out two things that will improve the play of the Cardinals defense this fall.

"Learn the defense and tackle," he said. "We must become a better tackling football team. Big plays happen when you miss a tackle. We need to become a better tackling football team and if that happens, we become a better defense."

Defensive Line
The Louisville defensive line returns all of its starters from a season ago, providing valuable experience and leadership for Cardinals front line. However, a few key components of the line will be limited in their availability during spring practice due to injury.

"We have a lot of experience coming back, especially up front," said defensive coordinator Vance Bedford. "Our concern right now is that we have a few guys nicked up that will probably not be going through spring practice, but we do have enough depth, two-deep up front, to get a good look at some players."

Tackles Roy Philon and Sheldon Rankins, along with end Deiontrez Mount are listed as out for the spring, while end Marcus Smith is questionable. Their absence will allow others the opportunity to receive more snaps.

Tackles Jermaine Brooks and Brandon Dunn will benefit great from the added reps, as their roles will increase this fall. Freshman Finesse Middleton will see significant time at defensive end this spring.

"We're excited to see what he can do," Beford said of Middleton. "We think he can be an excellent pass rusher."

Redshirt freshman Nick Dawson will receive snaps at both defensive end and outside linebacker this spring.

Senior Preston Brown, the team's leading tackler from 2012 with 109 stops, is back and leads an experienced squad that also includes 2012 freshman All-American Keith Brown and fellow sophomore James Burgess. Some position movement will occur this spring in an effort to get all three on the field together.

"We're going to move some guys around," said Bedford. "Keith Brown is probably going to make a position switch from inside to outside linebacker. With Keith [Brown], [James] Burgess and Preston Brown, we believe that we have three really talented linebackers and we are trying to find a way to get all three of those guys on the football field and I think it would benefit us quite a bit."

Seniors George Durant, Champ Lee and Deon Rogers, along with sophomore James Burgess and redshirt freshman Lamar Atkins will provide depth at the position.

The Cardinals, who finished 2012 ranked 16th in the nation in pass defense, return all but one starter from a year ago. The secondary welcomes back three starters and its depth will be bolstered by sophomore Charles Gaines, who is making the move from wide receiver to cornerback this spring.

Last years starting safeties, Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, both return. The pair combined for 173 tackles last season and have developed into one of the best safety tandems in the nation, both earning All-Conference honors in 2012. Kamal Hogan, Gerrod Holliman and Kevin Houchins will also be in the mix for playing time at safety.

With cornerback Andrian Bushell gone to the NFL, the competition at corner could be one of the top storylines of the spring. Terell Floyd, who started 10 games last season, tops the depth chart on one side. Junior Andrew Johnson, who notched six starts a year ago and tops the depth chart as other first string corner, is listed as out for spring with injury. Stephan Robinson, Devontre Parnell, listed as questionable, and former receiver Charles Gaines are expected to push for quality time this spring.

Jermaine Reve, who Bedford described as a "very versatile young man," played both corner and safety last season, becoming the primary nickel back, should see his role continue to increase.

"We need to make more plays when the ball is in the air," said Bedford, who also coaches the U of L secondary. "We only had 11 interceptions and that is the most in the years that we have been here, but we do not make enough plays when the ball is in the air. We gave up to many big plays, so we have to cut those plays down."

Spring practice begins on Wednesday and will continue this weekend on Friday and Saturday, both of which will be open to the public to attend.

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