Cardinal defense ready to go

U of L defensive coordinator Mike Cassity visited with Inside The Ville following Wednesday's practice and discussed his squad's game week preparation and the continued competition at middle linebacker.

University of Louisville defensive coordinator Mike Cassity developed one of the greatest turnarounds in the school's football history last fall when he turned a defensive unit that ranked 93rd in the nation 2003 and molded it into a squad that finished the 2004 campaign among the nation's top 15 units. With a number of players from last year's squad gone, including NFL rookies Robert McCune and Kerry Rhodes, the Cardinals second-year coordinator faces the challenge of replacing key contributors.

With just days left until the 12th-ranked Cardinals open their season, Cassity believes that his defensive squad is playing with the emotion and excitement that he expects this time of year.

"I think anytime that you come out with a lot of energy and excitement that it becomes contagious and they are doing that," he said. "The guys start flying around and have fun out there - we saw that from them on [Wednesday]."

Throughout fall camp, the defense has received strong reviews and have worked with a determination to equal, if not surpass the team's accomplishments of last fall. However, due to the presence of quality depth, a tight competition developed at the middle linebacker spot. A trio of players, sophomore Matt Sanders, junior Nate Harris and redshirt freshman Lamar Myles, have all taken their share of snaps with the first unit defense, forcing Cassity to continually postpone naming the game one starter.

"All three of them are having their moments of playing well," Cassity said of the on-going competition to replace Robert McCune. "Right now we don't have a final decision made, but I look for them to battle for the rest of the week and then we will decide who starts at that point."

The safety position, where Cassity needs to replace last year's starters, Kerry Rhodes, J.T. Haskins and Brent Johnson, has also been an area of interest for many Cardinal fans. U of L head coach Bobby Petrino said earlier this week that Brandon Sharp had a great scrimmage last Saturday, while Cassity added that both Brandon and Antoine Sharp continue to improve.

"They have both continued to get better during each practice," said Cassity. "I expect that they will continue to improve during every game we play this fall."

While Cassity is clearly confident in his defense, he added that with Kentucky installing a new offense, that, especially for a season-opener, he won't be comfortable until after kick-off.

"You are never comfortable, but we've had good preparation," he said of the UK game preparation. "I think there was good carry over from last year and I know that the players are excited and ready to go. We believe in being able to adjust to anything an offense gives us. Going against our offense and the many different formations that they gives us helps."

Last fall, Cassity's defense held Kentucky scoreless and limited the Wildcats to just 66 yards on the ground and 172 yards through the air.

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