Louisville’s finest: Sheldon Rankins

By on August 31, 2015

By: Leo Cumberland

The building block of defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defensive scheme is built around the disruption of the interior nose tackle.

Defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins is the foundation of one of the nation’s top ranked defenses.

A year ago, Rankins started all 13 games and finished with team highs of 8 sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Rarely coming off the field, Rankins also added two interceptions.

“When you combine that with his explosive power off the ball, his lateral movement, his ability to play with his hands, his acceleration off the blocks, then you start looking at the measurements he has, you end up with an impact player and that is why he is one of the leaders on our team,” Grantham said.

The senior from Covington, Georgia was voted preseason first team All-ACC after being selected third team All-ACC last season.

Rankins has been at the front of Louisville’s top ranked rush defense over the past few years while harassing quarterbacks on later downs.

Despite being an interior defensive lineman facing two or more lineman, Rankins has an impact on every play.

“Its something I’ve always taken pride in. Being a guy that guys can count on. I know those other guys on defense are going to make plays but at the same time I feel like I have to contribute in some way,” Rankins said. “Doing my job, sometimes it leads to making plays sometimes it leads to other guys making plays, its how the game of football works. I’m always out there trying to put my stamp on the game and most times it works.”

Being one of the most consistent contributors on the defensive side of the ball, Rankins was voted team captain before fall camp. Coaches and players alike expect Rankins to finish out on a positive note as his draft stock continues to rise.

“He should have a great year. One of the things we talk to our players about is becoming an expert at their technique, understanding their fundamentals, knowing what the other side of the ball is doing, he is as good as anybody, he really knows what he is doing technically with his hands and his footwork,” Petrino said. “He really understands blocking schemes and run schemes and how to attack them. He understands pass protection and how to counter off of that. He is really smart and really talented.”

“He is a guy that works extremely hard at his craft. He can improve over the things he did yesterday. He takes a lot of pride in his work, so all of the intangibles are there for him,” Grantham said.

When Rankins ties up opposing linemen, he creates holes for Louisville’s strong linebackers to blow up the backfield untouched.   If Rankins can occupy two offensive linemen at the point of attack the defense outnumbers the opposite side of the ball in the tackle-to-tackle box.

“I know those guys are going to come down hill. Pull linemen off of me, if there’s an open gap they’re going to fill it. Not only them but you got DeAngelo Brown, Pio next to me,” Rankins said. “Those guys are going to command double teams as well. At times I’ll be single blocked and be able to capitalize on those opportunities and vice versa.”

Though Rankins led the vaunted Louisville pass rush last season in sacks, his disrupting presence will give more opportunities to other edge rushers this year. When Rankins pressures from the middle, he forces the quarterback to leave the pocket where other pass rushers are attacking.

“One thing I’ve always prided myself on since arriving here is being able to rush the passer so I’m definitely going to keep that up in my capacity. Guys like Devonte Fields, Keith Brown, Trevon Young, those guys are going to give us great pass rush. Real fast guys off the edge, they have great moves. Guys that haven’t necessarily gotten a lot of exposure playing at that position, but guys that we’ve seen do it at practice, and we know they can do it in the game,” Rankins said. “Coming in this year I know that our pass rush will be as good if not better then we’ve been in the past years. “

Over thirty friends and family will make the short trip from Rankins hometown to the Georgia Dome for Louisville’s season opener against Auburn.

“It’s my last go around with the guys. It’s a big year, not only for me but for the team in general, we have a lot of lofty goals that we are trying to reach this year,” Rankins said.

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