When the topic of the nation's top linebacker units in the nation surfaces, the University of Louisville's group has to be in the discussion.
Led by senior Preston Brown, the Cardinals return plenty of experience at the position. Sophomore James Burgess and senior George Durant join Brown as the season starters both registered starts for the Louisville last season. Sophomore Keith Brown, who started five games a year ago, was injured during summer workouts, is expected back later in the season.
After finishing as the team's leading tackler a season ago with 109 stops, middle linebacker Preston Brown was named to a pair of preseason award watch lists, as the Lombardi and Butkus awards both have the Cincinnati native listed among the nation's top candidates.
Burgess appeared in 10 games, making four starts, last season. The Homestead, Fla., product recorded 27 tackles and two interceptions in 2012. His interception against Rutgers in the regular season finale set up the eventual game-winning field goal to secure the Cardinals spot in a BCS Bowl.
A former walk-on, George Durant started eight games as a junior. He'll help fill void left by the injured Keith Brown. He totaled a career-high 9 stops in the Cardinals 34-31 overtime win over rival Cincinnati.
"We have some guys who are veterans and have played in the system for going on four years," Jean-Mary said. "We expect them to stand out more than the young guys. Some of the old guys like Preston Brown and Durant, they will always be farther ahead because they have played at the highest level."
James Burgess, sophomore
Following an impressive true freshman season, James Burgess is ready to rise to the next level. He proved to have the ability to make a play on the ball, in both run and pass defense.
Burgess (6'0, 215) worked on improving his strength and understanding of the defense during the off season and is expected to become a key member of the defense.
With so much experience in the linebacking, it may be difficult for someone to crack the depth chart and surprise. However, if it occurs, it may come from a trio in the freshmen class. James Hearns, Keith Kelsey and Lyn Clark have impressed thier fellow teammates.
"They just have to learn how to play technique and learn how to be physical in the framework of our defense," said Jean-Mary, adding, "they look like they belong."
*Junior Tyon Dixon missed all of 2012 due to an injury. Dixon saw action with the special teams in 2010 and 2011.
*Hearns, who was a late addition to the freshman class, will wear No. 21. Kelsey will sport No. 55 and Clark with No. 14.
COMING UP NEXT
*Later today, we'll continue our look at the Cardinal linebackers, with features on James Burgess and George Durant.
*The position series will continue tomorrow with a look at the Cardinals offensive line.