The strength of last year’s ten win squad is suddenly a question mark in 2018. Miami’s elite starters across the front four, absurd depth and premier coaching made this unit second to only Clemson’s in the ACC last season. Ken Norton and RJ McIntosh helped shut down the run on the inside while Trent Harris and Chad Thomas chased down QBs. All four of those guys are gone, to be replaced with players who have started previously but not quite as full-time contributors.
So with a brand new crop of starting defensive lineman, how should we project (realistically and perhaps not so) the 2018 Hurricanes’ d-line?
Best Case Scenario
Miami’s new starters hit the ground running and don’t look back. Joe Jackson continues to gets better and looks like the guy we hoped Chad Thomas would be. Demetrius Jackson picks up from where he left off last season and is a pass-rushing terror as a full-time starter. Jon Garvin looks ready for a starting job this season, never mind 2019. Gerald Willis is as good as everyone has said leading up to September 2. Pat Bethel is solid on the inside and an interior rotation with Jon Ford and Tito Odenigbo means Miami’s d-line depth is still elite.
Worst Case Scenario
Miami clearly misses the talent and experience from last year that they lost. Joe Jackson isn’t ready to be the true number one guy on the defensive line and has an up and down season. Demetrius Jackson is missing a step coming back from injury. Jon Garvin isn’t ready and some doubt lingers whether last year’s potential was just a flash in the pan. Willis is solid but not a game-wrecking interior presence. The defensive staff can’t find a true no. 2 DT to pair with Willis and the run defense takes a big step back for the first time in the Richt era.
Miami has some growing pains at first. Joe Jackson is navigating a bigger role and Gerald Willis is playing in his first college football games since 2016. But as the season ages and the line gets experience playing together against the FIUs of the world, they hit their stride. Joe Jackson solidifies his status as a potential first round pick in 2019. Demetrius Jackson doesn’t look out of place as a starter even if he does get taken advantage of as a run defender. Jon Garvin continues his promising growth and appears ready to have a starting job next year.
Gerald Willis is unblockable as ACC play hits. He rips through the FSU offensive line all game long and proves to be the MVP of Miami’s win that week. The run defense does take a small step back; Bethel, Ford or Odenigbo just aren’t Ken Norton or RJ McIntosh. Miami has the depth to survive an injury or two and the defensive line looks better as pass rushers but slightly worse as run defenders.