(Photo of Eric Dungey, Malik Clark: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Much has been said about the progress that the Louisville football program has made on the defensive side of the ball. Two years removed from fielding one of the worst defenses in college football, the Cardinals were able to hold opponents to 26.6 points and 369.1 yards per game, which ranked 49th and 39th out of the 130 teams playing at the FBS level.
Louisville not only retains veteran playmakers such as Kei'Trel Clark and CJ Avery, but also bring in a host of up and coming newcomers to both fill the voids from departing players, as well as build depth.
That being said, there are still question marks. One of the biggest ones is at the nose tackle spot, and more specifically, who will take over as the starter. Jared Goldwire, an All-ACC Second Team selection who collected 35 tackles (20 solo), 5.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, declared for the 2021 NFL Draft.
Goldwire ate up much of the snaps at nose tackle in 2020, 430 of them to be exact, meaning that not only is there not a bunch of returning experience at the nose tackle position, but there are a bunch of reps up for grabs. Defensive line coach Mark Ivey, talking to the media on Tuesday following practice, said there are three very capable players who are competing for said reps throughout the spring.
"Right now, Malik Clark is continuing to get better on a day to day basis. He had a really good day Saturday," he said. "The guy that's really, really interesting at that position, and we still got a lot of question marks, but he's got the potential - Jared Dawson, who came in last year. Then obviously, we're missing a guy that did a great job last year as a freshman - Dezmond Tell. He got injured in the UVA game, and he's coming along great, but he won't be able to participate in spring ball."
Clark is an early favorite to win that starting job, as he has the more experience out of the three. Following a redshirt year in 2017, he has gone on to appear in 27 total game and log 28 tackles with 5.0 for loss. But just because redshirt junior the most experienced out of the three, does not automatically gift him the starting role.
"That job's open, It's an everyday competition," Ivey said. "I don't say that that none of them are doing well, they're all continually getting better, but it is an open competition, and it'll be a while before that thing is decided from what I'm seeing right now. They're all doing some good things, whose going to be the best, it'll be a while before we see that decided."
Prior to getting hurt, Tell had played in every game up to that point, and had even earned a start against Georgia Tech. Ivey said that the freshman came in with the right type of attitude, and that he could put him anywhere on the depth chart in practice, and he played at the same level.
"He came in with a, 'I'm going to learn and I'm going to work' mentality. If I get them all to do that, then it'll make the whole group better," Ivey said. "Certainly made some mistakes, certainly a lot of correctable moments, but to play the amount of reps he did as a freshman, is extremely beneficial for us.
While Dawson a freshman just like Tell, is the greenest of the bunch as he just played a combined 11 snaps against Syracuse, Boston College and Wake Forest. However, Ivey is excited about his potential.
"At times, it looks like he could be your heir to the throne, and at times he looks like he's still a freshman," he said. "What he can do mentally will allow him physically to decide what he's going to be. He's got some twitch, he's got some strength, super long arms. Really excited about what he can be, now just gotta keep working with him until he gets there. But he's gonna have the potential to be really great.
Ivey believes that Clark, Tell and Dawson all do something a little bit different, and that each one of them brings something to the table. Collectively, he thinks he has a solid nose tackle core.
"If Malik continues to improve, and Dawson can grow into his capabilities, and no doubt Tell was - he was more than just solid for us last year, he was extremely productive when he was there. I think those three will have a - they're going to be something you have to plan against if you're the O-line coach next week," he said.
Louisville will kickoff the 2021 season against Ole Miss in the annual Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. on Monday, Sept. 6.
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