LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- For years, the University of Louisville built its football identity around offense. Its poster boys have been guys like Chris Redman, Dave Ragone, Brian Brohm and Michael Bush.
Check the statistics. Since 1999, U of L has finished ranked in the top 10 nationally in total offense six times, including No. 1 in 2004 and No. 2 in 2006. It has led the nation in scoring twice. In that same span, how many times has it ranked in the top 10 in total defense? Zero. Though it has ranked in the top 25 six times.
John L. Smith, Bobby Petrino, Steve Kragthorpe, all came to U of L with reputations for wide-open offense. Papa John's Cardinal Stadium rose to its loudest heights when high-scoring teams were blowing the end zone train whistle until opponents were hearing it in the locker room.
U of L defensive coordinator Vance Bedford, as you might remember, has a fondness for that train imagery. His "Get on the Train" speech launched a marketing campaign. But he's not about marketing through offense.
While most of the talk this season has been about sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and what U of L's offense might accomplish, Bedford is all about building an identity on the other side. The real fun, in Bedford's world, is on defense.
"I worked for a guy named Earle Bruce," Bedford said. "And one thing he said was that defense is about enthusiasm, guys flying around and having fun. I told our guys it's not about trying to survive, it's about having fun. When you have five, six, seven guys flying to the football and hitting somebody, now you're having fun. What gets the people fired up in the stadium? People talk about the big plays on offense. When you have big hits, when you have turnovers, when you have gang tackles, when you have quarterback sacks, that stadium, it erupts.
"So, to get the stadium going, you got to play great defense. We got to start a tradition here. People talk about offense all the time. But you got a chance to compete for a championship, and you don't play defense, you're not competing for a championship."
This season, Bedford has experience in the secondary. Safety Hakeem Smith has been the team's best defensive player for two years. Cornerback Adrian Bushell made all conference last season, "but has to improve a lot," according to Bedford.
And up front, U of L is bigger and deeper than at any point in Strong's tenure. Roy Philon and Brandon Dunn are seasoned in the middle. Jamaine Brooks gives them a 330-pound presence at nose guard. B.J. Dubose and Marcus Smith are solid rushers at end. Lorenzo Mauldin gives them a hybrid player who can line up on the line or drop back into coverage, helping to provide the multiple looks that Strong wants to develop more of on defense.
Someone asked him after U of L's second preseason practice on Saturday if that size and depth would allow the Cardinals to bring even more pressure.
"How much more pressure you want to see?" Bedford said. "We pressure about 75 percent of the time. You want to go to 80, 85? You say how much more you want to see. I don't know what else to do. That's all we do is pressure right now. We're going to keep doing what we're doing, just playing better technique. Our defensive line right now, I'm excited for them. We have some competition. We have depth for the first time in two years. So now if a guy gets nicked up we have a guy who can step in and take his position."
Another post-practice question. A reporter asks him how he balances looking for good technique with having players fly in helter-skelter.
"Fly in helter-skelter," Bedford said. "It's up to us to teach technique. I want to see guys flying around. If it moves, hit it. Right now, if it crosses the line of scrimmage, hit it, I don't care if it's a coach, referee, Rocco (Gasparro, football sports information director) included, I don't care who it is, that's having fun. If we have that attitude, we have a chance to be decent on defense this season."
Let me take a break here for those who want to get up and hit something.
U of L's offense figures to be improved. It better be, after ranking 103rd in the nation in total yardage last season. It's going to make headlines. Bedford, however, wants his guys to be the backbone.
"Anytime you have a chance to win games, you do it with defense," he said. "Offense is going to score points. Somewhere you have to slow people down. So these guys know what's expected of them. The expectation right now for defense, it's go out there and 11 hats to the ball. We've got to gang tackle. We've got to get takeaways this season, something we haven't done since we've been here."