LOUISVILLE, Ky. - One the biggest staples of the Louisville defense since head coach Scott Satterfield took over the program has been position versatility.
It began out of necessity in 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck and forced the Cardinals to cross-train their players in case of emergency. Since then, defensive coordinator Bryan Brown and Satterfield have put a premium on bringing in defensive players that can play multiple positions.
One such player that fits this bill is safety Nicario Harper, who came over from Jacksonville State to join Louisville. He's one of a several newcomers for the Cardinals, particularly in the secondary.
"The transition so far has been very smooth," Harper said. "I picked up on the scheme pretty well. My teammates pretty much welcomed me with open arms, and they made me feel comfortable."
Don't let the fact that he is coming from the FCS level distract you. During the 2020-21 season, Harper was one of the top players in all of FCS football, logging a team-high 92 tackles, three interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss. He was named a First Team AP FCS All-American for his efforts.
An injury limited him last fall for the 2021 season, but he still was named the the All-ASUN Team after tallying 54 tackles, two interceptions and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Based on that body of work, Harper could have declared for the 2022 NFL Draft. However, he wasn't satisfied with his draft grade, and he wanted to better himself. Plus, scouts saw him as one-note player at Jacksonville State, and wanted the opportunity to showcase his full range and potential.
"They wanted to see my hips more, they wanted to see me in coverage more. They wanted to see my hips get a little bit better," Harper said. "They just really see me as a physical player, as a downhill thumper, and I want to be able to show my versatility more."
So far in the offseason and preseason for Louisville, the 6-foot-1, 203-pound Harper has been able to do just that. In fall camp, he has taken reps at free safety, nickelback, and the CARD outside linebacker position. In fact, despite being listed as a linebacker on Louisville's official roster, the has tabbed as the backup free safety on the Cardinals' preseason depth chart entering fall camp. He anticipates this becoming the norm when the season actually begins.
"I love the opportunity," he said. "I want to show my versatility a lot. I don't know if a lot of people just think that I'm just a physical guy, but I want to show off so I can cover, I can move around, I can blitz, I can play up top, I can play in the box. I can do everything. That's the kind of player I feel like I am."
No matter where Harper lines up on the field, he likes the competition that has unfolded throughout fall camp. He believes that Louisville has "one of the best secondaries coming into this season," and that there is "no drop off" in talent at CARD whether it's him, Ben Perry or Marvin Dallas in the game.
Harper believes that CARD, a hybrid linebacker/safety position in Louisville's scheme, fits him well in part because he's "surrounded by a lot of great players on this defense." He also thinks that the versatility a vast majority of Louisville's defensive players possess will allow that side of the ball to perform at a much higher level.
"I feel like we're versatile as a players and as a as a collective group," he said. "It just gives coach more confidence to call different kinds of plays and schemes. ... When you got players that can do some of everything, you can call whatever. The call might not work, but we're going to make everything look like it's supposed to look like on the field."
Due to the high level of competition all over the Louisville defense in fall camp, Harper believes it will only make them better by the time the season arrives.
"I'm gonna always say this, I say iron sharpens iron," he said. "There's a lot of great players. ... We all learn from each other, and we're just here to get each other better every day, and show up with a positive attitude."
Louisville will begin the 2022 season when they travel to upstate New York to face Syracuse on Saturday, Sept. 3.
(Photo of Nicario Harper via Ohio Valley Conference)
You can follow Louisville Report for future coverage by liking us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:
You can also follow Deputy Editor Matthew McGavic at @Matt_McGavic on Twitter