Dog competition

Competition heats up at ‘DOG’ outside linebacker for Louisville football

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — We’re about a week away from fall camp for the Louisville football program, and the competition has been tough on every level. Whether on the attacking side of the ball or in defence, several positions show their depth.

One of these positions is completed at ‘DOG’, which is the outside linebacker position focused primarily on the pass rush. The Cardinals already have an All-American candidate for that position in Yasir Abdullah, but behind him are a trio of players who add to the overall strength of the position.

“I think the guys had a hell of a offseason,” Louisville outside linebackers coach Greg Gasparato said Monday. “They took the initiative to do a little more. I think it started with the attitude, and I had a great play just walking into it.”

Gasparato joined the Louisville staff last season as safety coach and moved to outside linebackers coach following the addition of co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Wes McGriff. Gasparato inherits a group of positions with incredible potential in 2022.

Abdullah had a breakout in 2021 and opted to return to the Cardinals for one final season. Last season, the 6-foot-1, 242-pound edge rusher had the most productive season for a Louisville pass rusher in nearly a decade, and is one of the top return sack artists. of the ACC.

He had 10.0 sacks, the most by a Cardinal defenseman since Devonte Fields had 10.5 in 2015, while recording 17.5 tackles for loss, which was good for the seventh-most in a single. season in Louisville history. His total sacks ranked 19th nationally while his tackle for total losses was 12th. Adding his career-high 61 total tackles and three pass deflections, he was voted as an All-ACC second-team selection.

“Yasir, he’s got all the tools in the world, and he’s had a terrific offseason. He’s put on almost 10 pounds and he’s moving really, really well,” Gasparato said. He also noted that Abdullah’s decision to return was excellent from a camaraderie perspective and leadership was “great”.

But while Abdullah is unquestionably making headlines at DOG, the other three – Kam Wilson, Allen Smith and Popeye Williams – also had strong performances at fall camp. The two comebacks in this group, Wilson and Smith, are a bit light on overall on-court experience, but Gasparato liked what he saw from those two in camp.

“Kam Wilson was really good,” he said. “He’s made a lot of progress. Just by playing fast, he understands what to do, he’s competitive… Allen Smith has also shown flashes.”

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Wilson only appeared in four games last year, recording a pair of tackles in the process, but that’s because he had to miss most of the season through injury. Smith played in all 13 games last year, almost exclusively on special teams, and also had two tackles.

Williams heads into the upcoming season as a true freshman, but he’s brimming with potential. Not only was he Louisville’s top-ranked prospect in the Class of 2022, he’s the 16th-highest-rated prospect to ever sign with the Cardinals. He may be the young pup of the bunch, but he made an early impact at fall camp.

“(Popeye) did a tremendous job just learning defense,” Gasparato said. “The first few days I just want to make sure that in his mind he was doing it right. To line up and do what he had to do. The last two practices he starts to display that speed and athleticism that you you saw watching him in high school. He knows he can let loose and he knows what to do in the curriculum.

Collectively, Gasparato has been so happy with the position group he has. Despite DOG being anchored by one of the best pass rushers in the ACC, if not all of FBS, he knows everyone is going to compete like his job is on the line.

“(Inside linebackers) Coach D-Nic (Derek Nicholson) says all the time that as a starter you’re guaranteed a game,” Gasparato said. “There’s always that next-man mentality, and we’ve seen that last year in a number of positions for whatever reason. Somebody gets hurt, bumps, whatever. The next guy has to be up, and we expects you to produce at the same time. These guys have been working hard to prepare, and it’s starting to show on the grass.

Louisville is set to start the 2022 season when they travel to upstate New York to take on Syracuse on Saturday, September 3.

(Photo by Yasir Abdullah via University of Louisville Athletics)

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