Miami Defensive Line Still Loaded

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CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 02: The Clemson Tigers offense lines up against the Miami Hurricanes defense in the second quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

It has been no secret the amount of turnover Miami has had on their defensive line. Even defensive line guru, Coach Craig Kuligowski, departed to become the new coach at Alabama. It was under his tutelage that the defensive line unit for the Hurricanes became dominant. The unit also lost two juniors to the NFL Draft that were starters for multiple years. All that is coupled with losing D.J. Johnson, one of the highest ranked signees in their 2017 class. In total, the Hurricanes lost six defensive linemen and one of the best coaches in all of football, at producing prominent pass rushers.

The Departed

Graduation

Chad Thomas and Trent Harris are big losses for a defense that was top five in the country in tackles for loss. Losing Thomas means losing versatility, as he would move into the interior to pass rush and allow more speed on the perimeter. His last two seasons, Thomas was able to accumulate nine sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss. Harris led Miami in sacks last season and finished third in the ACC while being a backup. He also has had 20 tackles for loss within the past two seasons, his non-stop motor when rushing the quarterback is what the Hurricanes will miss most. Both have moved on to the NFL, Thomas being drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the third round. Harris signed with the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent.

Another defensive lineman that graduated from the hurricanes program is Anthony Moten, who was a rotational interior lineman. The St. Thomas Aquinas alum signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins.

NFL Draft

Miami has known long about the possibility of losing several players to the NFL Draft. Two key players that the Hurricanes were hopeful of keeping around were on their defensive line. Head coach Mark Richt believed for quite some time that Miami could have national championship hopes in 2018 if two specific linemen were to stay, rather than going pro.

That didn’t happen, the roommates elected to forego their final season and enter the NFL Draft. Many fans have been harsh in their criticism of the pair because of the position in which both were selected. RJ McIntosh had a great junior campaign and was thought to be a day two draft candidate. Unfortunately, at the NFL Combine, a thyroid issue was found and he didn’t get to perform in front of scouts until his Pro Day. By then McIntosh was noticeably slimmer due to the effects of the medication and his testing numbers underwhelmed.

Kendrick Norton didn’t have as good of a junior campaign as he did as a sophomore when he was named All-ACC. Nonetheless, he still entered the NFL Draft and was selected by the Carolina Panthers. McIntosh would be selected by the New York Giants in the fifth round and Norton in the seventh. Not the ideal rounds in which they probably imagined they would be selected but next year’s draft is considered to be even more talented on the defensive line.

The Reinforcements

The mass exodus has led many to believe that the Hurricanes will be lacking at the defensive line position, which is far from the truth. Miami also replaced Coach Kool with, storied high school coach from the state of Georgia that served as an assistant coach to the Atlanta Falcons last season. Jess Simpson takes over a talented position group with many future stars.

Returners

The Hurricanes have quite a good mix of production returning. Some are returning back as starters, some from injury and even one returning back to the position. The biggest name out of the bunch is Joe Jackson, who is already being projected as a first-round pick. He came on the scene as a freshman All-American and in two seasons has 15 sacks.

Demetrius Jackson is also returning off of a knee injury that sidelined him through the midpoint of the season. Before his injury, he was an integral part of the Hurricanes defense, leading the team in tackles for loss. The return of Jackson helps in replacing Thomas, in terms of versatility and ability to rush from the interior.

Jonathan Garvin returns after having some primetime moments getting strip sacks against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. He looks to push for a starting position this year, after showing his potential in those big games. Pat Bethel will receive an opportunity to be a starter after being a backup in recent years.

Welcome Back (Again)

Scott Patchan and Gerald Willis could be looked at as returners, as both were on the roster in 2016. However last season both were displaced, Patchan to the offensive side to help with depth at the tight end position. Willis took last season off to focus on some personal matters and was a member of Miami’s scout team. This season both will be relied upon heavily due to their past experience and much-needed production. Mark Richt has raved about Willis and he will no doubt be a starter, and Patchan will rotate frequently and help provide a pass rush.

New Faces On The Block

There will be a number of new faces that Hurricanes fans will need to get used to, but they aren’t short on talent. Tito Odenigbo is a graduate transfer from the University of Illinois, he comes in with maturity of having played division one football. There is also some brashness that may remind fans of earlier Hurricanes like during the Jerome Brown era.

Nesta Silvera is a highly sought after freshman that Miami had as a huge priority. Rated as the number three defensive tackle in the nation and will play immediately.

Gregory Rosseau is a six foot six defensive end that actually had limited experience playing that position in high school. At his height, he was more used to playing in space, being utilized at safety and wide receiver. However, he early enrolled this spring at Miami and led the team in sacks during all three scrimmages.

Jordan Miller is a defensive tackle that may be the biggest player Miami has at the position and he just enrolled. At six foot four 340 pounds he will be hard to move out of the way and helps replaces the depth that Miami lost.

Jon Ford is of the same mold of Miller, as both are extremely large beings. Last season he was a late enrollee and therefore missed valuable time in training camp. Miami is looking for Ford to be a rotational player and impose his strength on opposing teams.

Main Photo Credit:

CHARLOTTE, NC – DECEMBER 02: The Clemson Tigers offense lines up against the Miami Hurricanes defense in the second quarter during the ACC Football Championship at Bank of America Stadium on December 2, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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