Prior to the 2018 Miami Hurricanes season, one of the largest areas of concern for the team was the defensive line, and how first-year coach Jess Simpson would fare filling-in for Craig Kuligowski, who left after 2017 to become the defensive line coach at Alabama.
Not only was it Simpson’s first year, but he also had to deal with the departure of R.J. McIntosh, Kendrick Norton and Trent Harris, three valuable lineman from 2017, who bolted to the NFL.
A year later, with a majority of the Canes being a rollercoaster, Simpson and his unit have been questionably the most stellar and productive on the entire team.
Amidst a top-tier dominant college defense led and built by coordinator Manny Diaz, Simpson has been called a ‘scientist’ by recruits, and has built himself one of the finest defensive line groups in the country.
Just to paint you a brighter picture of Simpson’s impact, in 2017 the Hurricanes ranked 44th in rush defense and also 28th in total defense. In 2018 since Simpson’s arrival, Miami is 24th against the run, and number-two in the country in total defense.
Simpson came over to Miami after being a defensive-assistant for the Atlanta Falcons last season, and before that he won seven state titles as head coach at Buford High in the Atlanta-area.
During the first campaign under Simpson, several d-lineman were able to shine bright, possibly nobody brighter than defensive tackle Gerald Willis III.
Willis’ success in 2018 has been well-documented. In the finest season of his college career, some of his achievements were leading the ACC in tackles for loss (14th in the nation), voted 2nd team All-ACC, while also increasing his stock for the upcoming NFL Draft this spring.
Gerald Willis. Great swim move and nice burst for a big man. pic.twitter.com/qmHcR8yJhu— Jared Stanger (@JaredStanger) November 25, 2018
Simply put, Willis has transformed into one of the premier lineman in the country, and had one of the most dominant single-season performances by a UM defensive player.
At the end positions, both Joe Jackson and Jonathan Garvin had standout years as well.
Jackson, junior, came into the season already been looked at highly for the NFL, and was told to be in several mock first-rounds even before the year began, and he has not let us down.
In 2018 Jackson had a career year, logging 8.5 sacks, 14.5 TFLs, was a constant nightmare for offensive tackles, and also a pick-six against UNC.
Garvin, who is only a sophomore, had a tremendous year as well. Garvin, like Willis, was a menace in the backfield, totaling 16 TFLs (3rd in ACC, 22nd in NCAA). Garvin also added 5.5 sacks, and gave Hurricanes fans everywhere a lot to look out for once his junior season rolls around.
Jonathan "Two Chains" Garvin ⛓️⛓️ pic.twitter.com/LwpjV0fORy— Josh White (@_JoshRWhite) September 28, 2018
Simpson’s teaching has also impacted the likes of other lineman, such as junior Pat Bethel, who worked his way into the starting lineup prior to the season, and had a career-year, and who will be even better in 2019.
Fellow junior Scott Patchan, who didn’t play much at all his first two years at UM, found his way into the rotation, was disruptive in the backfield, and gave fans hope for a stellar senior year next season.
Willis will be gone next season, and maybe Jackson too, but Simpson’s impact just in 2018 will have this unit at the top of the stat sheets for years to come.