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Todd Grantham Q&A: Catching up with Louisville's new defensive coordinator

Todd Grantham Todd Grantham will look to strengthen Louisville's defense entering 2014. (Michael Hutchins/Louisville Athletics)

Not long after Bobby Petrino was introduced as Louisville's coach on Jan. 9, he brought in Todd Grantham as his defensive coordinator. Grantham joined the Cardinals' staff after four seasons at Georgia. Now, he's been tasked with rebuilding Louisville's defense as it transitions to the ACC.

Campus Union caught up with Grantham as the Cardinals kicked off spring practice.

SI: How has your transition to Louisville been?

Todd Grantham: It's been good. I really do like our players' attitudes and work ethic, and their ability to respond to coaching. I've seen improvements. We're excited as coaches. We've still got a ways to go, but I like the way these guys work, and they have a good attitude.

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SI: A lot of people were surprised to see you jump from an SEC program like Georgia to Louisville. What led you to the Cardinals?

TG: I'd known coach Petrino when he was here before and was very successful. I knew of his track record both here and Arkansas. I also got to know him a little bit when he was with the Atlanta Falcons and then in the SEC as well. I'd kind of known his offense and what he's about. When he approached me about the opportunity here, I took into play that, number one, he's a proven head coach. And he really kind of started that here [at Louisville] back before he left; he'd won here before, so my expectation was that we can win again, only more. So I knew he was a proven winner. Then offensively, he's one of the best in the business, as far as play-calling and putting points on the board. So the combination of that, along with where this program can go now that it's in the ACC, was something that excited me. We talked about it for a couple of days, and I ended up deciding to do it.

SI: So Petrino's offensive background played a big part in your decision?

TG: That was 100 percent the selling point. When you take a new job, you look at all the factors. From an offensive standpoint, he knows how to put points on the board, and he also knows how to manage a game, and that's big particularly in the fourth quarter. Being able to team up with that was something that excited me.

But the way college football is now, the landscape is changed. We're going into the ACC, and with this new four-team playoff system, it's really going to come down to winning your conference -- just like with Florida State winning the ACC last year -- if you win the conference, you're probably going to be one of the four teams [in the playoff]. Just like March Madness that's starting right now, if you can get in the tournament, you have a chance to win it. Those are things that I felt were important to me, and I thought this was a great opportunity to do something special.

SI: Petrino told reporters that his staff dedicates one entire day each week to recruiting. What's that like?

TG: Well, you could argue that you recruit every day. But recruiting, from that standpoint, is taking a day and saying that you have these guys to look at and these guys to call. You're focusing one complete day on recruiting, because the lifeblood of your program is recruiting. You need guys who can win one-on-one matchups and make plays offensively and defensively. So by doing it that way, it's saying that everyone [on staff] is available to watch the tape as needed or talk to the kids as needed or make the phone calls as needed, because all those things are involved in recruiting. By doing that, I think it allows you to stay ahead of the curve a little bit.

SI: Louisville finished second nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing just 12.2 points per game. But you lose seven starters from that unit. What's your take on your roster?

TG: The first thing that we've done is, we've looked at all the players on tape in what I call a touch tape of roughly 25 plays of each guy. Defense is about making plays and finding ways to get your playmakers in one-on-one matchups. When I had [linebacker] Jarvis Jones [at Georgia], I would say, "How can we get Jarvis one-on-one where he can create some sacks?" With the players that we have here now, what is the playmaking ability of these players? Then you pick all the players, evaluate them and rank them. From there, you set your depth chart.

That's kind of where we are right now, that evaluation process of taking the depth chart that we've set and really evaluating the players and finding out who can play. In that, the guys who have been here for a little bit and waited their turn, I think their leadership comes out. Any time you have the losses that we've had, you have guys who have kind of been in the background and learned from that. I think they feel it's their turn to become the leaders we need to be successful. Any time you can get players to take ownership as a team, I think your team is better.

SI: Has any player stood out as particularly taking that type of ownership?

TG: I think it's too early. We really haven't been through a scrimmage yet. We played nine freshman last year at Georgia on defense. With the guys we have now, we have to know what they can do and their value to the defense once we leave spring. Then we'll be bringing in some new guys. To make your team better, you have to take the new guys coming in and fill those guys into the positions that you feel like you need more competition.

SI: How will Louisville's move to the ACC impact your approach in spring practice?

TG: It's definitely a move up in competition. When you look at Florida State, Miami, Notre Dame, Clemson and those teams, you're obviously playing quality opponents. I think the big thing there is being sound in your fundamentals. I've always approached spring practice and training camp saying that you've got to be prepared to play a season. We have to be ready to play two-back teams, one-back teams, up-tempo teams. I think you present all of that stuff, so that way when it comes up the week of that game, there will be some recall for the players, and it's not totally new.

In college football, it's a lot different from conference to conference in the sense that a team is going to be a certain style, and that could be totally different from the next week. During the course of spring practice and in August, we've got to do a good job of preparing our guys for the different styles of offenses that we'll see. That's kind of why going against our own offense is a plus, because they're multiple in what they do, so that allows us to do different things [on defense].

SI: You mentioned up-tempo offenses. How do you feel about the now-tabled 10-second defensive substitution rule?

TG: I've heard the arguments on both sides. I think it's somewhere in the middle. Somewhere along the line, it became that offenses want to go fast, so we've got to speed up our officiating procedure. That's where I think the look needs to be taken, because there's got to be a certain amount of time to set the ball and get officials in the proper area or alignment to properly officiate the game for guys who are set. Sometimes guys are going so fast that offensively, they're not set, and then it becomes, "Well, that doesn't affect the play." Well, in reality it does, because that's not a formation. That's where the balance needs to occur.

I'm not saying the answer is a 10-second runoff. I'm asking, what is the amount of time needed to get everyone in position to properly officiate the game? And to be safe, because I could show you points last year where the official is over the ball and we can't get lined up because the official's there. [The offense] snaps the ball, and the official is between us and the blocker. That's not safe for officials or the player.

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