U of L defense focused on improving fundamentals

University of Louisville defensive coordinator Mike Cassity believes fundamental improvement key to his defense's success this season.

Which defense will show up for the University of Louisville this fall?

The one that ran to the football, made plays and held opponents to just 20 points per game during a 7-1 start in 2003, or the one that allowed three of its last five opponents to score 40 or more points, including a 49-point outburst from Ben Rothlisberger and Miami (OH) in the GMAC Bowl?

Since the end of last season, new U of L defensive coordinator Mike Cassity has studied the film from each of the Cardinals games from 2003. What he found during his studies was a need for improved fundamentals from Cardinal defenders.

"Some of the glaring things from last season that we need to improve on are the fundamental things like tackling and getting off blocks," Cassity said. "So that was my starting point. We're going to improve the fundamentals before we move to the scheme."

With leading 2003 tackler Robert McCune back again this season, Cassity is expecting the senior to spearhead a fast and improving defense. He's also hoping that improved competition in the middle, where several talented youngsters, including sophomore Abe Brown, red-shirt freshmen Preston Smith and Malik Jackson and true freshmen Lamar Myles and Johnnie Burns are vying for playing time with returning veterans McCune and Brandon Johnson.

"Our linebackers are very athletic and it starts with McCune," Cassity said. "He's strong, he can run and he'll be the quarterback of our defense. But there's a lot of competition at linebacker and I think that's a good thing. We've got speed and guys that can run to the football and that will allow us to do a lot things."

Cassity said he also believes last season's defensive unit lost confidence midway through the season and never adjusted to the way opposing offenses were attacking them latter in the year.

"I think they maybe lost a little confidence [toward the end of last season], and that kind of snowballed," Cassity said. "I've watched a lot of film and they were flying around and playing well early in the year. But offenses continue to receive film of every game so that's why you've got to really work on self analysis to see what your tendencies really are because your opponents are doing that."

Multi-talented sophomore standout Michael Bush (6'3, 245) could also quickly help rejuvenate the U of L defense with his atleticism and play-making capability. Bush, who played offense last season, is expected to see quality action at linebacker and, perhaps, in the secondary this season.

"I sure hope so and we're spending practice time trying to accomodate that," Cassity said of Bush seeing action on defense this season. "Anytime you have a great athlete, you try to get them on the field as much as possible. So we're going to continue to try and get him on the field."

The secondary, which returns four veterans, figures to be much improved this season. However, unless the Cardinals last line of defense gets some help up front, their 2004 numbers might not show much statistical improvement.

With three seniors along the front, including tackles Montavious Stanley and Bobby Leffew and end Marcus Jones, experience shouldn't be a concern for Cassity. However, depth might be a more delicate issue for the veteran coordinator, who said Friday the Cardinals might have to have contributions from true freshmen Adrian Grady, Devin Shivers and Brandon Cox.

"We have some nice size inside and on the end we have some guys who can run," Cassity said of the defensive line. "I would like to play a lot of different guys up front and we'll probably have to look [at the true freshman] to accomodate that."

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