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Miami’s Defensive Line Starting To Find Its Groove

The Canes defensive line is coming along just like we thought it would

NCAA Football: Central Michigan at Miami Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

In the preseason and throughout fall camp, one of the units that were being praised so highly for the Hurricanes was their defensive line. Even after losing starters like Joe Jackson and Gerald Willis to the NFL, many thought that the 2019 line could even outperform last years.

The Canes brought back established defensive lineman from years prior, such as junior defensive end Jonathan Garvin and senior DT Pat Bethel. Also returning was veteran Scott Patchan, and they also added Trevon Hill and Chigozie Nnoruka from the transfer portal in the offseason.

It’s taken a few weeks for them to find their groove, but I think we’re about to start seeing why this group was so hyped up.

If you look close enough at some of the stats, they’ve already been playing at a high level. For instance, Miami’s defense ranks 12th in the country in tackles for loss, and sixth in run defense. Though, the Canes are just 24th when it comes to sacks per game, averaging only three, they were 13th in that same stat last season.

Against Central Michigan in their last game, the defensive line played perhaps the best they had all year up to this point. The defense as a whole totaled four sacks, nine TFLs and six QB hurries, but perhaps the most impressive stat is that they held the Chippewas to 31 rushing yards and 1.1 yards per attempt. Plus, two of the d lineman for Miami recovered fumbles and threw on the Turnover Chain, Bethel and defensive end Gregory Rousseau.

So far in 2019, Rousseau has taken over as one of the more dominant players that Miami has, not that it surprises anyone. The redshirt freshman, who suffered a season ending injury in 2018, bounced back and had an absolutely phenomenal offseason.

Through the first four games of the season, Rousseau leads the Canes with three sacks and is the highest player for Miami according to PFF, even though he isn’t on the field that often.

He played 32 snaps against Central Michigan and has been used a third-down specialist, but I would expect to see a lot more of Rousseau starting this week against Virginia Tech.

Garvin is perhaps the most talented player on the Miami defensive line, and though he just notched his first sack of the season against CMU, the pressure he gets on the quarterback is among the best in the country.

Garvin has the kind of speed and awareness that makes a great DE at the next level, which is why some scouts are predicting he’ll leave Miami following this season.

While Garvin hasn’t produced the jaw-dropping stats that he had by this time last year, as he told reporters last week, he attributes that to more double and triple teams now that Joe Jackson has moved on. The impact that Garvin has can’t just measured by stats alone, but the attention he draws from the opponents offensive line.

Patchan, while he played well against the Gators in week one, has been struggling recently. According to PFF, Patchan has been inconsistent with his tackling. If that continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hill or Rousseau took his starting job. He’ll need to turn up his game, especially in the pass rushing aspect.

It should be noted that Patchan has been a key factor against the run, and one of the reasons why Miami has been able to improve in that department.

Then we have Hill, who I have been raving about since he came over from Virginia Tech back in February. While his snap count hasn’t been as high as he, or we, would’ve hoped for so far, you can obviously tell he’s becoming more comfortable each play he’s in. One thing that jumps out to me about Hill is that he reads plays very well, like here against UNC, where he saw the QB draw immediately, the offensive tackle didn’t have a shot and Trevon got in there to tackle him in the backfield.

He finally recorded his first sack as a Hurricane against CMU, and has six tackles plus two TFLs during the season. Like I said, he’s becoming more comfortable and I'd expect more sacks and stats as 2019 goes on.

Then we have the defensive tackles, who haven’t gotten as much publicity as the DE’s, but have no doubt contributed to Miami’s force up front. The senior Bethel has been the most productive, and while his stats aren’t going to jump out at you, he’s been nothing but solid.

Fellow starter at DT junior Jonathan Ford has been similar to Bethel, clogging up holes in the middle and forcing teams to run outside. Against the Gators, you can hear Kirk Herbstreit talking about how impressed he is with Ford, and believes he can be the next talented interior lineman for Miami.

If Ford can improve on his pass rushing skills he’ll provide even more of a spark to the line.

Behind them you have Nnoruka and redshirt freshman Jordan Miller, who I'm a huge fan of, ever since DL coach Todd Stroud talked him up in offseason. The both of them have increased in their snap count as each game goes on, and coach Manny Diaz has said that’ll continue.

In the Central Michigan game, Miller, along with help from linebacker Shaquille Quarterman pushes their running back in the backfield for a loss on this play. Miller does a great job at shedding the guard here, and is a player that will be a staple on Miami’s line for years to come.

And finally, Miami got the fantastic news on Monday that sophomore DT Nesta Jade Silvera will be activated for the Canes game on Saturday. Cleared from the foot injury he suffered in fall camp, the anticipation for Silvera matches that of any other Canes player.

Silvera will not only provide the line and team with an extra boost, but his athleticism and ability to shed tackles will also be welcomed to the defensive tackle rotation. A prized recruit from 2018, Silvera also had a tremendous offseason, and has given us much to be excited about.

They’ve had bumps in the road thus far, but you get the feeling that defensive coordinator Blake Baker is understanding what he has on the line and knows what works and what doesn't work. Miami’s defense is best when they rush, and it all starts with the pressure coming from the front four. As the season progresses even further, I'd expect to see line progress with it and elevate their dominance.