University of Miami

Both Miami Hurricanes starting defensive tackles leaving early for NFL Draft

Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle RJ McIntosh (80) celebrates with teammate Kendrick Norton after recovering a fumble against Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, November 4, 2017.
Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle RJ McIntosh (80) celebrates with teammate Kendrick Norton after recovering a fumble against Virginia Tech at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday, November 4, 2017. adiaz@miamiherald.com

Together, they were a formidable defensive duo that helped the University of Miami’s front line be among the best in the nation.

But in 2018, starting defensive tackles RJ McIntosh and Kendrick Norton will not be back for the Hurricanes, Norton and McIntosh announced via social media Monday.

McIntosh and Norton will forgo their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft, leaving the Hurricanes without three of their four starters on the line, as Chad Thomas was a senior.

Each tackle met Saturday with UM coach Mark Richt, defensive coordinator Manny Diaz and defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski to discuss the situation. After McIntosh’s meeting, which included his father, the coaches flew to Jacksonville to meet Norton and his family.

McIntosh, 6-4 and 293 pounds, is a junior out of Fort Lauderdale Cardinal Gibbons. He played in all 13 games this past season and had 52 tackles, leading the team (along with end Chad Thomas) in tackles for loss with 12.5. He had 2 1/2 sacks, seven pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. He is projected to be a second-day NFL pick, possibly a third-rounder, though he said the NFL advisory committee advised him to return to UM.

Norton, 6-3 and 312 pounds, is a junior out of Jacksonville Trinity Christian. He also played in all 13 games and had 26 tackles, with 6 1/2 tackles for loss, two sacks and a breakup and quarterback hurry. Norton would likely be drafted in the later rounds of the draft, according to projections.

“After a lot of thought, prayer, talking to my family and coaches, I’ve decided to make myself available for the 2018 draft,” Norton, who publicized his decision first, posted on Instagram. “This decision wasn’t an easy one, as I love being a hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step in realizing my dreams of being an nfl football player. My time at this school, the experiences with my teammates, Coach Richt, Coach Diaz, and of course my guy Coach Kool as well as the support of the amazing miami fans everywhere, sometimes the best decision is not the most popular decision. But I will carry these memories with me forever... I will always be a Miami Hurricane. GO CANES!’’

McIntosh also announced his decision on Instagram, at 5:30 p.m.

“Well I guess it’s time...after all the thinking, talking to my parents, and praying to my Heavenly Father I’ve decided to enter myself into the 2018 NFL draft,’’ McIntosh wrote. “It took me a while to make this decision because of the love I have for all my coaches and my brothers that I worked so hard with over the years of me being a Cane but I think it’s the best decision for me. I love being a hurricane, but I feel I’m ready for the next step. My time at this school has created memories that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I want to thank my teammates, Coach Richt, Coach Diaz, and especially Coach Kool for believing in me and supporting me during this journey! And to all the die hard fans out there, thanks for everything. You all have been amazing for me and the rest of the Canes! To my teammates, good luck with the off season and the 2018-2019 season! The journey doesn’t end here, I will always be a Miami Hurricane. Thanks and GO CANES!”

The Canes, who led the nation in sacks and were third in tackles for loss in 2017, will rely on Gerald Willis, Pat Bethel and Jonathan Ford at defensive tackle next season.

The 6-4, 285-pound Willis has one year of availability left after taking a leave of absence for an unspecified reason and then playing this past season on the scout team. On Thursday, Richt said he was “very excited’’ about Willis returning to the lineup in 2018. “He was a terror on the scout team all year long. No one could hardly block the guy.’’

Bethel, a 6-3, 272-pound sophomore out of Vero Beach High, was converted from defensive end his freshman season. He played in 13 games and had 18 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack, a forced fumble and fumble recovery in 2017.

Freshman Jon Ford, 6-5 and 275 pounds, played in seven games and had one tackle. He graduated from Fort Lauderdale Dillard.

UM also hopes to depend on 6-2, 300-pound, four-star prospect Nesta Silvera, a Plantation American Heritage defensive tackle who is expected to sign with the Hurricanes on Feb. 7.

Previously announcing his decision to turn pro early was running back Mark Walton, whose junior season was cut short by season-ending ankle surgery after the FSU game Oct. 7.

And on Friday, the Canes got good news when junior cornerback Michael Jackson, who had four interceptions, five pass breakups and a fumble recovery this past season, announced on Twitter that he was returning for his senior year.

UM’s star safety Jaquan Johnson previously confirmed he would be back for his senior season, saying he wants to earn his degree and win a national title.

▪ Freshman offensive guard Navaughn Donaldson was named a Freshman All-American on Monday by the Football Writers Association of America. Donaldson, 6-6 and 350 pounds, started 10 of 13 games for the Hurricanes on the right side, earning All-ACC Honorable Mention recognition.

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