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Spring Football Position Preview: Defensive Tackles

Gerald Willis III leaves a big opening on the Hurricanes line — who steps up to fill it?

Pittsburgh v Miami Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Miami has a long history of producing dominant defensive tackles. You don't have to look much further than Jerome Brown, Warren Sapp, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, and Vince Wilfork to understand that. It’s a position that has generated success on both the collegiate and NFL levels. Kennedy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012. There is rich history at the position and that history was birthed on Greentree.

Now, