The broken bone in Curtis Porter’s right index finger protruded through the skin and was excruciatingly painful. That was bad enough in August 2011. But when the finger subsequently got infected — twice — Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Porter watched his second consecutive season all but evaporate before it began.
In 2010, after playing in eight games the previous season as a freshman, Porter was carted off in Game 2 at Ohio State with a season-ending knee injury during his first career start.
“It was hard to deal with,” Porter said. “You’ve got to understand, those trenches are something else. In the trenches, anything can happen. It’s very rough. It’s very tough. You’re going against offensive linemen and they’ve got help.”
Now, after coaches got a heartening glimpse of Porter’s potential in a seven-tackle performance against Boston College in the 2011 season finale (as well as a strong showing in his first game back the week before at USF), Porter is wearing the cherished black jersey that belongs to first-team players.
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But he’s going to have to hang on tight to keep it. Olsen Pierre, the 6-4, 300-pound sophomore listed behind Porter on the depth chart, has been making strides in this first week of fall football camp, as has been 6-3, 288-pound Luther Robinson on the other side behind first-teamer Darius Smith.
“Curtis Porter right now, we’re trying to see where he is conditioning wise,” said UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. “He’s played a quarter of the season at most the last two years. He’s a long way away from being where we want him to be and it’s going to take a hard training camp.”
Fellow defensive tackle Darius Smith, who went from 361 pounds when he arrived as a junior-college transfer to his current weight of 324, “has another step to go” in his weight-loss program, D’Onofrio said.
“There are nine defensive tackles now in camp and they’re all going to get opportunities,” D’Onofrio said. “That picture is not clear there. I need conditioning and the ability to make plays – those are the issues at the end of the day.
“It’s going to be a dogfight there. We’ve got nine guys and we’ve got to come out with four or five that can play for us.”
Porter, a redshirt junior from Charlotte, N.C., is 6-1 and 305 pounds. His bench press max increased from 375 to 405 pounds, and he does 30 reps at 225 pounds.
“He’s very explosive, probably the quickest off the ball on the whole defensive line,” Smith said of Porter.
Smith, nicknamed “the Plug’’ because his girth tends to stop leaks up the middle, launched his junior-college career in 2009 at Lackawanna with 375 pounds on his 6-2 frame. That’s the same school that gave former Hurricanes left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who won the Outland Trophy in 2001, his start.
“He’s super strong,” their former junior-college coach, Mark Duda, told The Miami Herald last season. “Did you shake hands with him? His hands are probably the biggest hands you’ve ever seen in your life, and probably the strongest. They’re off the planet. So he can control people with his hands, and he’s so physically strong that it’s very difficult to block him.”
D’Onofrio said the abundance of injuries last year on the D-line “were frustrating,” but also a boost to the future. “Some guys who weren’t ready to play last year had to play, and because of it we’ll benefit now.”
But behind Smith and Porter at tackle are several players with limited or no college experience: Robinson (three tackles in 11 games in 2010 and out all season with an injury), Pierre (four tackles in seven games in 2011), Jalen Grimble (no tackles in seven games as a freshman), and freshmen Jacoby Briscoe, Dequan Ivery and Earl Moore.
Defensive tackle Corey King, who redshirted last season, wore a red non-contact jersey Tuesday.