Battles in the trenches are not uncommon for a defensive tackle. However, to earn the right to be a valuable contributor along the defensive line in 2018, they’ll have to outduel one another to earn the opportunity.
Gerald Willis III
With former starters Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh both in NFL training camps, there are a few questions surrounding the midsection of Miami’s defensive line. Gerald Willis III is one player who is counted as a certainty among the group. After leaving the swamp of Gainesville, Florida, Willis III has was a revelation for the Canes’ defense during the 2015 season. His 5.5 tackles for loss along with 1.5 sacks helped Miami re-establish their punishing presence at the position.
The concern is not what Willis can do for the U, but who will line up next to him.
The leading candidate for that job is sophomore Jon Ford, who was used sparingly a season ago. With just a single tackle to his name in his freshman season, foreshadowing his production at the position is murky at best — despite possessing the attributes to be a productive piece along the defensive line. Ready or not, the expectations for Ford are ramped up as defensive line coach Jess Simpson and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz attempt to formulate a starting tandem at DT.
When it comes to Nesta Silvera, the only question is how long can he go? Even if Miami’s previous starters at the position had remained, Silvera assuredly was going to earn playing time. That opportunity, that once seemed like more of rotational role as he became acclimated to the college game, should see Silveria gain plenty of snaps this season. At 6’2”, 308 pounds, the former American Heritage High DT will be vying for playing time along with Willis III and fellow freshman Jordan Miller.
Flying under the radar at the position is junior DT Pat Bethel. A season ago, Bethel totalled 18 tackles, one tackle for loss/sack, one pass break up and a forced fumble as part of the rotation. With so many fresh faces at the position in 2018, Bethel brings experience and wisdom to the youth at the position, along with a good interior push in pass rushing situations.
Tito Odenigbo is a new face, yet also a veteran of the game after transferring to Miami from Illinois. Getting off to a good start by getting in off-season workouts with his new teammates, Odenigbo still remains a bit of mystery in terms of where he fits on the depth chart. During his time with the Illini, the Dayton, Ohio, native has 7.5 tackles for loss, 46 total tackles and one sack. His listed measurables of 6’3”, 310 pounds seem like an ideal fit for the northeast transfer to make it on the field as gap-plugging option.
To break it down, the DT competition boils down to potential versus production. If you’re defensive line coach Jess Simpson, do you trust the guys you know or gamble on the guys who have high potential, but limited production to-date? If a player is enrolled in the University of Miami to play football on a scholarship, the odds should pay out handsomely in any wager.
IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!