Star freshmen could make impact on defense

Bobby Petrino has never shied from playing true freshman. Several current stars, including Michael Bush, Brian Brohm saw action their first seasons. This year, a few players figure to make an impact for the Cardinals, particularly on defense. Which true freshmen have the inside track to play this season? Will Brandon Heath play this season? has the latest.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino has never been afraid to play true freshmen.

Current players Michael Bush, Kolby Smith, Brian Brohm, William Gay, Amobi Okoye and Earl Heyman, among others, each saw immediate action straight out of high school.

With an experienced and deep team returning in 2006, it doesn't appear Petrino will have to rely on as many true freshmen as he's had to in the past. Still, a few will likely see the field this season, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

Latarrius Thomas and Deantwan Whitehead are virtual locks to contribute this season. Whitehead has consistently received reps with the second team, while Thomas has split time with the second and third units.

"I like him," assistant Joe Whitt said of Thomas. "He's a lot like Craig (James). He's a competitor."

One of the top players in Florida last season, the 6'2, 200 pound Thomas as considered one of the top offensive players in the Sunshine state at New Smyrna Beach High School. However, it appears Thomas will make his mark on defense for the Cardinals.

"He's learning the defense, but he's a very tough kid," Whitt said. "He's very strong and coachable. He does everything we ask him to do and if he just keeps coming (along) he'll be one of better safeties we've ever had here."

Whitt likened Thomas to current NFL star safety Sean Taylor of the Washington Redskins.

"Just from what you can see, you can tell he's a physical-type player," Whitt said. "I want to compare him to Sean Taylor. Hopefully, he can give us what Taylor gives the Redskins. He can be a very good player on down the road."

Whitt said the Louisville coaching staff has no plans to redshirt Thomas, who could also see significant action on special teams.

"We're getting him ready to play," Whitt said. "We don't have any plans to redshirt him at all. He's going to be a special player."

Like Thomas, the 6'6, 245 pound Whitehead will see action this season. Rated the No. 3 defensive prospect in the nation as a senior at Birmingham, Alabama's West End High School, Peanut, as he's known, is making the adjustment to college football.

"Our offensive line is pretty good and he hasn't faced guys like that before," Whitt said. "He's in there with the second unit and going against the one's some. Once he gets it, he's going to be very good. He's going against Renardo Foster and Breno Giacomini and those are some really good players."

Brandon Heath's playing status
this season remains uncertain.

Whitehead will likely become an integral part of the U of L defense during obvious passing situations, at least initially.

"He'll be one that comes in on nickel situations or however we see fit to get after the quarterback," Whitt said. "When he get it, and he will, he'll be a great one."

Brandon Heath, a 6'1, 195 pound freshman safety from West Palm Beach, Florida, was also slated to see action this season. Heath, however, broke his foot a few weeks ago which could force a medical redshirt this season.

"We've got to wait and see how he comes back," Whitt said. "Brandon's a (real) good football player and we had all intentions of playing him. That really hasn't changed. We just have to see how fast he can get back."

Heath recently had the protective boot on his left foot removed and told last weekend that he could return to the playing field in two or three weeks. Is there a point where the Louisville coaches would conclude that Heath has just missed too much preseason work to play this season?

"There is," Whitt said. "That's what happened to Rod Council his freshman year. We had every intention of playing Rod his true freshman year and then when he had some clearinghouse problems and had to pull him for a week or so. And he just missed too much."

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