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Defensive End: 2016 Season Review

A look back on how the 2016 Canes defensive ends performed in their new, aggressive defensive scheme.

NCAA Football: Russell Athletic Bowl-West Virginia vs Miami Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Are the Miami Hurricanes BYKE?! Time will tell, but the defense is! Going into the 2016 season, the Canes were facing a defensive scheme change, transitioning from a read-and-react 3-4 defense to an aggressive, attacking 4-3 defense. Miami’s defense was surely going to get better (there was literally no way they could get worse), but few expected the significant jump they made.

After the spring, Miami’s defense was great mixture of youth and experience, but was also filled with numerous question marks. How is the secondary going to play? Who is starting opposite Corn Elder? Are the freshman linebackers going to hold up? WHERE ARE THE DEFENSIVE TACKLES?!?!?!?! The lone unit that had no (minimal) question marks: the defensive ends.

Miami was EXPECTED to have Chad Thomas and Quan Muhammad start opposite of each other, have Demetrius Jackson and Trent Harris backing them up, and have freshmen Pat Bethel and Joe Jackson backing THEM up. One could even add Scott Patchan to that list, but he was working his way back from a knee injury. They were deep, talented, and the world knew they were going to feast in this new scheme. Well the fantasy DE lineup never saw a down, as Muhammad was kicked off the team before camp in a luxury car scandal.

Despite the loss, the Miami defensive ends did their job and lived up to their hype and expectations. Chad Thomas finally broke out in his junior season, accounting for 37 tackles, 11 tackles for loss (TFLs) and 4.5 sacks after recording just ONE sack in his first two seasons.

His counterpart, Trusty Trent Harris, also had a very productive season recording 25 tackles, 9.5 TFLs and three sacks. His best game came at Georgia Tech, a run-heavy team that Harris made pay every time they dropped back to pass.

However, the real star of this unit was not five-star Chad Thomas, not seasoned vet Trent Harris, and not even super athletic Demetrius Jackson, it was TRUE FRESHMAN Joe Jackson.

Jackson was the biggest surprise from the defensive unit, unless you’re Cam, he wasn’t surprised because he’s been talking about Jackson FOREVER. Joe was a four-star recruit coming out of Gulliver Prep (Miami) with a long, impressive frame and a basketball background.

(Side note: if you’re a basketball player looking to play football, come to Miami. Players like Jimmy Graham, Erik Swoope, Clive Walford, Demetrius Jackson and Sunny Odogwu have all come from basketball backgrounds and made/are making careers out of playing football)

The 6’6” 250 lbs. true freshman had coaches and players raving during summer drills and fall camp and is only scratching the surface of his potential. Jackson ended the season with 32 tackles, 11.5 TFLs and led the team with 8.5 sacks. Reminder: Jackson only started the second half of the season and is a TRUE FRESHMAN!!! Jackson will be a force in this defense for two more seasons and will most likely be one of the top pass rushers in the country.

Looking forward, Miami’s defense will be among the nation’s best. Barring further attrition, the Canes bring back their ENTIRE TWO-DEEP FRONT SEVEN in 2017. Most teams are fortunate to bring back just one unit of starters, Miami is doing that with two units...twice.

Chad Thomas is expected to make an even bigger progressive jump heading into his senior season as he continues to live up to his five-star billing. His approach will most likely mirror that of graduates Corn Elder, Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins, who were strongholds in Miami’s secondary.

Joe Jackson will look to become a top pass rusher in the league, if not the country next season as he goes into his first full offseason strength and conditioning program. Couple that with working Coach Kool on his pass rushing techniques, Jackson is projected to be a top defender in 2017.

Trent Harris, Demetrius Jackson and Scott Patchan will be extremely valuable backups heading into next season and will get plenty of reps due to Miami’s relentless style of play and constant rotation of defensive lineman. The Canes pass rush was good, if not great last season, and will only get better.

It’s also important to realize quarterbacks the Canes faced, too - Mitch Trubisky, Jerod Evans, Deondre Francios, Nate Peterman, DeShone Kizer - and admire the performances the defensive unit put together. There were bumps along the road, but the promise and potential with this squad is through the roof. The front seven is absolutely littered with NFL talent, and despite the talent elsewhere, the defensive end position might be Miami’s best for years to come.

Does someone deserve more praise? Comment below! GO CANES!