LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Fall camp for the Louisville football program is officially in the books.
The Cardinals conducted their second and final week of the preseason this past week, ahead of Monday’s first day of classes for the fall semester.
Like in the first week, several coaches & players were made available over the week to give updates on the status of camp, as well as discuss a variety of other topics pertaining to the program.
Louisville Report was there for it all, and below is our notebook of everything that transpired during the second week of camp:
Satterfield, Brown and Louisville Players at Media Day
You can check out the interviews with head coach Scott Satterfield, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown, and several Louisville players from the program’s annual Media Day here.
Satterfield Pleased With Louisville’s First Scrimmage
Louisville’s first scrimmage of fall camp might have been closed off to the public’s eyes, but head coach Scott Satterfield was pleased with what he saw.
“I thought it was good. I thought it was overall a good energy thing,” Satterfield said. “I think it did come at a time where guys ready to tackle, because it’s the first day that we went full gear, and a lot of tackling.”
It was one of the longer practice periods of fall camp up to that point, as Satterfield ran “close to 135-140 plays” during the scrimmage. Of course, offensive vs. defense was the main focus, but the coaching staff squeezed several aspects of the special teams as well, such field goals, PAT, punt and kickoff team.
The third year head coach noted that the defense was ahead of the offense, that quarterback Malik Cunningham continued to look sharp, and he made sure even the twos, threes and walk-ons got a decent amount of reps in.
Defense Shines During First Scrimmage of Fall Camp
Heading into the 2021 season, the defense is generally regarded as the stronger side of the ball for Louisville. So it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that in Louisville’s first scrimmage, defense was the star of the show.
“It was probably the best scrimmage so far, defensively, that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” defensive coordinator Bryan Brown said. “We started the ball at the -35 for about seven or eight drives, and that was the first time that the defense held (the offense) without touchdowns. That was a great thing to see.”
While a box score or final score was nor provided, the defensive dominance can best be summarized by how long they kept Malik Cunningham and Co. out of the end zone. Out of the 135 to 140 plays that were ran during the scrimmage, the offense did not score a touchdown until the 104th play.
“We’re holding those guys to field goals, and getting fourth down stops,” Brown said. “Very pleased with the energy, the execution, the tackling. There wasn’t a lot of missed tackles out there today in the first day of pads, that was awesome.”
Louisville Continuing to Place Emphasis on Turnovers
Louisville not only lost 24 turnovers on offense, but the defense only came up with 12 of their own. The resulting turnover margin of -12 would up being the second-worst mark in FBS last season (Duke’s -19). and Satterfield has been determined to fix it ever since the 2020 season ended.
“We have been stressing it all offseason, we know that,” he said. “We know that was a big concern of ours last year, and was a reason we didn’t finish out games that we should have last year. We’ve been working on it in practice.”
Like in the spring, the program has been working on what they call a “turnover circuit” during fall camp. Essentially, the circuit is a set of drills where the offense and defense are put into turnover-prone situations.
One such example is a two-on-one tackling drill, where an offensive player holds the ball, a defender is in front ready to tackle, but the second defender is behind with the intent of punching the ball out.
Depth, Versatility Headline Louisville’s Outside Linebacker Room
One of the more under-appreciated units on the entire team is arguably the outside linebacker position. Outside linebackers coach Cort Dennison has a lot to like about his guys.
“The thing that sticks out about my position right now is quality of depth,” he said Monday. “I’ve got guys who have a lot of experience in my position, and not just guys that are starters right now. Some of our twos and threes have played a lot of quality football for us as well.”
Over at the DOG position, Dennison is extremely high on the pure athleticism and skill of Yasir Abdullah and the versatility of Nick Okeke.
“They’re both athletic enough to play in open space, so you can drop them in coverage, and they both have outstanding football IQs. If they line up at different places, and they’re not going to freeze when they see a different formation,” Dennison said.
Over at the CARD position, Jack Fagot could arguably be the most versatile player on the team. A converted safety, not only does he bring the experience in coverage, but Dennison likes how he has approached adding the pass rush to his repertoire.
