Harvey-Clemons aims higher as leader of Cardinals' secondary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Safety Josh Harvey-Clemons enters his second season with Louisville after an impressive debut last fall.

He sat out the 2014 season after transferring from Georgia to the Cardinals. The senior is one of the leaders of a veteran secondary that tied for 14th nationally with 17 interceptions.

Harvey-Clemons ranked third for Louisville with a career-best 88 tackles and three interceptions, including a pickoff in the Cardinals' 27-21 Music City Bowl victory over Texas A&M. That performance followed his honorable mention selection to the all-Atlantic Coast Conference team. It motivated him to take the next steps toward becoming one of the nation's best players and improving his NFL draft prospects.

''It wasn't really a surprise,'' Harvey-Clemons said of his season. ''I was getting back in the groove of things after sitting out a whole year, just getting my feet back under me. I feel like I should be able to grow on what I did last year.''

Harvey-Clemons had pondered entering the draft last winter but decided to return for his final season at Louisville after learning his NFL stock needed improvement.

Influenced by the styles of such NFL idols as the late Sean Taylor and the Seattle Seahawks' Kam Chancellor, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Harvey-Clemons has focused on covering better and becoming a fierce tackler. Technique-wise, he worked on tip drills and trying to get better leverage against receivers, especially those coming out of the slot.

''That's a big thing with me because I'm taller, and it's a little harder to open my hips with those faster receivers,'' he said.

Practicing against quick, agile Louisville teammates such as senior James Quick and quarterback-turned-receiver Reggie Bonnafon has helped the process. As Louisville wraps up a third week of practice Harvey-Clemons says he remains a work in progress - especially with injuries to teammates forcing him to learn the linebacker role.

Despite the added responsibility, Harvey-Clemons sees positives in developing versatility that will aid Louisville's nickel and dime defensive packages. It certainly helps a Cardinals' defense aiming to build depth on their front seven.

''I get to play the run a lot, and I like that because I can read the guard and tackle and come up and make more plays on the ball,'' he said. ''It helps our team with guys being able to play multiple positions.''

Though Harvey-Clemons showed promise as a Georgia sophomore with 66 tackles and an interception in 2013, he's happy at Louisville. The native of Valdosta, Georgia, wanted to play for defense-minded former Cardinals coach Charlie Strong - now at Texas - but chose the Bulldogs to make it easier for his grandfather Woodrow to see him and a younger brother play high school ball.

Harvey-Clemons eventually got his wish to play for Louisville when he transferred and reunited with former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He believes playing for a position coach in a familiar system helped make for a successful debut last season.

Louisville assistant secondary coach Cort Dennison likes his versatility.

''He can do a multitude of things,'' Dennison said of the player's range and good hands. ''He's getting a lot better taking on the offensive linemen, so it gives you position flexibility. When you've got a player like that, you can do a lot of things.''

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Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GaryBGraves and the AP's college football site at http://collegefootball.ap.org .

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