The three biggest Hurricanes personnel priorities this offseason had to be fixing quarterback, reinforcing an offensive line that unperformed and augmenting a defensive line that’s losing Gerald Willis and Joe Jackson to the NFL.
The Canes took steps toward achieving all three, and defensive line coach Jess Simpson couldn’t be happier about the third.
At defensive end, UM has added a high school player that multiple Canes coaches have called a steal (Vero Beach’s Jahfari Harvey), a four-star defensive end from Chaminade Madonna (Cameron Williams) and a clearly above-average starting senior defensive end (Virginia Tech’s Trevon Hill).
At tackle, UM added three quality high school prospects (Jalar Holley, Jason Blissett and Jared Hunte) and a UCLA transfer (Chigozie Nnoruka) that the Canes expect to have every bit as much the impact, if not more, that Illinois’ Tito Odenigbo had in his one year at Miami.
“Chigozie is what happens when there is a coaching change and a new coach comes in and people want a different style of play,” coach Manny Diaz said. “He went from being a very highly productive player his sophomore year to not as much his junior year.
“But all you have to do is put on his tape and you can see what we have established as our defensive tackle play, which is disruptive guys, guys in the backfield, guys wreaking havoc — a lot of things that left with Tito Odenigbo and Gerald Willis walking out the door. When you look at the defensive tackle class that we’ve brought in in terms of Jared, Chigozie, not to mention Blissett and Jalar Holley, that is an outstanding haul for the defensive tackle. To be dominant in the 4-3 defense, it starts with those two guys.”
Simpson said Nnoruka, during his visit to UM, had no interest in “dressing up” and enjoying the South Florida nightlife.
“He said, ‘Let’s not go. Let’s stay here and just talk ball,’” Simpson said. “He can not only help us, but we can help him. It’s a two-way street. He’s a ball junkie, great personality. He shows some pass rush about him that I really, really like.”
Simpson also is eager to develop three of his young tackles: junior-to-be Jon Ford, sophomore Nesta Silvera and redshirt freshman Jordan Miller. Senior Pat Bethel also returns.
Though Ford didn’t play a lot in the Pinstripe Bowl, Simpson indicated he’s not down on him.
“I am expecting huge things out of Jon,” he said. “Big, big man. People don’t realize how athletic he is. He is a really, really good athlete.
His knowledge of schemes, knowledge of fundamentals .. if you look at him where he was a year ago when I got here and watch him through spring and summer through the end of the season, the kid got better and better.”
Simpson said “huge expectations for him. The work he’s got to do in the weight room, the work he’s got to do in our speed program, his flexibility, his skill set, he has miles to go. But it’s the same about every guy in our room.”
At defensive end, UM was elated to land Hill, who had 11.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss in 29 games at Virginia Tech.
Asked if Hill is a big time starting defensive end, Simpson said: “I think he’s already proven that. He’s got that in his body, great get off, great bend, finishes well, adds some experience and age to our room.
“Like being in the NFL, you know when it’s a contract year. Look at Gerald Willis last year. From the day I walked in here last year, it was all business and he loves this place but he knew what he wanted and he knew what he had to do [to establish himself as a quality NFL prospect]. Every meeting, with his preparation, everything he did in the training room to get ready, and that’s my vision for a guy like Chigozie or Trevon. We’re helping you and you’re helping us. I want to see him have his dreams come true.”
As for the two high school additions at defensive end, Simpson said Harvey is “a kid I had so many coaches tell me you stole the best kept secret in South Florida last spring when they finally saw him. Was a linebacker as a junior and moved to defensive end when he got to Vero Beach. You talk about a guy with juice in his body, can jump off the ball.”
With Cameron Williams, “same thing but a different style of body,” Simpson said. “A 6-6, 235 pound kid who has a huge, huge upside.”
Simpson said Gregory Rousseau, who sustained a season-ending ankle injury in the second game of his freshman season, should be 100 percent for spring practice.
Also returning at defensive end, besides Rousseau: Jon Garvin (should compete for a spot on the All-ACC team), Scott Patchan and Patrick Joyner Jr.