2017 Miami Hurricanes spring football preview: DL is a major strength

Demetrius Jackson (left), Chad Thomas and Miami's defensive line had a lot of quarterbacks on the run in 2016. (Getty Images)

Demetrius Jackson (left), Chad Thomas and Miami’s defensive line had a lot of quarterbacks on the run in 2016. (Getty Images)

Sixth in a series of position-by-position looks at the Hurricanes heading into spring practice, which begins March 21.

Previously: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL

Imagine how much better Miami’s defensive line could have been last year.

As fearsome as ever under the skilled leadership of position coach Craig Kuligowski and coordinator Manny Diaz, the Hurricanes registered a five-year highs in several major defensive categories, including tackles for loss per game (fifth nationally), yards per play allowed (ninth), rushing yards per play (17th) and sacks per game (22nd).

They did that despite dismissing a player (Al-Quadin Muhammad) considered to be their best defensive lineman, and withstanding multi-week injuries to defensive ends Chad Thomas, Demetrius Jackson, Trent Harris and Scott Patchan and tackle Gerald Willis.

Paced by freshman Joe Jackson (11.5) and a resilient Thomas (11.0), Miami had five players among the ACC’s top 50 producers of tackles for loss, more than any other school. All of them return, with starting tackles Kendrick Norton (10) and R.J. McIntosh (9.5) and backup end Harris (9.5) expected to improve after a year under Kuligowski and Diaz. With those players and several more developing, we should see another season of unbelievable effort and unwavering violence.

Longtime Hurricanes fans rejoice: Miami has a tail-kicking D-line again.

Projected depth chart (with fall class year listed): 

Defensive end
Chad Thomas, Sr.
Demetrius Jackson, R-Jr.
Scott Patchan, R-Soph.

Defensive tackle
Kendrick Norton, Jr.
Gerald Willis, R-Jr.
Ryan Fines, R-Soph.

Defensive tackle
R.J. McIntosh, Jr.
Anthony Moten, Sr.
Tyreic Martin, R-Fr.

Defensive end
Joe Jackson, Soph.
Trent Harris, Sr.
Pat Bethel, Soph.
Jonathan Garvin, Fr.

Major storyline: How much better can this line get?

Miami has two of the ACC’s best ends in Thomas and Joe Jackson, two future NFL draft picks who are long and lean off the edge. Harris, stocky and smart, and agile Demetrius Jackson have more than pulled their weight in the end rotation. Bethel, who played a small role last year, will fight for reps with early enrollee Garvin and Patchan (sidelined by injuries to this point).

At tackle, Miami pairs the tall, nimble McIntosh with Norton, a widebody who’s always involved in the play. Willis, a former five-star recruit who has run into off-the-field trouble, should improve if he’s healthy and focused. This is Moten’s last chance to make an impression. Martin, who was injured last year, and Fines likely won’t play a lot.

Freshman Jon Ford, who enrolls this summer, is likely an upgrade over would-be senior Courtel Jenkins, who was dismissed. One of UM’s top recruits, naturally, plays on the D-line. Sacramento-based end D.J. Johnson, who will enroll with Ford, is 6-5, 240 pounds and very fast.

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