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UofL FB: Mark Hagen Happy with the Depth on the Defensive Line

Photo by: Matthew Mueller

Mark Hagen feels his defensive line is one of the deepest groups on defense.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – August 15, 2023

There was a time when the University of Louisville struggled to find depth on the defensive line – now isn’t that time. In its third week of fall camp, the new UofL defensive staff has had an opportunity to develop a solid core of defensive linemen that should be a strength of the defense this season.

First-year head coach Jeff Brohm and defensive line coach Mark Hagen has mixed a good group of returning veterans and a few key transfer additions that has given the Cards much-needed depth at a key position on defense.

“We’ve got a lot of good players and which means a lot of competition and that’s what we preach every day,” Hagen said. “So, we’re just continuing to build depth and I think we’re having a really good competition.”

Through his years with Brohm at Purdue, Hagen has a history of playing a number of players to combat the physical play in the Big Ten and keep the top performers fresh as the game winds down in the fourth quarter. Hagen believes the key to be able to play 10-12 players a game is having the depth and talent to do so and the first-year line coach believes in what he has this season at Louisville.

Junior Ashton Gillotte headlines this deep group. The third-year performer finished third on the team with six sacks a season ago and owns 11 over his first two seasons with the Cardinals.

“Obviously everything kind of revolves and goes around Ashton (Gillotte) and he’s going to have a great season for us. We’re confident of that. Trying to figure out who’s that next guy at defensive end. I think between Rodney (McGraw) and Ryheem (Craig) and Vic (Brown) those guys are all competing.”

Former Arizona State lineman Jermayne Lole, who missed most of last season, continues to rehab from an injury and continues to get healthier each day. His experience, size and talent could be a key to how much success the Cards have upfront this season.

“At tackle right now, it’s been Ramon (Puryear) coming out of the spring, but when we really get where we need to be – I think Jermayne (Lole) starting to progress and do more every day and he’s certainly has a ton of talent. I think Jared Dawson, those are two big body explosive guys that – they were a little bit slow coming into camp but doing more and more every day so. And then that will allow, to be honest with you, Ramon, to do some other things kind of be a guy that helps us in different areas. And I think, Jeff Clark has come in and done a good job. So, we really got four guys at that tackle spot.”

Hagen also praised veteran Dezmond Tell, a starter in all 13 games a season ago, and another big body at the nose tackle position.

“At nose, we got Dez (Tell) coming back, doing good. Tawfiq (Thomas) has been a little bit slowed with an ankle, but he’ll be back any day and then I think Selah (Brown) is continuing to build on what he did in spring.”

Hagen also believes that Ramon Puryear, a former walk-on, and Mason Reiger are two other experienced players who can fill multiple roles.

With Gollotte on one side, Hagen likes the depth on the other side and named a number of players who will impact that spot.

“And then I think our deepest position is LEO,” Hagen said. “I think Stephen (Herron) picked up where he left off and is a good leader. Kam Wilson has emerged. I tell you, he’s a talent. He’s very athletic. He’s very twitchy. He’s had a great camp so far. Popeye’s (Williams) been steady, and it’s going to be hard to keep AJ (Adonijah Green) off the field. I mean, for a guy that’s 230 pounds and he’s done what we asked. He’s put more weight on, but he doesn’t play like a 230 pounder on the line of scrimmage. He’s got long arms. He’s just a natural football player. He’s got excellent instincts and I just think that throughout the season he’ll continue to get better and better.”

With the ability to rotate players, Hagen will be careful on how he approaches his rotation on game day. He wants to keep his group fresh, but knows his defense must play at a high level against a group of potent offensive attacks in the ACC.

“Our first team guys are certainly going to get more reps in our second team,” he said.” If we’re equal, let’s say in a couple spots, we’re going to be a bit more balanced there. But there’s no perfect answer. At the end of the day, in crunch time, you want your best guys on the field and that’s what is what’s going to happen.” Louisville returns to the practice field on Wednesday for a full-padded practice.

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