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Miami Hurricanes Football Spring Preview : Defensive Ends

With the departure of a couple of stars, will the edge of Miami’s defensive line be able to keep the upward trend going?

NCAA Football: Duke at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

While spread offenses and skill players get plenty of attention, the men who play in trenches still hold an integral role in determining the outcome of a game. The University of Miami Hurricanes are in the midst of a reload at defensive end/edge-rusher. With the graduation of Chad Thomas and Trent Harris, Miami loses both Thomas’s leadership and Harris’ consistent production from the defensive line rotation.

Fortunately, UM brings back a duo that is well equipped to harass quarterbacks and disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage.

The return of Demetrius Jackson to the field cannot go understated. Before undergoing surgery last November, the defensive end put together an impressive season with 18 tackles, seven-and-a-half tackles for loss, three-and-a-half sacks, two pass break ups and one interception before his season was cut short. The former Booker T. Washington High School standout is a prime candidate to lead his edge-rushing unit to success in 2018. With Chad Thomas on his way to the NFL, Jackson is in line to see an increase in playing time—with the real possibility of being named a starter at right defensive end.

A disciplined DE, Jackson maintains gap integrity on misdirection plays, along with doing a good job of keeping offensive linemen at a distance when peeking into the backfield. Jackson is excellent at feasting on tight ends who have the misfortune of attempting to get in his way and discarding them to maintain leverage, which keeps runs from gaining big yardage outside the tackles. Jackson is also athletic enough to be able to drop back into coverage, assisting defensive coordinator Manny Diaz’s play calling flexibility to give opponents different defensive coverages on game days. In his return for his final season as a Hurricane, Jackson will look to carry the tradition of pass rushing proficiency that UM has become infamous for. Of course, a couple of holding calls would go a long way as well.

Joe Jackson needs no introduction. The man came to Coral Gables as THE man. With eight-and-a-half sacks in the 2016 season as a freshman, you wondered how the pass-rushing prodigy would progress into his second season. The answer is: pretty damn well. His six-and-a-half sacks were two shy of his freshman campaign, but he once again managed to tally 11.5 tackles for loss in 2017. The critique of players who excel at rushing the quarterback is that they tend to not give the same effort on run downs, or have a tendency to take themselves out of plays. That logic does not apply to No. 99. Whether it’s scraping down the line of scrimmage after a running back or screaming to ball carriers who skirt the sideline, Jackson has more than illustrated a will to be more than a pass-rusher, yet should be considered a balanced defender if you analyze his game.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh
Having improved on his run defense in 2017, this spring could see the beginning of the best version of DE Joe Jackson that anyone has witnessed to date.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While most off-seasons breed high expectations with lofty projections for favorable outcomes for players and team, it does not feel out of the realm of possibility that Joe Jackson’s 2018 season could be the most elite version of the former Gulliver Prep Raider that could help the Hurricanes continue to ascend.

With a senior leader and junior phenom grabbing the reins of the defensive line, one can almost forget that there are more than the two stars who bookend the defensive line. As we’ve seen last season, the sack leader was not a starter for the Hurricanes. It was DE Trent Harris who, with 8.5 sacks, led the team on that front. However, as much as it pains me to admit, sacks are not everything. As any Hurricane fan can attest, getting the defense off the field after third down should be a priority throughout the offseason. I think it’s safe to say that we’re all a bit tired of seeing opponents take a nice long drive down Biscayne Boulevard with the Hurricanes’ defensive front playing on their heels.

What I’m getting at is that it will take a team effort with healthy contribution from other edge-rushers on the depth chart.

Jonathan Garvin broke out on the scene in an impressive way. First making plays on special teams, then filling in when Demetrius Jackson went down with an injury last season. In 2018, Garvin is in the thick of the group. With a year of experience under his belt, the sophomore will have more tasks and be asked to be more refined in his second season as a ’Cane. The early returns have been promising. Garvin has a greater familiarity with the defensive system, so he should be free to make plays without worrying as much about his responsibilities on a given play.

Rounding out the group is one guy who will be a fresh face in 2018 and another who makes his return to the defensive end room. Welcome back to the darkside, Scott Patchan. After moonlighting a year ago as a tight end, Patchan returns to the original position that Miami recruited him from at IMG Academy. Entering his junior season, it’s astonishing to discover that Patchan has only played in one game on defense for Miami. Scott is the son of former Miami Hurricane great, Matt Patchan III, who played left tackle for the 1983 and ‘87 national championship teams. Since arriving at the University of Miami in 2015 as a four-star prospect, Scott has been unable to live up to his high-billing coming out of high school, with injuries and positional depth representing significant barriers to his success on the field. However, with a couple years of eligibility remaining, Patchan now has his best opportunity to make his mark on the field.

Greg Rousseau was the lone commit at defensive end for the Hurricanes. Cam and other SOTU staffers have already gone into detail regarding that, but we’ll just have to deal with what they currently have on the roster. By most estimations, Rousseau is a project with solid measurables, yet will need to work on fundamentals before he sees any significant playing time for UM.

Breakout Star

Jonathan Garvin

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Miami
Whether making a play on special teams, or getting his hand on a ball to force a fumble. DE Jonathan Garvin illustrated an ability to be an asset to UM whenever he took to the field.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve discussed Garvin’s path to get on the field a season ago and, with more reps, it appears to be an eventuality that the sophomore could enjoy a national breakout in 2018.

Biggest Questions Entering Camp

The Hurricanes have a good mix of proven leadership and questions surrounding those who will fill out the rotation. Can Scott Patchan make it through the season in terms of health and remaining at one position? How high is the ceiling for Jonathan Garvin as a sophomore? Can the Hurricanes thrive with a four player rotation at the position?

We’ll begin to get some of those answers as the spring practices get under way, which should also help to answer our next big question…

How will this group respond to new defensive line coach Jess Simpson?


Losing Chad Thomas and Trent Harris is part of the game, yet there is enough talent at defensive end for the Hurricanes to not only set the edge against the run this season, but to continue to get after the passer as well. It will be up to UM’s newest hire in, Jess Simpson, to improve a defensive line unit that has thrived in the past three seasons, yet faltered down the stretch of the 2017 season. As Hurricane fans, the job Simpson does with this group should be indicative of how good of a mentor of young men he can be in the pressure cooker that is South Florida football.