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Louisville went from national contender to afterthought in coach Steve Kragthorpe's first season. The offseason was just as tumultuous. It started with Kragthorpe replacing his entire defensive staff after the Cardinals ranked either last or next-to-last in the Big East in almost every major defensive category. Already short on returning starters, Louisville then lost two more: Leading rusher Anthony Allen elected to transfer and starting cornerback Rod Council was kicked off the team following his arrest for robbery. Here's a look at Louisville at it prepares to enter spring practice.
Hunter Cantwell will step in at quarterback for Louisville.
Offense?4: T George Bussey, G Mike Donoghue, WR Scott Long, C Eric Wood.
Defense?4: LB Bobby Buchanan, T Earl Heyman, E L.D. Scott, CB Woodny Turenne.
Special teams?1: P Corey Goettsche.
G/T Mario Benavides (from high school), LB Chris Campa (junior college transfer), WR Maurice Clark (junior college transfer), DT Tyler Jessen (junior college transfer), SS Justin Matthews (junior college transfer), G/T Charles Millenbah (junior college transfer), OT Byron Stingily (junior college transfer) and S Josh Wiley (junior college transfer).
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
The Cardinals must replace three starters on the offensive line, but at least they have a sturdy foundation with two All-Big East caliber returnees in Bussey and Wood. Both are three-year starters. Louisville may not return this year to Amobi Okoye-level production at defensive tackle, but the position looks to be a solid foundation for a rebuilding defense. Heyman and Grady return, giving the Cardinals two experienced seniors on the line. The tandem could be even better if Grady is healthy after struggling with injuries last season.
HELP IS NEEDED
All three starters at linebacker are gone, including leading tackler Lamar Myles, who surprisingly left early for the NFL. There's not much experience moving up to take their place. The veteran will be senior James Bryant, who transferred from Miami. The candidates competing for the two outside linebacker spots ? Stephen Garr, Patrick Grant, Brandon Heath and Darius Mann ? have a combined 38 career tackles.
KEEP AN EYE ON
CB Johnny Patrick: The former wide receiver took his speed to defense last season, where he started four games. The sophomore becomes even more key this season after the dismissal of projected starter Rod Council.
RB Bilal Powell: Anthony Allen is gone. Brock Bolen is a fullback. And George Stripling is in and out of the doghouse. The door is open for Powell, who rushed for 161 yards in his final two games a true freshman last year, to make a move.
FS Latarrius Thomas: He appeared to be on the fast track to success when he started as a true freshman but was set back by a major knee injury last season. After redshirting, he looks to reclaim his starting spot.
HIS TIME IS NOW
For three seasons, Hunter Cantwell toiled as Brian Brohm's backup. Despite a lack of playing time, he has been talked about as an NFL prospect. We'll find out how serious those projections are when he starts a full season. He is 3-1 as a starter, and his only loss was to Virginia Tech in the 2005 Gator Bowl.
Louisville's offense may be in good hands without Brohm thanks to Cantwell and coach Steve Kragthorpe. It's the defense that needs a major makeover this spring. Ron English, who was Rivals.com's national defensive coordinator of the year at Michigan in 2006, will have a lot of work to do with a new staff and little experience on the field.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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