Two juniors, 6-2, 230-pound Malik Jackson and 6-2, 220-pound Terrance Butler, are locked in a heated battle to see who will emerge as the starter next season. While Jackson entered spring atop the depth chart, Butler has supplanted him during the first two weeks of spring practice.
"We have no starters right now," said co-defensive coordinator Kevin Wolthausen. "Playing time is based on how they perform on the field."
SAM linebacker coach Tom McMahon echoed a similar sentiment following Tuesday afternoon's two and half hour practice session.
"I'll be flat out honest with you, at the SAM linebacker after two scrimmages we don't have a starter," he said. "Malik came in the first week as the starter, Terrance outplayed him, and now Malik is trying to get back his position."
McMahon has spent considerable time watching both players this spring. As their position coach, the first year Louisville assistant would like to see significant improvement from both players before spring practice concludes next week.
Malik Jackson has his work cut out
to overtake Terrance Butler.
"The competition is great," McMahon said. "They (both) played a lot better on Saturday then they've been playing. Things are starting to slow down for them, and they're starting to learn everything now. But we don't have a definite starter. Those two guys need to pick it up, and one of them needs to emerge and take the job."
"Right now, neither one of them is where they need to be in coverage," McMahon added. "In terms of being physical against the run, we're nowhere near where we need to be. (They're) starting to get better and understand leverage, but they've got to get much more physical. I don't think either are where they need to be yet."
According to McMahon, he challenge for both players will be to see which player will step up and claim the starting spot heading into fall camp.
"They'll be there by the end of spring because one of them has got to emerge as the starter," McMahon said. "That's where the challenge is. Right now, Terrance has moved up with the one's, and Malik is trying to battle back to it."
As things stand now, Butler appears to be winning his battle against Jackson, though the war to become the starter at the SAM is far from over.
"He's producing more right now," McMahon said of Butler, a native of Green Cove Springs, Florida. "Malik finally produced on Saturday and it's become a tight race, but we expected more from him. We challenged him and he had a really good scrimmage. But Terrance has out-produced him by far to this point."
Wolthausen says the goal this spring is to put together a unit that performs the best together on the field. Whether that unit will include Butler or Jackson will be one of the interesting developments during the final two weeks of spring practice.
"It's a situation where we've got a combination of experience, youth, and athleticism," Wolthausen said. "So what we're trying to do is find the best combinations of players and get them on the field at the same time. The bottom line is that whoever is going to be the one to get it done on a consistent basis is the one that will get the bulk of the playing time."