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Why Miami’s Defensive Line Will Survive the Departure of Coach Kuligowski

Miami’s upperclassmen along the defensive line are poised and capable to lead the group in the interim.

NCAA Football: Miami at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

By now, the alarm bells have died down and people are starting to capture their breath after news broke this week that Miami Hurricanes’ defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski was leaving the program, with reports of his imminent hire in the same capacity at the University of Alabama. Coach Kool’s departure came out of nowhere, with many speculating that the pressure to close on the recruiting trail as the catalyst for his exit from UM.

Regardless of the reason, the Hurricanes now find themselves looking to find a new captain of a talented defensive line. Here is some of the reactions from ’Canes players past and present upon hearing the news:

Until a new DL coach is named, it will be up to the guys along the defensive line to hold each other accountable in the meantime. Fortunately enough, there is plenty of leadership to go around along the defensive line this offseason. Despite losing defensive ends Chad Thomas and Trent Harris and defensive tackles RJ McIntosh, Kendrick Norton and Anthony Moten, there remains a group with plenty of leadership experience to take up the reigns, both on the field and away from it.

Before “God’s Plan” swept through South Florida with goodwill, Demetrius Jackson gave back to his community in his own special way. Last year, through his Young Men of Tomorrow Foundation, Jackson raised enough money to deliver turkeys and trimmings to different educational institutions throughout South Florida—enough to feed anywhere from 65-70 families before the Thanksgiving holiday. Jackson will be looking to make a big splash in his senior season after suffering a right knee injury that cost him a significant portion of his junior season. Losing Jackson for the remainder of the season was a tough blow, especially when you factor in his contribution of 18 tackles, seven-and-a-half tackles for loss, three-and-a-half sacks, two pass break ups and one interception.

Also returning to the Hurricanes’ defensive line rotation is Gerald Willis III. Willis took a leave of absence from the team for an unspecified issue, yet returned to the team toward the beginning of the season. Regardless, he sat out a 2017 season in which his teammates excelled and triumphed during the early slate of contests. With the departures of both starting DTs along with a couple players who provided depth at the position, Willis’ return is paramount to Miami upholding their quality of play along the defensive interior. In his last season of action with The U on the side of his helmet in the 2016 season, Willis contributed with a solid 19 tackles, five-and-a-half tackles for loss, one-and-a-half sacks and two pass break-ups. As a senior in 2018, Willis will don the familiar number nine along the defensive line. Given what the last player to wear that number did in his senior year, Willis certainly appears ready to answer the challenge that comes along with it.

Notre Dame v Miami
Determined to not be held down in 2018, DE Joe Jackson will look to add to his gaudy stats in his junior season.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Joe Jackson—no relation to Demetrius or Michael on the Hurricanes—is a junior, yet has been a consistent contributor for the ’Canes since arriving on campus. In his two seasons at UM, the defensive end has collected 15 sacks (8.5 in 2016 and 6.5 in 2017) and 23 tackles for loss (11.5 tackles for loss in each 2016 and 2017). Jackson is a force of nature when it comes to wreaking havoc in the backfield of his opponent, an attribute that Miami fans will want to see in 2018. However, he will also need to impart his pass rushing wisdom on the younger members of the defensive line group such as Greg Rousseau and Jonathan Garvin.

While the staff continues to work on finding a replacement for Coach Kool, whoever that replacement ends up being will be working with a group that has a special group of upperclassmen who will be able to lead the group on a second-and-short, or third-and-long. The players along the defensive line have the potential to be great mentors as well, dictating to the underclassmen the expectations that come with simply wearing the U around South Florida, let alone when chasing ball carriers and quarterbacks in the fall.