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A lack of bodies in the secondary did Louisville no favors in 2021.
By the end of the 6-7 season, the Cardinals had given up 3,193 passing yards (fourth-most in the ACC), an average of 245.6 per game (fifth) and 20 touchdowns (10th). On the other side, team had 10 interceptions, led by cornerback Kei’Trel Clark's three.
Head coach Scott Satterfield targeted experience in the offseason to address the problem. Out of the 13 players the Cardinals have signed from the transfer portal during the offseason, six are either a cornerback or safety.
“We needed to really get some more depth in the secondary last year,” said Satterfield, who's going into his fourth year at the program's helm. “We had some injuries and then it really showed whenever young guys are having to play, so to have those guys, we got some experience coming in.”
U of L added two players with an ACC background in former Duke safety Jalen Alexander, who recorded five starts and 75 tackles in 2021, and former Florida State cornerback Jarvis Brownlee, a former four-star recruit from Miami who started in 11 of 12 games played last year for the Seminoles. Former Jacksonville State safety Nicario Harper also adds starting experience having started 12 of 13 games played in 2020.
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One of the Cardinals' biggest gets was former Middle Tennessee cornerback Quincy Riley, who 247Sport ranked as the No. 13 cornerback in the transfer portal. The Columbia, South Carolina, native totaled five interceptions in 2021, which was first in Conference USA and tied for fourth nationally, to go along with 33 tackles and nine pass breakups.
Cornerback Jayden Williams (USC) and safety M.J. Griffin (Temple) also transferred to U of L this spring. The Class of 2022 caps off the defensive backs room with three-star safeties Jeremiah Caldwell, D’Angelo Hutchinson and Antonio Watts to add even more depth.
Not just increasing bodies, but the added level of experience from the transfer portal players is also vital. Out of all the defensive positions, the secondary is where the Cardinals have the least amount of returning experience. They lost four players to either the transfer portal, graduation or, in now-linebacker Benjamin Perry's case, a position switch.
"You're in a league now where these teams throw that thing all over the yard," Satterfield said in April. "You think about Pittsburgh, which we've got to play next year, you've got Virginia. These teams that are throwing it, you better have enough DBs in the back end to be able to cover all these guys."
It would seem the Cardinals have three defensive back starting spots locked up.
Last year, Chandler Jones, Greedy Vance and Clark rotated time starting at cornerback until Clark's injury. At that point, Vance, who's now gone to Florida State, and Jones became the permanent starters. Jones's experience is key, and a healthy Clark is sure to be a difference maker after Louisville's pass defense ranked 82th in the country in pass efficiency defense.
Last year, Clark missed four games with an ACL injury but still earned all-ACC second team honors. The junior from Richmond, Virginia, also tied with former Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich for the league’s most passes defended (12) and had the third-most pass breakups in the conference (nine) to go along with 40 tackles.
Kei'Trel Clark seals the deal for Louisville with the INT 🔒🔒🔒 pic.twitter.com/IReE3zjG0r
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) September 25, 2021
At safety, redshirt senior Kenderick Duncan, Jr. should remain as a starter after running out first in every game last season. He totaled 77 tackles, 3 1/2 for loss, five passes defended and an interception. The other safety opening left by Qwynnterrio Cole, who signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Las Vegas Raiders, is up for grabs.
In addition to the incoming players looking to contribute, the Cardinals return cornerbacks Trey Franklin, who had one start in 11 games played in 2021, Derrick Edwards, Rance Conner and safeties Josh Minkins, a second-generation U of L safety who played in nine games, and Shavarick Williams.
Unlike a year ago, numbers shouldn’t be a problem for the Cardinals’ secondary, giving secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff much to look forward to in his first season with the team. So far, Satterfield has been pleased with how all the transfers have meshed with the returning players.
“That's what you worry about is the chemistry coming in,” he said. “Are they going to think they're the man? They've been coming in and getting right to our team, and they've been leaders in a great way. That's the one thing, as a coach, you worry about, but they've come in and worked with our guys and they just want to come here and win. I think that's the bottom line.”
Reach Louisville football, women's basketball and baseball beat writer Alexis Cubit at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @Alexis_Cubit.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Louisville football adds cornerbacks, safeties from transfer portal