The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Aug. 1. Let’s go position-by-position and tell you what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to learn this month.
Perhaps until they add a sixth national title to the display case, all Hurricanes teams are viewed through the lens of the program’s past. In the case of UM’s recent defensive lines, they were held up as sorry imitators, owing to poor recruiting and development by the Canes’ former staff and the sluggish, read-and-react style their coaches demanded they play.
At long last, Miami has a D-line that looks a little like ones in those championship days.
There’s NFL-bound talent all over the place, with every projected starter and at least a few backups having strong chances to be drafted. There’s tantalizing talent in the freshman class, too. What’s making it all work: outstanding leadership from a position coach (Craig Kuligowski) and a defensive coordinator (Manny Diaz) who want UM to play that old-school, get-upfield style that rocked the Orange Bowl and was the catalyst for those swaggering teams.
It’s far too early to suggest they’re future Hall of Famers, but Chad Thomas, Joe Jackson, Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh are plenty good, and Kuligowski both demands greatness and knows what it looks like.
If everything else goes haywire this season, Miami should win a lot of trench battles, and you can win a lot of games that way.
Projected depth chart
9 — Chad Thomas, Sr., 6-6, 275
31 — Demetrius Jackson, R-Jr., 6-3, 265
19 — Scott Patchan, R-Soph., 6-6, 240
7 — Kendrick Norton, Jr., 6-3, 312
93 — Pat Bethel, Soph., 6-3, 272
94 — Ryan Fines, R-Soph., 6-2, 300
80 — R.J. McIntosh, Jr., 6-4, 293
95 — Anthony Moten, Sr., 6-4, 315
90 — Tyreic Martin, R-Fr., 6-3, 280
*96 — Jon Ford, Fr., 6-5, 275
99 — Joe Jackson, Soph., 6-5, 258
33 — Trent Harris, Sr., 6-2, 248
97 — Jonathan Garvin, Fr., 6-4, 235
1 — D.J. Johnson, Fr., 6-5, 240
* has not enrolled
Numbers to know
Miami registered 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).
Five linemen spent multiple weeks out of the lineup or severely limited by injuries, a list that includes starting end Thomas and key reserves Demetrius Jackson, Harris and Willis and promising reserve Patchan. A week before the season-opener UM dismissed Al-Quadin Muhammad, a defensive end considered to be its best lineman, for NCAA-related issues.
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. The others: Norton (10), McIntosh (9.5) and Harris (9.5).
What’s the ceiling?
In any other conference, Miami’s defensive line would be far and away the league’s best. Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina State are also quite good, but the Hurricanes are right there. Miami appeared on multiple preseason lists of top D-lines in the country, often in the top six.
The starters — ends Thomas and Joe Jackson, tackles Norton and McIntosh — could be high-round NFL draft picks. Even with the loss of redshirt junior tackle Gerald Willis, who is taking a leave of absence, UM should be deep enough to withstand minor injuries at tackle. The end rotation is deep, with standout freshmen Garvin and Johnson angling for reps, perhaps on third down to start.
A peak, or still building?
While appreciating how good this unit will be, it’s natural to wonder how long it’ll remain at this level.
By 2018, five of Miami’s top eight linemen could be gone. Thomas, Harris and Moten will graduate. Norton and McIntosh are draft-eligible, and with good seasons could declare early. Then there’s Willis, who was expected to be a key backup. He took an indefinite leave for personal reasons, and his future with the program is unclear (he remains on UM’s website, but is away from Coral Gables). At this point in time, Joe Jackson is the only marquee lineman sure to return in 2018 — though he may have company if Garvin and Johnson develop as expected. Tackle is a worry going forward, especially if Norton and McIntosh depart. If they stay, Miami’s front seven would again be loaded, and its secondary revamped with two years of strong recruiting. UM’s defense could be one of the nation’s best, once again. Regardless, UM will need to attract some top D-line recruits to its home games for official visits this fall.
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