Last year, this defense was pretty good. This year, it hopes to continue the hot streak felt towards the end of the season and at the Music City Bowl last year.
This season, the Cards return nine of the starting 11, saying goodbye to defensive standouts James Burgess and Sheldon Rankins.
Speaking of the 12th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Sheldon Rankins was probably the best DT of the 2015 Cardinal Football Team, with 58 tackles this past season, including 6.0 sacks. It will be difficult to replace him, but hoping to plug the hole is RS Sophomore DeAngelo Brown, known colloquially as a beast of a man, standing at 6’1” and weighing 310lbs. Many in the NCAAF reporting circuits are listing him as a preseason All-American, and who could blame them. He had 40 sacks last season, and that number looks to increase the more of a responsibility he’s given. Joining him is Kyle Shortridge, standing at 6’2’ and 305lbs; coming from Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee, Fla.
Aside from the line, perhaps the scariest part of the Cards are the LB Corps, including standouts Stacy Thomas, Keith Kelsey (who recorded 107 total tackles, which led the Cards) and Devonte Fields, who helped the Cards to the 14th best rushing defense last season, only allowing 120 yards per game against stiff competition such as Clemson, Florida State, Auburn, Houston, and the foe in the Music City Bowl, Texas A&M. Of course, that unit did have James Burgess, whose last game wearing the Red and Black was cut short by a targeting call in the Music City Bowl, sending him to the showers well before when he should have. Pretty much, the Cards had this year’s LB corps in the entire game against the Aggies. In that game, the Cards held the Aggies to 138 yards on rushing, but only allowed a measly 21 points against a team known for its offensive tradition.
As for the passing game, the Cards were not as efficient, allowing 307 yards in the air, but hope for that to change as age and experience take effect. Thankfully, the Cards return both starting cornerbacks, juniors Shaq Wiggins and Trumaine Washington, as well as red-shirt junior Chucky Williams, and senior Josh Harvey-Clemons, who recorded 88 tackles as well as three interceptions in the 2015 campaign, good for third overall in the defensive category last season.
This defense will continue to build on what it did last season, and will continue to flourish under the leadership of Todd Grantham, whom led the Cards to the 18th defense last year, which was pretty good. But it may very well recover from the losses last year. And this defense along with Lamar Jackson and co. on offense will lead to an interesting 2016 campaign.