In just 15 years the Miami Hurricanes defensive line has gone from aggressive to passive, and after a season where Miami ranked 70th in the nation in sacks, Defensive Line Coach Craig Kuligowski is bringing the strength back to the Hurricanes.
“I could see some very large things happening,” Kuligowski said to me while discussing his expectations on the defensive line. “What we need to do is just stay together, and nobody be the weakest link on the train.”
The train is set to be a young one for Miami this season, who despite having two veterans starting on each end [Al-Quadin Muhammad and Kendrick Norton], is set to start an underclassmen heavy interior line with sophomores Kendrick Norton and R.J. McIntosh leading the way.
“We’re young but that doesn’t mean anything,” McIntosh, who is set to get most of his playing time at defensive tackle said. “I expect that we’ll do big things this year. I expect big things from him [Kendrick Norton] as he expects big things from me, we just have to compete each and every day and work hard.”
Both McIntosh and Norton will be pivotal towards Miami’s success this season, and have been highly touted since high school. Norton entered The University of Miami as a top 200 player in the nation according to ESPN, and saw action in 12 of the ‘Canes games last season. Unlike Norton, McIntosh was not in the ESPN 300, but has impressed coaches ever since he stepped on campus last season.
Both have been making tremendous strides throughout the offseason, but their bond off the field is what brings them together on game day.
“It is really good, he is like my son, you know,” Norton said jokingly while sharing a laugh with his teammate. “Me and R.J. live together, so we’re really close with each other.”
As sophomores, Kendrick and R.J. may be two of Miami’s most important players on the line. Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz and his staff have preached aggression and physicality all offseason, and by coming together, the whole defensive line knows they are going to make an impact.
Every defensive player I spoke to during media day was in love with the new scheme, and felt it gave them an opportunity to stop thinking so much and just play. This type of mindset not only gives them a chance to make plays, but has also given them the confidence to play as a team, something Kendrick Norton stressed is of the utmost importance.
“It is really valuable to everyone on the defense to trust each other,” Norton said. “[It’s important] so that you know when you are working your tail off and trying to do your job, that the guy next to you is doing their job, and you don’t have to worry about them.”
And with the season under a month away, Miami’s players know things will be different this time around.
“It’s different than last year,” McIntosh said. “We’ve grown better relationships overall as a unit. Not just the d-line, but the db’s and the linebackers, we got a better relationship this year. We count on each other and know we can count on each other.”