January 12, 2016

Four Cardinal defenders returning for senior seasons add to expectations

"Louisville Cardinals linebacker Keith Kelsey (55) celebrates following a play in a regular season game for the University of Louisville VS the University of Kentucky on 11-28-14 at Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky."

By Sam Draut–

While U of L’s offense is set to return nearly all of its production from the 2015 season next year, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham didn’t have the same guarantee less than a week ago.

Juniors Keith Kelsey, Josh Harvey-Clemons, Devonte Fields and DeAngelo Brown requested feedback from the NFL, but opted to return for their senior year to improve their draft stock.

The NFL advisory committee projects players as either first-or-second round picks or the broader late round picks. None of the four received first-or-second round projections.

According to ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, of the 84 underclassmen that declared for the NFL Draft last year, 41 went undrafted or were picked in day three of the draft, where no contract is guaranteed.

Kelsey, an inside linebacker and leader of the Cardinal defense, finished with a team-high 107 tackles. He was named first-team All-ACC and had 12 tackles for a loss along with three-and-a-half sacks.

“I talked to my family and my coaches,” Kelsey said. He added that next year’s team has a great opportunity to expand on their success from this year.

In his first season of play at U of L, Harvey-Clemons was third on the team with 88 tackles and hauled in three interceptions. The safety played for Grantham at Georgia before transferring to U of L in 2014. Already familiar with Grantham’s 3-4 defense, Harvey-Clemons fit in seamlessly at the “star position” of Grantham’s scheme.

“I didn’t have the season that I wanted to. I feel like I could have done better,” Harvey-Clemons said. “I talked to these guys, and once they told me they were coming back, it was a no brainer for me.”

Coach Bobby Petrino took a risk on Fields, who previously faced domestic violence allegations and left TCU after being named the Big 12 Defender of the Year in 2013.

The transition to Louisville started slowly for Fields as he came to campus out of shape and then had a poor showing against Florida State when he walked behind a play as Seminole running back Dalvin Cook scored a touchdown.

But in the final seven games, the outside linebacker put together one of the most dominant second half performances in the country. Fields closed out the season with three sacks against Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.

Rushing off the edge, Fields disrupted backfields and finished the season with a team-high 22 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks, and he was fourth on the team with 63 tackles.

Fields said he was thankful for the second chance and ready to put together a full season next year.

Sometimes a forgotten component to U of L’s front seven, Brown filled the A-gap as a defensive tackle to free up space for Fields and defensive linemen like Sheldon Rankins and Pio Vatuvei.

Brown had 40 tackles and six-and-a-half tackles for a loss in 2015, but he was also responsible for freeing up fellow defenders coming off the edge as interior offensive linemen would attempt to block Brown.

“I felt like in my heart that it was best for me to comeback,” Brown said.

With the four juniors returning, the only marketable losses for the Cardinal defense are seniors Rankins, Vatuvei, linebacker James Burgess and safety Jermaine Reve.

Photo by Wade Morgen / The Louisville Cardinal

 

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