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2015 Miami Hurricanes Review: The Defensive Line

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Looking at what went well, what needs to improve, and the key figures for a very important unit.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Let's be 100% upfront here.

Last season the front 7 just didn't get it done for the most part.

The LB unit was injury riddled, and the big guys did not consistently make plays.

They lacked much of a pass rush (just 25 team sacks last season) and really (and I mean really) struggled to set the edge.

A lot of that can be attributed to scheme, lack of player development, etc, etc.

But the players themselves need to make more impact on their own as well.

However with a new D Line Coach in Craig Kuligowski aboard, and plenty of returning talent, there are reasons for optimism.

Let's review the unit, and also look ahead.

What went right in 2015:

When they were on, Al-Quadin Muhammad (team leading 5 sacks, 8.5 TFL) and Chad Thomas, showed the promise of two former very highly recruited players.

Both still need a lot more consistency (as well as more snaps) but you could see the potential in flashes.

On the inside you saw similar things from Anthony Moten, Courtel Jenkins, and freshman Kendrick Norton.

Again, they did not dominate regularly, but had some nice moments.

Norton in particular showed a lot of power, and at times completely collapsed the pocket/his gap.

Versatile sophomore Trent Harris did some nice things as a pass rusher as well, but he likely will be a 4-3 OLB going forward.

And at the end of the season, DE/OLB (expect him to play from a three point stance in 2016) Demetrius Jackson finally cracked the line-up, and got his feet wet (half a sack in the bowl game Vs WSU).

He is another player with huge upside.

Jackson, Thomas, Muhammad, Jenkins, Moten, and Norton are all underclassmen.

So while the unit as a whole left much to be desired, the good news is they got much needed experience in 2015, and return as a talented group that Coach Kool can mold.

What they lost:

Gone from the unit are seniors Ufomba Kamalu and Calvin Heurtelou,

These two are the only real contributors gone.

Kamalu will be a bit of a loss, as he ended the season arguably the most consistent player on the D line.

Heurtelou was more of a gap assignment guy, and likely would have been a bad fit for the 4-3 anyway.

With what returns, they should overcome these departures with relative ease.

Other Players to Watch:

Redshirt freshman Ryan Fines could develop into a nice early down substitute/run stuffer.  I do not think he has the explosiveness to be a pass rushing candidate though.

Senior Jelani Hamilton has never quite been able to find much time on the field.   He gets one more crack.

Ditto DT Earl Moore.

Gerald Willis, who sat out 2015 because of NCAA transfer rules, is the real headliner here.

Willis was the defensive MVP of the scout team last season, and is a former 5 star recruit.

He could be the monster player on the inside that the D as a whole has been craving for years.

Freshmen Joseph Jackson and Pat Bethel may both be good enough to come in and contribute right away.  Jackson in particular has tremendous upside.

However if Muhammad and Thomas do what they are supposed to, they could be in position to sit back a year and learn.

That'd be a nice luxury to have.

Summary:

The key to a far more productive 2016 for the defensive line is that Muhammad and Thomas continue to improve, and Willis transitions nicely into the group.

Those three are ridiculously talented guys, and outside of Clemson/FSU no teams in the ACC has a trio that highly recruited among their fronts.

Norton too has the upside to be a beast.

And Jackson (Demetrius) is as athletic as Thomas or Muhammad.

But there can be no more excuses.

A 4-3 will be implemented, and the DL Coach is a guy who has developed former stars like Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam, Shane Ray, and Aldon Smith.

That's an impressive bunch.

Expect a much better, more disciplined, and especially more explosive front 4 in 2016 for the Miami Hurricanes.

If they hope to finally win the ACC Coastal, this is the group that needs to make an impact.