"After you have hit rock bottom, the only place to go is up"
I'm not sure if the Miami defense hit rock bottom last year, but it sure felt like it. After showing promise at the beginning of the season and getting off to a 7-0 start the team, and the defense, came to loud and definite crash by the time the season ended against Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl. There have been many, MANY theories as to why the defense performed so poorly; the coaching staff, the defensive scheme, the players; you name it, it was being talked about. Regardless of where you stand in that debate, one thing is not easily contested; the defensive line did not do their part to help the situation in the 2013 season.
Fast forward to the beginning of the 2014 season, and there are some new faces along the defensive line, and some hope for optimism. Now, the first thing we have to discuss here, with the further implementation of the 3-4 defense, is which players, exactly, count as defensive lineman. For the sake of this article, I will only be discussing players that the official roster lists as a defensive lineman. If you are looking for someone that is not counted as a lineman for whatever reason, you can probably find them in my colleague's preview of the linebackers here. Anyways, without any further ado, here is your preview of the Miami defensive line.
Olsen Pierre, SR, 6-5 305
We will start with the senior members of the group and work our way down to the new guys. Pierre is the most experienced player of this group going into next season and will be asked to be one of the leaders on the line. He had a solid-but-not-anything-special season last year. Pierre is a big body without elite athleticism. Because of that, his job is primarily to eat up blocks and stop the run, something the line did not do enough of last year. In 3-4 sets, you will see a lot of Pierre at the strong-side end position, where he will be asked to absorb blocks and make room for edge rushers. Pierre will be asked to have a sizable role on the defensive line this season and his play could have ripple effects throughout the rest of the defense.
Anthony Chickillo, SR, 6-4 277
Many remember Chickillo as the key member of Al Golden's first recruiting class back in 2011. After a promising freshman season, Chickillo has not lived up to the hype that he came to Coral Gables with. Part of the reason for this, in my opinion, is that Chickillo is a bit of tweener on the line. He has put on weight to be able to play end in 3-4 sets, but has lost some of his explosiveness as a rush end because of that. It isn't all his fault, thought. Last year Chick got caught up in double teams far too often, with his fellow lineman unable to get of their respective blocks and take advantage. Chickillo will be asked to rush the passer more than someone like Pierre, but his role in leadership will be the same.
Jelani Hamilton, JR, 6-5 290
If Chickillo hasn't lived up to the hype, then Hamilton hasn't lived at all. The former 3/4 star recruit has played in only 9 games and started none in his two season at Miami. In the time he has been on the field, he has not contributed much in the area of run-stuffing or pass rushing and is still looking for his first career sack. Some players develop slower than others, so maybe this is the year Hamilton puts it all together and contributes to a defense that sure could use it. WIth Hamilton's size and skill set, look for him to play end in 3-4 sets and some tackle in 4-3 sets.
Ufomba Kamalu, JR, 6-6 285
We come to the man with the best nickname on the roster, the Nigerian Nightmare. Kamalu is an interesting player who could be a big contributor this season. After spending a season finding his way after a season at Junior College, Kamalu looks primed for a breakout year. He's an athletic freak with great size that could play end in both of our defensive fronts. The potential is there to be a force in the pass rush as a power rusher, he just needs to keep developing and put it all together.
Michael Wyche, JR, 6-4 345
Wyche is a JUCO transfer coming into his first season playing major college ball, and he is someone canes fans have high hopes for. As you can see above, one of his main selling points is size. He came to campus weighing close to 360 pounds (!!) but has conditioned himself to lose some weight and be able to stay on the field (Coach Golden hopes he can get down to around 330). He is a really strong lineman that projects as a nose tackle and run-stuffer. One of the things MIami was missing last year was a strong interior presence to stuff the run on a consistent basis. Wyche fits that bill and then some. If he can contribute this season, it will be a major upgrade.
Calvin Heuterlou, JR, 6-3 310
Another JUCO transfer that, unlike Wyche, was able to participate in spring practices. Heuterlou isn't the physically imposing mountain that Wyche is, but is a more finished product at this point in his career. The big thing he will need to work on is conditioning.He was not able to participate in spring drills as much as coaches wanted because he was still adjusting to the demands of top-level college football. Look for him to see some time at nose tackle and 4-3 tackle during passing downs.
Earl Moore, JR, 6-1 304
Moore isn't going to blow anybody away with his size or athleticism, but he's a hard worker that always works his way into the conversation for the rotation. Don't look for him to be a game-changer, but he should see some time in the rotation at tackle. If nothing else, he will push the other guys in practice to be better.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, SO, 6-4 242
Last year, Muhammad's had one simple job when he was in the game: get to the quarterback. The super-talented, highly-recruited defensive end saw a lot of snaps on third downs/obvious passing situations last season as a true freshman. This year, his role is expected to increase and he should see more time as an every-down player. He needs to work on his pass-rushing moves to get more refinement, but the talent is definitely there and we saw plenty to get excited about when he was on the field last year. Look for him to be a stand-up, rush linebacker most of the time and have his hand down as a traditional rush end in obvious passing downs.
Chad Thomas, FR, 6-5 260
If you follow recruiting, even a little bit, you already know who this guy is. Thomas was seen by many as the crown jewel of Miami's 2014 recruiting class. The local product out of Booker T. Washington and 5-star recruit was sought after by schools all over the country and it isn't difficult to see why. Already at 260 pounds at the defensive end position, Thomas is a freshman that will see snaps right away and do what he does best, rush the passer. Look for him to see a lot of time with his hand down as a rush end but don't be surprised to see him stand up as a rush linebacker either. This guy has A LOT of potential, he just needs some time.
Anthony Moten, FR, 6-4 295
Moten is another highly-rated recruit Miami was able to pull from it's latest recruiting class. Depending on how well he and the other players at his position perform in camp, he could see time early on, or he could redshirt. If he does play as a true freshman, look for him to contribute in 3-4 sets as a strong side end and as a tackle in passing downs. Again, he is still very young, so temper your expectations, but the talent and potential are there.
Trent Harris, FR, 6-2 242
Harris is the definition of a tweener and really projects more as a rush linebacker in 3-4 sets. With his size and skill set, look for him almost exclusively to play in pass rushing situations, if he plays at all this season. Another one of the talented players from the 2014 recruiting class, Miami can afford to wait and see if he is ready to contribute or let him develop for a season as a redshirt.
Other Players to Watch
Core King, JR, 6'1 302
Demetrius Jackson, FR, 6-5 240
Mike Smith, FR, 6-1 221
Courtel Jenkins, FR, 6-1 320
Versatility is the name of the game with this group. There are a lot of guys that will be asked to do a number of things and line up in different positions. Help has definitely arrived for a unit in need, it is just a matter of how fast the new players catch on and how much they can contribute early on. It will be up to the veterans of this group to step-up and play better than they have in the past to really have a good season this year. Defense wins championships, and every good defense starts at the point of attack. If the defensive line can play better this season, the whole defense will play better.