Early in the preseason, a friend of the SOTU exclaimed to me that for the 2016 season that not only would Miami's starters along the defensive line would be nice, yet the entire rotation would be a problem for opponents. I met the statement with a bit of scepticism initially, chalking it up among the many superlatives tossed after spring practices.
Here we are a month removed from a Russell Athletic Bowl win, where the middle of the defensive line accounted for a sack and half, a fumble recovery and 2 of the 9 tackles for loss. Looks like I was behind the curve from that friend.
The 10 TDs allowed rushing was the lowest total allowed by Miami since the 2011 season. The 3.43 yards per carry is the fewest in the past 8 seasons. For context, Clemson posted 3.70 yards per carry this season on their way to a National Championship While these stats are not solely related to DTs, they have a good influence on being the first point of contact against runs up the middle.
RJ McIntosh was a menace in the middle last season, picking up 2.5 sacks to go along with the 9.5 tackles for loss he piled up over 13 games.
His partner in the middle was Kendrick Norton who for a second straight season made a huge leap in development. His 10 TFL was just 1.5 shy of Joe Jackson for the team lead. As true junior next season the expectation is for #7 to grow not just a player, but one of the leaders in the locker room.
Having to end your season by not only undergoing surgery on a MCL injury to his left knee, but to also be suspended on top of the fact is a low-light for DT Gerald Willis III. Willis should shake off those old Gator habits that seen him get suspended for the season opener. When Willis is eligible he is an excellent contributor in the rotation. He will look to build off of his 19 tackles, 5.5 TFL and 1.5 sacks in his redshirt sophomore season.
We're still not quite sure if Courtel Jenkins will explore his options in transferring, but he sure did show up in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Consistently beating his man, he ended the game with a sack and plenty of pressures on QB Skyler Howard.
Junior Anthony Moten seen his snap count dwindle in 2016 with the addition of Willis and emergence of the law firm at the top of the depth chart. Having only played in 5 games in 2016 he'll be in a fight to find more PT if there isn't an injury or a transfer.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Fines rounds out the group. Seeing action in 2 games he collected a tackle for each game he played. Fines, like Moten, will be chomping during spring practices to get move up the rotation and get more snaps.
In 2017 the expecations can be higher given the level of talent both starting and in rotation. With more experience among the group (Seniors: Courtel Jenkins, Anthony Moten) and (Juniors: Kendrick Norton, RJ McIntosh) Miami’s defense should be among the best in the nation. Another stellar season occupying blockers so they don’t reach linebackers at the second level or sliding and replacing the guard on pulls that will lead to tackles for loss are among the goals in 2017.