One of the biggest frustrations for Louisville last season was its inability to stay healthy on the defensive line.
Defensive end Greg Scruggs was supposed to be one of the leaders of the group, but he was hobbled all year with a toe injury. Marcus Smith, Brandon Dunn, Roy Philon and B.J. Butler either missed time or played through various injuries. There was simply never consistency up front.
But that is all set to change headed into 2012. Though Scruggs has gone on to the NFL, Louisville returns three starters and a wealth of players with game experience. This could end up being one of the best groups in the Big East.
"This is the best group we’ve had since we’ve been here," defensive line coach Clint Hurtt said in a recent phone interview. "We have a solid two-deep where if the second unit had to go out on the field, I don’t feel we’d miss a beat. We have eight, nine guys who can do stuff for us. They’re taking the coaching, and listening to us. But it’s the maturity of the group what you’re starting to see."
Hurtt continues to sing the praises of Smith, saying he has had a "phenomenal camp." In addition to the returning players listed, Jamaine Brooks, B.J. Dubose, Sheldon Rankins and Lorenzo Mauldin are expected to be major contributors as well. Mauldin is back on defense after seeing some time playing tight end last year, and will be used as a pass-rushing specialist at the outset in a Bruce Irvin-type role.
The goal is for him to eventually be an every down player once he truly begins to learn the intricacies of playing the position. The goal for the entire group is to be able to just rush its four down linemen in pressure situations. Perhaps the best news of all is there are no seniors in this group.
"The future looks bright," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said at media day. "Right now, we have a lot of depth. Our defensive line is moving around. For us to have a chance to be successful this year, we have to win up front. If we can do that and control the line of scrimmage up front with the guys we have, with the depth that we have, I am excited.”