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August 15, 2012

Top 5 Defensive Players to Watch for 2012

With the annual Governor's Cup right around the corner, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the young and talented Louisville football team.

Here are my Top 5 Defensive Players to Watch in 2012...

I may be in the minority here, but I think the Cardinal defense will start with the play of 6-foot-2, 213 pound Calvin Pryor. Pryor lacks a lot of experience due to only being a true sophomore, but he showed in 2011 that he definitely has the skill set and smarts to be effective at clutch times.

Flashback to Rutgers on October 21, 2011: Veteran defensive back, Anthony Connor goes down with a career ending injury. Pryor comes in, makes five solo tackles and grabs his first career interception. Oh, and returned it 25 yards. With All-American strong safety, Hakeem Smith garnering most of the attention in Louisville's defensive backfield, I fully expect Pryor to step up once again and quickly become a household name and force to be reckoned with.

My second player to watch is 6-foot-2, 255 pound linebacker Preston Brown. What can Brown do for you? For starters, he has improved every day since first stepping on campus. He appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman on special teams and linebacker. In 2011 he tied for second on the team with 84 tackles and was named Big East Player of the Week on October 31.

Brown is a prototypical linebacker for Charlie Strong's defense in that he can run really well, has great size and is very physical. I noticed Brown was one of the more vocal guys during a water break at the Saturday open practice, and I feel he is poised to step up and be the vocal and physical leader the defense will need. We all know that Teddy Bridgewater is the quarterback on offense, but it remains to be seen if Preston Brown can take the reins of the quarterback on defense, left void by graduated senior Dexter Heyman.

For my third selection, 6-foot-1, 187 pound All-American strong safety Hakeem Smith fits the bill. Smith stepped onto the field as a redshirt freshman against in state rival Kentucky and racked up 6 tackles. It didn't stop there as Smith went on to finish his rookie season with a team leading 88 tackles.

Smith did not hit the sophomore slump that some tend to and he finished tied for second on the team with 84 tackles in 2011. Smith was named to the All Big East team, and is receiving some serious recognition this pre-season. Smith is another guy that I think will answer the call and become a very aggressive and more vocal leader along with Preston Brown. Smith lacks intimidating size but is very physical and a sure handed tackler that makes plenty of big plays behind the line of scrimmage.

For my #4 player to watch, I look to local stud Defensive Tackle, Brandon Dunn. Dunn is a 6-foot-3, 285 pound dynamo with a motor that runs non stop. While the former three-star, Pleasure Ridge Park lineman doesn't possess the gaudy statistics that some other marquee lineman do, he does have the potential to become an All-Big East and possibly All American defensive tackle.

Dunn plays with great leverage, and, when healthy, is a force to be reckoned with. Dunn is a vocal guy and very smart player. With the added depth and competition on the defensive line, something Louisville has lacked the last few years, it should provide the motivation for him to excel beyond his and his coaches expectations. Dunn has improved steadily in his first two seasons and is a good run stopper and plug in the middle. With the emergence of defensive ends BJ Dubose, Marcus Smith, BJ Butler and Deiontrez Mount, opposing teams should start to focus more on running between the tackles against the Cards which in turn should allow Dunn to make more plays. Dunn is a student of the game when learning the art of block shedding, rip moves and swim moves from a great coach and former Miami Hurricane lineman, Clint Hurtt.

Wrapping up my top 5 is 6-foot-5, 265 pound Oakland Park, Fla., native, B.J. Dubose. Dubose was a surprise recruiting coupe near National Signing Day in 2011 as many thought he was going to sign with the Miami Hurricanes.

Dubose possesses NFL size and speed for a defensive end and did not disappoint once he was given an opportunity as a true freshman in 2011. Dubose made his first career start against Cincinnati and responded with six tackles and two sacks. Dubose tied for third amongst defensive lineman with 22 tackles in limited playing time and should be a starter and fixture on the line this season. Dubose possesses the ability to stop the run with his good size, but is also deceptively quick and strong off the edge and proved that he can rush the passer with the best of them. Rivals.com rated Dubose among the top 25 Strongside Defensive Ends coming out of high school and he immediately proved that to be true. Look for Dubose to flourish in year two and help anchor a much improved defensive line.

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