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Anchoring the Defense: Examining the Defensive Line for 2017

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The Canes’ D-Line figures to stifle opposing offenses in 2017

NCAA Football: Russell Athletic Bowl-West Virginia vs Miami
Junior R.J. McIntosh hopes to turn a successful 2017 season into an NFL opportunity
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

There is a lot of hype surrounding the Canes’ defense for 2017. A D-Line unit that helped hold down a greatly improved Miami defense last year returns almost all of its rotational players and adds in three very talented freshmen that should all see significant snaps this upcoming season.

Returning on the outside is the long and talented duo of senior Chad Thomas and superb sophomore Joe Jackson. Rounding out the deep rotation on the edges will likely be senior Trent Harris, redshirt-junior Demetrius Jackson and freshmen D.J. Johnson and Jonathan Garvin. That gives Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz six talented bodies to put in and out of the game.

Chad Thomas is listed at an incredible 6-6 275 lbs while Joe Jackson is up to 6-5 260 lbs. Those are two massive frames that should be able to get past any tackles in the country on any given play. Sub in Jackson and Harris and you get two smaller, stockier bodies, but guys that played very well in big stints last year. Harris has a realistic shot to start over Jackson this year but no matter what, the sophomore will likely see more snaps than the senior in 2017. Even moreso, Jackson has the chance to be a guy that only plays college football for three years before becoming a first or second round pick in the NFL. He first has to continue to prove his worth over the next two years, so he should be plenty motivated to be great for Miami on the field.

The wildcards lie in the hands of the two freshmen, D.J. Johnson and Jonathan Garvin. Garvin is an early enrollee and has apparently looked terrific this spring. He’s a wiry guy, listed at 6-4 235 lbs but with tremendous speed and underrated strength. Keep in mind that he could gain a lot of good weight before week one as he continues to adjust to the college schedule and weight program.

Johnson doesn’t arrive in Coral Gables until later, but he brings with him a lot of promise as well. After all, he was the most-offered prospect in the country last recruiting cycle. Both of these young men figure to be key cogs of the D-Line not only for the future, but this year. If forced to pick just one, based off of spring camp reports, it looks as if Garvin will be making the bigger of the splashes of the two newcomers on the outside.

Now, as we move inside, we see more talent at the top but a little less depth. Juniors R.J. McIntosh and Kendrick Norton return with their eyes on the possibility of jumping to the NFL early. The same can be said for redshirt-junior Gerald Willis. Norton is the biggest of the bunch but the most intriguing player looks to be McIntosh. Standing at 6-4 295 lbs, he is quick, rangy, and extremely active in the trenches. He’s a veteran now and seems poised for a terrific, All-American year.

Norton brings with him similar potential. He was just straight violent at times last year, probably most notably against Florida State when he (along with the rest of the defense, to be honest) continually rocked Francois and sent him to the medical tent.

Willis is a little more complicated, and staying out of trouble and on the field will be very helpful for both he and the Canes. He is a starting caliber talent but is behind two terrific DT’s. When given the opportunity to play, he shows just how much of a factor he can be in the inside.

Additionally, senior Anthony Moten returns to help hold down the second unit line. He has the biggest body of the group and is a guy that could be a major help to the depth of the DT’s if he can put it all together this year. If he just isn’t able to adequately produce, or if Willis isn’t able to stay on the field, look out for freshman Jon Ford. He doesn’t bring quite as much hype as the two newcomers at DE, but he is just as important. Also, depending on the draft decisions of Miami’s eligible DT’s, he could be in line for a starting job in 2018. With that said, it may be wise to get him more than a few meaningful snaps this year.

Lastly, sophomore Pat Bethel has been moved to DT from DE and according to those that were able to see the D-Line group in the spring, he has looked much better. He is up to about 270 lbs and could be in line for some extended action this year if he can continue to improve and show that he can make a difference at DT.

It’s been greatly discussed about just how good this Miami defense can be in 2017, more specifically the front-seven, and it can be heavily attributed to the potential the D-Line possesses.

Thomas and Jackson is an edge tandem that is likely top-five in the country and the same can be said about the two starting interior linemen in McIntosh and Norton. Yes, the LB’s are young and terrific, but this D-Line is shaping up to be something very special. Talent, experience, depth, and hunger ride along with this group.

This 2017 defense may only go as far as the line takes it, especially with uncertainty on the back end. The pressure they apply is paramount to the success of not only the defense, but the 2017 campaign. The team’s (arguably) most talented group looks to carry The U back to national prominence, and capitalize on a solid 2016 season, with immense success on the field starting September 2nd in Hard Rock Stadium.