New linebackers face big first test

Louisville is expected to start three linebackers against Kentucky that have never played a down of major college football. Sunday's season opener figures to be a crash course for Jon Dempsey, Dexter Heyman and Antwon Canady. How they perform will certainly play a key role in the Cardinals chances to win back the Governor's Cup from the Wildcats.

Can Louisville's new linebackers pass their first big test?

"I think all three linebackers are playing good for us right now," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "Antwon is doing a good job for us, Jon (Dempsey) is playing good football and Dexter has stepped up to the task at hand as a true freshman."

With last week's season ending knee injury to Mozell Axson, the Cardinals most experienced linebacker, Louisville's two-deep at the position will be extremely inexperienced this season. On the bright side, Dempsey, Heyman and Canady appear to have the talent to make up for their lack of experience.

"All three of those guys are physical and tough and they're going to run around and make plays," said Kragthorpe. "I like all of those guys. Obviously losing Mozell hurts us because he would have been a backup at MIKE linebacker for us but I feel good about our linebackers."

Senior defensive tackle Earl Heyman will count on Louisville's three new guys to get his ‘back' this season. Heyman says he's been impressed by the new trio of linebackers behind him.

JUCO transfers Antwon Canady and
Jon Dempsey are expected to start
against Kentucky.

"What haven't I seen from them?" asked Heyman. "They're some playmakers, my brother included. They want the ball. They're what I call ball hunters. We have three great (running backs) and they come up and hit them. I think these linebackers have great instincts."

While Canady, Dempsey and Dexter Heyman have shown promise during fall camp there's one major concern – none of them has ever played a down of major college football. That means they must learn quickly on the job against a Joker Philips-led Kentucky offense that is sure to test them early and often during Sunday's season opener.

"I think you're looking at all you're guys that haven't played yet and trying to prepare them as much as you possibly can for what's going to happen," said Kragthorpe. "They all know it's a huge game and it's on national TV. We're doing things to help them prepare to react on the field instead of having to think through situations."

Not many true freshmen arrive on campus and start the season opener – at linebacker no less. Heyman, though, is certainly an exception to that rule. Heyman has picked up Louisville's defensive schemes quickly since arriving on campus and possesses the physical tools to make an immediate impact.

"Dexter hasn't played any football here for us," Kragthorpe reminded. "I'm excited about the prospect of Dexter playing great football for us but that remains to be seen. I'm confident that he'll do a great job for us. But in terms of how he'll play it's a wait and see situation. I think he's got a lot of talent and I'm excited to see him play."

Earl Heyman is confident his younger brother can help Louisville's defense right away.

"It's great having my brother on the team," Heyman said. "I relish the opportunity (because) it's a once in a lifetime experience and I'm grateful for it. He's coming into his own. He's playing with that passion that Coach (Ron) English expects him to play (with). I expect great things from him."

Heyman has taken his brother under his wing and is helping show him the collegiate ropes, especially when it comes to how to properly prepare for a big rivalry game.

"I play the big brother role with everybody not just him," Heyman said. "If somebody else isn't doing their job I get on them too. I grab him out of the dorm room or the locker room and just take him in the film room and watch extra film with him. He's come along. Mozell Axson also does that with him."

Heyman said his brother has picked up things quickly this preseason.

"He's a smart guy," Heyman said. "He's very, very intelligent. I expect great things out of him. He's been playing physical and fast and I expect him to keep that up. I'm harder on him because I am his brother."

With Axson's recent injury, Kragthorpe's defensive staff had to do some shuffling to the depth chart. The Cardinals moved James Bryant from SAM to MIKE to backup Canady and bumped up Stephen Garr to the second unit behind Heyman at SAM.

"I think we've got solid depth right now and we just want to get those guys lined up and let them make plays," Kragthorpe said.

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