LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Louisville’s main defensive concern was finding playmakers to replace seven starters, particularly all-conference safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor.
The Cardinals believe they have solved the problem.
Senior Terell Floyd moved over from cornerback while junior college transfer James Sample and underclassmen are developing there and on the edges, giving Floyd and junior CB Charles Gaines confidence that the Cardinals’ secondary will be strong.
Gaines says the youngsters “are coming along great.”
Floyd was asked to move this summer and Sample didn’t arrive at Louisville until the start of camp, but both have learned their new positions quickly and its role in the 3-4 defensive scheme. The range and versatility Gaines and Floyd showed while combining for nine of Louisville’s 16 interceptions last season allowed coaches to shuffle personnel.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s task coming out of spring drills was convincing the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Floyd to switch after career bests of 47 tackles and four interceptions last season.
“Defense is all about matchups and what combination of players you can get on the field to allow our team to be better,” said Grantham, who served the previous four years as Georgia’s coordinator. “Well, to do that sometimes guys gotta move, so we explained it to him that way and also tried to explain to him the carryover from corner to safety and the things you’re going to carry to that position.
“To his credit, he embraced the role and understood where I was coming from.”
The switch wasn’t a big deal to Floyd, who played safety in high school and said he had to “go back to my old roots.” The Florida native even seemed to look forward to the change and quickly began working with teammates in mastering the playbook to see what his new responsibilities would be.
Floyd came away envisioning another opportunity to make a difference, much like he has in starting 26 of 38 games for Louisville. The highlight was his 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play that spurred Louisville’s Sugar Bowl upset of Florida.
“I feel like I can see the ball better and see the field better, so it gives me a better chance to break on the ball,” Floyd said of the change. “So yeah, I can make more plays there.”
Louisville’s other safety prospects include sophomore Gerod Holliman, who played in 11 games last season and has also had a good camp; and Sample, a 6-2, 200-pounder who played two seasons at Washington and spent last year at American River College in California.
Gaines meanwhile returns for his second full season at cornerback after leading Louisville with five INTs last fall. Arguably the Cardinals’ most talkative player and one of their quickest, he’s eager to build on an all-conference performance in which he established himself as a lockdown defender and special-teams threat.
Likely to play opposite Gaines is senior Andrew Johnson, back after injuries shortened his junior season. Gaines has welcomed the chance to groom him and backups such as sophomore Devontre Parnell and freshman Trumaine Washington, believing it’s part of being a leader while helping maintain the Cardinals’ high level of pass coverage.
“We’re just doing the little things,” said Gaines, one of the Cardinals’ five captains.
“It’s awesome to be coaching guys because when I came in I had older guys coaching me up on the little things. So, when you get a chance to get in that position, your knowledge to the young guys needs to be passed on.”
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