(Photo of Louisville Offensive Line, Virginia Defensive Line: Geoff Burke - USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - When Scott Satterfield first took over as the head coach of the Louisville football program in Dec. of 2018, the Cardinals' offensive line was in rough shape. The unit had just allowed 3.58 sacks and 7.75 tackles for loss per game, and years of recruiting malfeasance by the previous staff rendered it as one of the weakest position groups on the roster.
Two seasons later, there's a much different vibe surrounding the big guys up front. Heading into the 2021 season, it has gone from from one of the weakest to one of the deepest positions for Louisville, sporting 12 scholarship lineman. Plus, if redshirt freshman offensive tackle Renato Brown is to be believed, it's far from empty depth.
"I think we got eight guys, eight solid guys, that can play right now," Brown said. "We have young guys that are stepping up: Michael Gonzalez, Luke Kandra, Austin Collins, guys that are contributing. Dez Daniels, he came in as a tight end, but he's been putting on weight and he's been working. I think we'll be very deep."
Around this time last offseason, former Louisville offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford said the Cardinals had seven linemen they believed they could rely on major in-game reps. Gaining an extra player to heavily rely, coupled with COVID seemingly in the rear view mirror, and the OL depth should be a lot more noticeable in 2021.
"It's very important to have depth, because we're big guys," Brown said. "We get fatigued faster than the smaller guys. We've been really training hard this summer, so I don't think the fatigue problem should come into play, because we've been really working and grinding."
Not only is Louisville's offensive line in much better shape than in years past from a depth perspective, they are aided immensely by their versatility. Thanks in part to the cross-position training last year because of fear of COVID unavailabilities, it has made the entire unit much more flexible.
"Guys can move around," Brown said. "Bryan Hudson can play all five spots on the offensive line. Adonis (Boone) has moved around as well, he'll be next to me this year at right guard. Everybody can really play. Cole Bentley, he can play some guard. Caleb Chandler, he can play center and guard, and tackle, so he can also play all five."
Bentley and Chandler are the elder statesmen of the group, as they are the two oldest offensive linemen on the roster. Bentley took advantage of an additional year granted by the NCAA due to the virus, and the veteran leadership of him and Chandler has set a good model for the younger guys.
"They've been very important," Brown said. "Caleb and Cole, they've taught me a lot. Not just in the game of football, as growing up, because they're the vets. They took me under their wing, they taught me basically everything I know."
But they haven't been the only ones to set the standard for the offensive line. Former tackles Mekhi Becton and Tyler Haycraft, who both started their professional careers after the 2019 season, played a big role in laying the foundation.
"Mekhi helped me, fundamentals, Robbie helped me understand the place," Brown said. "At first, my freshman year, I really struggled with the playbook. Robbie used to meet with me, and the coaches and really sat down and made everything simple and easy."
Heading into a crucial year three in the Satterfield era, Brown believes that the offensive line can finally make the jump they are capable of making.
"I think this unit has the talent to take over the show, because we're hungry," he said. "We want to win, and everyone else wants to win. As soon as we take charge, it starts with the front line. Everyone's seeing us take charge and seeing us determined to win."
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