Yasir Abdullah Putting Together ‘Outstanding’ Offseason
Perhaps the Cardinals’ X-factor heading into the 2021 season, is outside linebacker/edge rusher Yasir Abdullah. Dennison has raved about the progress made by Abdullah since the end of last season
“Yasir’s had an outstanding offseason,” he said.
An already gifted athlete, Dennison’s main challenge to Abdullah actually came from off the football. A soft-spoken and reserved person by nature, Dennison wanted Abdullah to become a more outspoken leader, and he answered the call.
“I challenged him this offseason to take that take that next step off the field,” Dennison said. “Being more vocal, being the leader of the room, being the guy that speaks up, because he’s normally a soft spoken kid. He’s taken that to heart, and he’s done an outstanding job.”
Of course, that wasn’t all. Dennison wanted Abdullah to round out his work in the weight room and improve his conditioning, to which he also responded by doing things like putting in more work on off days or running after practice.
Position Switch Going ‘Extremely Smooth’ for Jack Fagot
One position switch over the current offseason that could arguably have the biggest impact on the 2021 season is the one by Jack Fagot. Going from free safety to CARD, which is a linebacker/safety hybrid in Louisville’s system, he has made a near seamless transition to his new role.
“With that first group (of outside linebackers), Yasir (Abdullah) and Jack (Fagot), they’ve done an outstanding job,” Dennison said. “I think Jack’s transition has gone extremely smooth.
“He’s got a great understanding of route concepts and route recognition, which gives him an advantage, and that comes from the safety position seeing things,” Dennison said.
With his capabilities in coverage well established, Fagot took to heart this offseason working in his fundamentals and technique with both the pass rush and setting edges. On top of adding some weight to his now 6-0, 202-pound frame, Dennison thinks Fagot will be an immediate contributor in both departments despite not having prior experience with them.
Brewer Seeing ‘Encouraging Things’ from Louisville Wide Receivers
While it has yet to be determined who will be Louisville’s go-to wideout, and there will still hiccups from time to time, wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer is at least optimistic with his guys.
“In the scrimmage, we saw some very encouraging things, from really, all our guys that we’re going to count on, Brewer said. “But there was rookie mistakes. Meaning, just from inexperience, and they got to go through the growing pains to get there.”
While experience is not exactly this unit’s strong point, Brewer does like one aspect of their game: versatility. With what everyone brings to the table both collectively and individually, it adds to the overall strength of the wide receiver room despite its relative inexperience.
“We want guys to be able to do different things, not just be a one trick pony,. We want to be able to play inside and outside, but we’re gonna play to their strengths, too,” Brewer said. “Obviously, with a lack of experience, we would like for guys who have played before to be able to put in a game when maybe somebody gets shook a little bit – to get them in the game, to get that other guy settled down, and say it’s okay.”
Louisville Expecting Big Things from Tyler Harrell in 2021
Speaking of guys who could be the “go-to” receiver, speedster Tyler Harrell has certainly thrown himself into consideration. With the 2021 season just around the corner, the Louisville coaching staff is expecting big things from him coming up.
“It’s his time to shine, as they say,” Brewer said. “He obviously can run really fast straight ahead, we’re developing him as a route runner. He can definitely take the top off with that kind of speed, 4.2-type speed is rare.”
But straight-line speed is not the only thing Harrell can bring to the Cardinals. With his explosiveness well documented, the coaching staff has spent the offseason developing the rest of his overall skill set, such as route running and fine tuning his ability to actually catch the football.
All the time and effort the coaching staff has spent developing him both on the field and in the weight room, Harrell has equaled and surpassed it. Satterfield even called him “one of the hardest workers in the offseason”, and someone who has worked his way to where he will get opportunities. The only remaining question is if it will translate to live game production.
Bralyn Oliver Enters Transfer Portal, Walk-On Ramon Puryear Earns Scholarship
Even just a couple weeks before the start of the season, the roster shakeup was not done.
