A key spot for the Louisville 3-4 defense, the end spot is crucial to limit the opposing run attack and to apply pressure on the quarterback, with some assistance from an outside linebacker that will often lineup alongside the defensive line.
The return of seniors Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei provide the Cardinals with a pair of experienced ends and the pair should have the spots on lockdown. Considered one of the best at his position, Rankins has been named to multiple preseason Watch Lists, as well as being selected to the Preseason All-ACC team.
Depth will be provided by a few guys who could lineup in multiple spots in Drew Bailey, Kyle Shortridge, Trevon Young and potentially true freshman G.G. Robinson. More notably, will be the help from the fourth linebacker who will often be on the line of scrimmage, where Keith Brown and newcomer Devonte Fields are expected to be difference-makers. We'll cover them more extensively in the linebacker preview.
However, the key to success for Louisville's end will go through Rankins. The Covington, Ga., product started all 13 games last fall and was the team leader in both sacks (8) and tackles for a loss (12.5).
Pio Vatuvei, senior
Rated among the nation's top defensive ends out of high school, Vatuvei spent a year at Washington and San Mateo (Calif.) College Prior to arriving in the Derby City, where he appeared in 11 games, starting nine, for the Cardinals last fall.
After an elbow injury slowed the 6-foot-2, 296-pound end last fall, playing at full strength and not to mention the attention that Rankins will draw, Vatuvei is poised for a breakout season in 2015.
He recorded one sack and 4.5 stops for a loss as a junior.
Listed as an outside linebacker, Young will spend the majority of his time along the defensive line. While injuries limited his role in 2014 and a back injury kept him out of spring practice, Young has been impressive during fall camp and appears more comfortable in role for this season.
He has great speed for his size and his 6-foot-4 frame will create matchup problems as he comes around the edge. He totaled one sack and 2 tackles for a loss as a sophomore.
** Drew Bailey arrived in Louisville in January and has benefited from the extra time on campus. Look for him to spell Rankins at times this season.
** The Cardinals rush defense finished 2014 ranked No.10 nationally against the run, allowing just 108 yards per game.
** Watch for our breakdown of Louisville's deep and talented linebacker position.
** A player feature on linebacker Keith Kelsey is also on the way.