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Louisville’s new look: defensive backfield
By Annie Moore
The 2013 Louisville Cardinal defense dominated the FBS rankings across the board. The Cards were ranked first in the nation in total defense, second in scoring defense and fifth against the pass in the school’s one year spent in the American Athletic Conference.
It is safe to say Louisville faithful got spoiled. Tackles, sacks and interceptions almost became run of the mill.
Then graduation and the draft came along and there were more holes than a Louis Sachar novel.
The defense was not completely wiped out, but there were some major adjustments that needed to be made to fill the void left by veteran players departure.
The secondary especially will look very different from last season.
U of L lost one of the nation’s top safety tandems in Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor to the NFL. Last season the two had a combined 25 starts, 120 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles.
This year, the younger defense will look to cornerbacks Charles Gaines and Andrew Johnson and safeties Terell Floyd and Gerod Holliman to lead the secondary. Floyd is confident in his defense after fall practice but admits there is room for improvement.
“As a team, and as a defense we look really good,” Floyd said. “We have got a lot of things we need to work on, but that’s why we have got a film room. We get in the film room and try to fix every little thing we can.”
Now a senior, Floyd has been especially valuable in helping make the new defensive strategy successful.
Floyd, who had six interceptions and 47 tackles in 13 games at corner last season, moved to safety to help add strength and experience to the position, but he credits other safeties for making the transition easier for him.
“The guys that have been here and played safety, they coach me up,” Floyd said. “In the film room they coach me up and on the field. (Gerod) Holliman is one of the guys that I can talk to and ask questions when I make mistakes.”
Red-shirt junior defensive back Charles Gaines will be another key to maintaining the Louisville secondary. Gaines had five interceptions last season and the Miami native will need to get back to that form for the Cardinals to meet the expectations of a big year in Louisville football.
A big change for the defense this year will be a complete overhaul in system: a shift from Charlie Strong’s four-three defense to Bobby Petrino and Todd Grantham’s aggressive three-four system.
This scheme change has been one form in which newly-starting safety Holliman has shown how he can step up as a true leader.
“He knows the linebacker’s plays, he knows the d-linemen’s plays,” Gaines described of his red-shirt sophomore safety.
“He’s really been out there getting us in the right situations, getting us the right blitzes and things like that so its been coming together.”
Gaines and his fellow defensive-backs have been impactful players in the past years but it has never been their show. Under the spotlight of the Atlantic Coast Conference and the natural law of next-man-up the time has come for this new-look secondary to seize the day.
“It is an awesome experience to look on the other side and see Andrew Johnson out there. We came in together as freshmen and were on the second team defense for so long. Now that I look over there… we have come a long way,” Gaines admits.
The bottom line with Louisville’s secondary and defense in general is that it will not look like the 2013 defense Card Nation came to love under Charlie Strong. It is younger and less experienced with much room for improvement.
That is a curse and a blessing because with time and practice these younger players could work to improve and become that formidable defense once again, only this time tearing up the ACC’s offenses across the board.