Safety Bralyn Oliver, a true freshman who had yet to play a down for the Cardinals, decided to enter the transfer portal. He was an early enrollee this past January, and was named as the backup free safety behind Kenderick Duncan in Louisville’s pre-fall camp depth chart.
Satterfield didn’t waste much time filling the scholarship. That same morning, he announced to the team that walk-on defensive end Ramon Puryear would be put on scholarship.
The 6-foot-3, 264-pound lineman had a strong showing throughout fall camp, with his effort being praised by both coaches and players alike. He was named as a starter on Louisville’s pre-fall camp depth chart, and will likely crack their 2021 regular season two-deep.
Nicholson: CJ Avery, Monty Montgomery Can Be Best LB Duo in ACC
A sizable part of Louisville’s defensive turnaround over the past two seasons can be attributed to the success of the inside linebacker room, specifically with veterans CJ Avery and Monty Montgomery. In fact, inside linebackers coach Derek Nicholson believes they have the potential to be the best linebacker duo in the ACC.
“I’m excited to watch CJ and Monty go on that field together,” Nicholson said. “The one thing about them, their strengths balance each other. CJ is really intelligent, his biggest strength is his brain. He’s a smart, cerebral football player. Monty is very instinctive and athletic. They balance each other real well, and I don’t think you’re gonna see any better duo in this conference than CJ Avery and Monty Montgomery.”
Avery is one of the most experienced players on the entire roster. He has 46 games under his belt, and is coming off of a season where he led the Cardinals in tackles with 78, accompanied by five tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception.
As for Montgomery, he has had a quick ascent to a becoming a consistant impact playmaker. Appearing in 10 games last year, mostly playing behind then-starter Dorian Etheridge, he logged 7.5 tackles for loss, an interception and a team-high 4.0 sacks.
Monty Montgomery Ready for Increased Role in 2021
A staple on 3rd down and in blitz packages in 2020, Montgomery tallied 46 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and a team-high 4.0 sacks. Perhaps what is most impressive is that the Norcross, Ga. native did all that while serving primarily as a backup behind Dorian Etheridge.
Heading into his third year with the program, he will tasked with a lot more reps and a lot more responsibilities, and inside linebackers coach Derek Nicholson believes Montgomery is prepared for it.
“Oh, he’s ready,” Nicholson said. “He’s become consistent, he’s a leader, he knows what all levels of the field are doing now. Last year, there were times where he’ll make a big play, and then he’ll freestyle, or he’ll may be out of gap or out of position. You don’t see those things anymore.”
Where Montgomery has most improved over the offseason is in his awareness and instincts. Nicholson says that Montgomery now knows exactly where he’s supposed to be positioned on the football field in order to affect the game, and that he can properly balance playing with instincts, and executing at a high level.
Offense Takes Step Forward in Louisville’s Second Scrimmage
During he first scrimmage, the Cardinals ran 144 plays, and the offense did not find the end zone until play No. 104. Fast forward to Louisville’s second and final scrimmage of fall camp, and it was night and day on that side of the ball.
“I thought they did did much better today,” Satterfield said. “The offense, the first drive, took it down and scored a touchdown. I think it was a seven or eight play drive to get that in there. Throughout the scrimmage, I thought they did some really good stuff.”
Like in the first scrimmage, quarterback Malik Cunningham showed flashes of his 2019 season, putting on display his passing efficiency and overall command of the offense. This time around, it helped the offense catch up to the defense.
While the offense did find the end zone in a fraction of the time it took them in the first scrimmage, Satterfield doesn’t want to draw too many conclusions to either extreme. That is because the main goal of these scrimmages is to see how certain schemes or players will fare in certain situations.
“Sometimes, we’re calling plays because I want to see a certain player touch the ball, or I want to see how our tight end’s going to do in this particular block,” he said. “Some of that gets misconstrued when you look at that, even across the country. Most coaches are trying to just look at certain players in certain things, and not necessarily trying to go out there and just score.”
(Photo of Louisville Players: University of Louisville Athletics)
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