Highlighted by the return of a pair of the nation's best linebackers – James Burgess and Keith Kelsey – the Cardinals are, for lack of a better word, loaded at the position. Each finished among the top three on the team in total tackles last year, combining for 158 tackles, 17 for a loss and nine sacks.
Both son's of NFL linebackers, Burgess and Kelsey, known as the 'Bash Brothers,' lead a group that has a deep group that will participate in all facets of the defensive game. The Cardinals also have an impressive collection of depth on the inside, where Lamar Atkins, Isaac Stewart and Stacy Thomas will see time as reserves this fall.
On the outside, Keith Brown, Trevon Young and newcomer Devonte Fields will manage the outside, often lining alongside the defensive line. James Hearns, Finesse Middleton and Henry Famurewa add quality depth at the spot.
Devonte Fields, junior
All eyes will be on Devonte Fields when he takes the field for the Cardinals in their opener against top ten Auburn on Sept. 5. The former TCU standout, where he earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year accolades as a freshman, now has his sights set on repeating that type of play in the ACC.
“That was 2012 and we're in 2015, so that was a long time ago,” he said, adding that his efforts in camp are in part motivated, “so I can be the 2015 ACC Defensive Player of the Year.”
Keith Brown, junior
Brown has been slowed by injury since his Freshman All-American season. He missed spring practice following core muscle surgery, but has made the transition from inside to outside linebacker during fall camp.
“Moving him to outside backer has been a great deal for us,” said U of L defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “He's been a leader on the team. He has really good speed, instinctive, he can set the edge on the run and gives you a little bit of pass rush. He's been a really good player for us in the things that we've asked him to do, so I'm excited to see him play this season.”
** A trio of freshmen also help make up the linebacker depth chart. Amonte Caban will work inside, with Tim Bonner and Jonathan Greenard on the outside.
** Thomas and Stewart have both performed at a high level through spring and into fall camp. Either, or both, could have a breakout season for the Cardinals.
** Player feature on junior Keith Kelsey.
** Up next in our position series, a look at the Cardinals tight ends.