The defensive line was a major strength for the University of Louisville football team last season. First-round NFL draft pick Marcus Smith, Brandon Dunn and Roy Philon are all gone.
Lorenzo Mauldin is back but he's been moved to an outside linebacker slot.
So, with those four players all gone from the position U of L coach Bobby Petrino and his staff are looking for a solid leader on the front line. And it appears they have found a good one - in junior Sheldon Rankins.
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound defensive end has excelled early in practice and on Wednesday was named one of five team captains by Petrino. The team voted on players to be captains.
"It's an honor," he said. "The honor of seeing my teammates seeing me as a leader on this team is great. I am not much of a vocal leader, but I lead by example. I am always trying to win very rep, do everything right and just so the young guys can say, 'Look how he's doing it'."
Rankins said he's been trying to learn in recent years from Philon, Dunn and Smith. As a sophomore, Rankins played in 11 games and started one, recording 10 tackles and three sacks.
"Being in the same room with those guys the last couple of years, I learned a lot from them," he said. "I just picked up on a couple of things and took it and ran with it."
In his recent years at Georgia, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had defensive ends that were close to 300 pounds. Rankins said those ends in the Grantham system are asked to slant and stunt often, and are responsible for occupying blockers and allowing linebackers and safeties to fill and make tackles.
Rankins feels like he will fit in just fine in the new defensive scheme.
"Anything to help this team, whether is be hold up double teams to help (James) Burgess, Keith Brown, or (Keith) Kelsey to run free or its penetrating gaps and get a tackle for a loss or a sack," Rankins said. "Whatever the coaches ask me to do is what I will do for this team.
Rankins said he was initial a bit worried about the coaching change, but noted after Petrino hired Grantham from Georgia that it "was much easier," to see where things were headed.
"Anytime there is a coaching change there's going to be some thoughts roaming through your head," Rankins said. "When he brought a guy in like coach Grantham it eases your mind. He knows what he's doing and has brought in some other great coaches to work with us."
Rankins said he feels like the defense has worked through the kinks of the coaching change are are headed in the right direction.
"In the spring, coach Grantham's defense is an NFL defense and there's a lot thrown at you," Rankins said. "We spent the whole summer in the playbooks and came into the fall camp understanding his concepts. I think we have really taken a step forward."