Barry Jackson

Here’s how the Miami Hurricanes plan to replace seven departing defensive linemen

UM defensive linemen Gerald Willis (91) and Joe Jackson (99) — seen here sacking FSU quarterback Sean Maguire in a 2016 game — will be key pieces next season on a Hurricanes line that loses several key contributors.
UM defensive linemen Gerald Willis (91) and Joe Jackson (99) — seen here sacking FSU quarterback Sean Maguire in a 2016 game — will be key pieces next season on a Hurricanes line that loses several key contributors. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

The great UM teams had elite talent and enviable depth on their defensive line. And though the program is clearly headed in the right direction, the loss of five players from last year’s defensive line rotation — and the transfer of one of UM’s most ballyhooed 2017 freshmen recruits — is cause for at least some concern.

Three of those seven exiting players — defensive ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris (team-high eight sacks) and backup defensive tackle Anthony Moten — have used up all of their college eligibility.

Two more — starting tackles Kendrick Norton and Richard McIntosh Jr. — announced Monday they are turning pro.

A sixth — former four-star end D.J. Johnson — announced Monday he is transferring to Oregon, citing a desire to be closer to his Sacramento home because of a family medical issue.

A seventh - defensive tackle Ryan Fines - left after it became clear that he wouldn’t play much if he remained at Miami.

So where does that leave the Canes?

Scrambling to add talent before National Signing Day and possibly beyond.

At tackle, UM is left with one rotational player from this past season (Patrick Bethel), a player who sat out every game last season but participated on the scout team (Gerald Willis) and a sophomore-to-be (Jon Ford) that coaches believe has NFL first-round talent.

There’s also highly-regarded Plantation American Heritage four-star recruit Nesta Silvera, who has said he will sign with UM on Feb. 7, and Tyriec Martin, who redshirted as a freshman with a knee injury in 2016 and didn’t play a single snap in 2017.

And that’s it. No wonder UM is scrambling to add at least one more defensive tackle.

The Canes are trying to lure Houston-based tackle Keondre Coburn, a Texas commit who will visit UM on Jan. 19. The four-star Coburn is Rivals’ No. 8 defensive tackle prospect and rated 155th among all players in the 2018 class.

He is considering UM partly because of defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski.

“I know he produces the best defensive tackles in the country,” Coburn told Canesport.com. “He’s a good coach, can get me to the league.”

Even if UM lands another tackle in this recruiting class, don’t be surprised if the Canes also pursue a grad transfer at the position.

As for the returning tackles, UM has high hopes for Willis, the former four-star prospect who left UF after a freshman season in which he had 14 tackles and a forced fumble in five games, then mysteriously sat out this past season for personal reasons, with Richt declining to say if the player was to blame for that.

Richt said Willis was very disruptive on the scout team this past season.

Willis had 19 tackles in nine games, including 5.5 for loss, and 1.5 sacks in his one previous season at UM (2016).

Diaz told me recently that “our expectation is [Willis] will be better just understanding the game more and improving his body and conditioning and skill set. He was still around coach Kool every day [this past season]. We expect him to have a major impact on our team next year.”

UM believes Ford can be a high-end tackle. He had one tackle on the season (against Bethune Cookman) and appeared in seven games.

“Jon Ford has elite size,” Diaz said. “He’s so large. We can’t wait for him to get an offseason program and spring behind him because he came in late and that put him behind. When you look at what a big time defensive tackle should look like, you would draw them up like Jon Ford.”

McIntosh said of Ford: “Just him being that big will help him be a great player. He’s strong already as a freshman, he’s quick, he’s coachable. If he locks in and takes what coach tells him, he can become a great player. He needs to learn how to use his hands, which he is.”

And UM believes there’s still upside with junior-to-be Bethel, who had 18 tackles, a sack, one forced fumble and one recovered fumble this past season.

As for Silvera, Rivals analyst Adam Friedman said he was “one of the most disruptive interior defensive linemen” at Army All American bowl practices in San Antonio last week. “His quickness off the snap has caught so many offensive linemen off-guard. I love how he’s physical in the running game.”

His high-school coach, Patrick Surtain, told WQAM’s Joe Rose that Silvera is “one of the most explosive guys I’ve seen at that size. Fleet of foot. He’s the total package. As a high school defensive tackle, he’s special. He’s 100 percent Miami.” 

UM hasn’t given up on Martin even though he hasn’t played in two years; Diaz said he “flashed” at times during bowl practices last month.

At defensive end, UM has three highly-skilled returning players: Joe Jackson, Demetrius Jackson and Jon Garvin.

Garvin, who had strip sacks against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame late in the season, is poised for a large role. “We have seen his ability to make plays and what he can provide as a pass rusher off the edge,” Diaz said.

McIntosh said of Garvin: “He gets a little stronger, he will be like Joe [Jackson]. He’s quick off the ball, he’s low. He’s definitely coachable, a humble kid, listens to the other d-ends. I hear him asking, ‘What should I do?’ after every one-on-one rep.”

Joe Jackson’s sack total dropped from 7.5 as a freshman to 6.5 as a sophomore but he improved against the run.

Demetrius Jackson, who’s stout against the run, had 18 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, plus one interception and two pass breakups before sustaining a season-ending knee injury Nov. 4 against Virginia Tech.

Hialeah Champagnat’s Gregory Rousseau, who reportedly will enroll at UM this month, has a good chance to be the No. 4 end. Scott Patchan would be another option for the No. 4 defensive end job if he moves back to defense after a season at tight end.

“Greg has a unique skill set in terms of his ability to come off the edge and rush the passer first and foremost,” Diaz said. “The comparison I’ve always had in my mind in Manny Lawson, who we had at NC State. [Lawson had 24.5 sacks in 10 NFL seasons.] Greg does have the ability to drop in coverage and play in space, which gives us a lot of flexibility.”

UM is still pursuing several prep defensive ends, including Plantation American Heritage’s Andrew Chatfield (expected to visit this month), Kissimmee four-star end Dennis Briggs (told Rivals he will visit UM on Jan. 12; FSU, Louisville, South Carolina also in the mix) and Missouri-based end Daniel Carson.

Rivals rates Briggs the No. 244 player in the class of 2018 — two spots ahead of Chatfield.

Here’s my Monday post on players who Dolphins fans should be watching closely in Monday’s National Championship game.

Here’s my Monday post on the Heat, whose clutch play is shattering a perception.

Twitter: @flasportsbuzz 

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