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Harvey-Clemons aims higher as leader of Cardinals’ secondary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Josh Harvey-Clemons credits last fall’s impressive debut with Louisville to being happy about playing again after sitting out 2014 per NCAA transfer rules.

The senior safety looks to make an even better impression as one of the leaders of a veteran Cardinals secondary that tied for 14th nationally with 17 interceptions.

It’s a high mark to reach after Harvey-Clemons ranked third for Louisville with a career-best 88 tackles and three interceptions, including a pickoff in the Cardinals’ 27-21 Music City Bowl victory over Texas A&M. That performance followed his honorable mention selection to the all-Atlantic Coast Conference team and has motivated him to take the next step toward being one of the nation’s best players and raising his NFL draft prospects.

”It wasn’t really a surprise,” Harvey-Clemons said of his season. ”I was getting back in the groove of things after sitting out a whole year, just getting my feet back under me. I feel like I should be able to grow on what I did last year.”

Harvey-Clemons had pondered entering the draft last winter but decided to return for his final season at Louisville after learning his NFL stock needed improvement.

Influenced by the styles of such NFL idols as the late Sean Taylor and the Seattle Seahawks’ Kam Chancellor, the 6-foot-5, 228-pound Harvey-Clemons has focused on covering better along with being a fierce tackler. Technique-wise, he worked on tip drills and trying to get better leverage against receivers, especially those coming out of the slot.

”That’s a big thing with me because I’m taller and it’s a little harder to open my hips with those faster receivers,” he said.

Practicing against quick, agile Louisville teammates such as senior James Quick and quarterback-turned-receiver Reggie Bonnafon has helped the process. But as Louisville slogs through a third week of practice Harvey-Clemons acknowledges that he remains a work in progress – especially with injuries to teammates forcing him to learn playing linebacker.

Despite the added responsibility, Harvey-Clemons sees positives in developing versatility that he believes will aid Louisville’s nickel and dime defensive packages. It certainly helps a Cardinals defense aiming to build depth on their front seven.

”I get to play the run a lot and I like that because I can read the guard and tackle and come up and make more plays on the ball,” Harvey-Clemons said. ”It helps our team with guys being able to play multiple positions.”

Though Harvey-Clemons showed promise as a Georgia sophomore with 66 tackles and an interception in 2013, he’s happy to have grown at Louisville. The Valdosta, Georgia, native wanted to play for defense-minded former Cardinals coach Charlie Strong – who’s now at Texas – but chose the Bulldogs to make it easier for his grandfather, Woodrow, to see him and a younger brother play high school ball in the Peach State.

Harvey-Clemons eventually got his wish to play for Louisville when he transferred from Georgia and reunited with former Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. He believes for a position coach and in a familiar system made last year’s Cardinals debut so successful, and Harvey-Clemons is eager to follow up wherever he’s needed.

Make no mistake, Grantham appreciates his versatility.

”He’s got more flexibility position-wise than Alec Ogletree had for me when I was at Georgia,” Grantham said on media day, comparing Harvey-Clemons to the 2013 first-round NFL draft pick. ”He plays safety, he plays nickel, he can play (line) backer if he has to.

”He’s really playing three positions on our defense, and he’s done a really good job with them. I’m certainly glad he is here with us.”

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Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GaryBGraves and the AP’s college football site at http://collegefootball.ap.org .

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