By Conner Farrell–
Now under a month away from the season opener, TLC’s position breakdown is winding down. Last week, we looked at the defensive linemen. This week, we move on to the line backers.
In Defensive Coordinator Todd Grantham’s three-four system, two inside linebackers and two outside linebackers are used. To run the system, you need three big defensive lineman that can slant and take up multiple blockers to free up the linebackers. The edge backers rush the quarterback and buzz into the flats. The inside backers need to be good at reading the backfield, scraping blockers and filling run lanes.
Grantham can run this style of play perfectly. The two standout names in this linebacking core are Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields. The return of the pair of seniors took Louisville from a middle-of-the-pack ACC team to a team fighting spot a conference championship.
Projected starters: OLB – Devonte Fields, ILB – Keith Kelsey, ILB – Stacy Thomas, OLB – James Hearns
In his first season with the Cardinals, Devonte Fields led the team in sacks, recording 10.5 and tackles-for-loss with 22. The former Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year came to Louisville after playing two seasons at TCU. Fields made his impact felt in the later part of the season. His biggest game came in the bowl game against Texas A&M, Fields recorded three tackles for loss and made two pass deflections in the Cards’ bowl win.
Looking to be one of the ACC’s premier defensive players, Fields comes into this season with high expectations. He owns multiple preseason accolades, including being named a preseason first team All American by Sports Illustrated.
Kelsey has been a defensive leader for three seasons. Now a senior, he has led the Cardinals in tackles for the past two seasons. Last season, the linebacker recorded 106 tackles with 10.5 being for a loss. The hard hitting backer is poised to register another high caliber season.
The two new starters for the linebacker are Thomas and Hearns, both appearing in every game last season. With offensives putting more focus towards Fields, this could open opportunities for Hearns on the other side to apply pressure to the passer. After moving positions, Hearns has found a home on the edge. He recorded two and a half sacks last year.
Thomas will be stepping into a big role replacing last year’s starter James Burgess. After the ejection of Burgess in the Music City Bowl, Thomas made a huge impact on the game. He led the Cardinals in tackles with 11 after coming off the bench. Thomas has a similar style of play as Kelsey, so the two should pair nicely for Grantham.
The backups to the linebacking core do not come with much experience. Many of the players are redshirt freshmen or true freshmen. After redshirting, each player is able to make an impact this season. Names to watch for this upcoming season for the back-ups are Issac Stewart, Amonte Caban, Henry Famurewa and Jonathan Greenard.
All four players redshirted because of the stout play of Kelsey and Burgess over the pas two years. Stewart and Famurewa are sophomores while Caban and Greenard are freshman. Stewart has put on a lot of weight since he’s been at U of L. Now 245 lbs., offensive players feel Stewart when he makes contact.
Caban is another big inside linebacker at 250 lbs. Between Stewart and Caban, stuffing the run shouldn’t be a challenge but the pass cover by suffer. Famurewa is a feisty edge rusher who has a chance to get playing time with Trevon Young sitting out this season.
Greenard is an outside linebacker who has the size and athleticism to play the position for the Cards and could be used to give breathers when needed to Fields. Greenard has shown improvement over the summer.
True freshman looking to get on the field
Malik Staples and Tabarious Peterson are both true freshmen who have impressed Grantham this preseason. Peterson was the no. 44 nationally ranked linebacker according to Rivals.com. The outside linebacker has great quickness when rushing the QB and can wreck havoc in the backfield.
Staples came in as a running back but recently shifted to linebacker.
“He’s doing great. He’s been really impressive. He’s got really good foot speed, a burst, acceleration. He’s playing the same position Burgess played and he’s really athletic. He’s strong and really smart,” said Grantham when asked about Staples.
File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal