After losing Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh to the NFL following the 2017 season, the defensive tackle position for Miami looked as if it could be a concern for Manny Diaz’s defense. Not only did the Canes lose Norton and McIntosh, but the defensive line as a whole would be under the educating of first-year coach Jess Simpson, replacing Craig Kuligowski.
The main question surrounding the DT position for Miami, was how Gerald Willis III would fare after sitting out the 2017 season. The former transfer from Florida didn’t disappoint at all, and Willis gave us one of the greatest individual defensive seasons in UM history.
Draft Prospect Video: DT Gerald Willis had a breakout season for The U. He had a 82.4 Grade this season doing his best damage against the run from the interior. One Season Stats: 59 Combined Tackles, 18 TFL, 4 Sacks, 2 PD & 1 FR. #49ersDP2019 pic.twitter.com/CXD0rLtkyc— 49er_Edits (@49er_edits) January 21, 2019
Willis ended the season with 59 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and his 18 TFLs were the most from any Hurricane since 2006. He was also named second-team All-American by USA Today.
Though Miami’s other defensive tackles didn't put up the stats that Willis did, they didn't disappoint either. Junior Pat Bethel took a giant leap forward and produced his best season as a Cane. Bethel had career highs in every category, including tackles (22), TFLs (5), and also sacks (2).
Other guys in the mix at DT were Jonathan Ford, Nesta Silvera and also Tito Odenigbo. Ford is someone who Canes fans are waiting to jump on the scene, though his sophomore year was relatively quiet.
Silvera, the true freshman from South Florida is a player that’ll do great things while he’s at the U, but 2018 threw injuries at him, but expect this beast to hopefully take over Willis’ spot in the years to come.
Odenigbo transferred over from Illinois, and his experience was evident, as was his talent. Tito ended 2018 with a career-high in TFLs (5.5).
For the duration of the 2018 season, Miami’s defensive tackles were a main component of one of the nations top defenses, in particular against the run and also putting constant pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Looking ahead to 2019, though Willis and Tito are now gone, Bethel, Silvera, Ford and incoming grad-transfer Chigozie Nnoruka will takeover the DT position and keep the high playing tradition alive at UM.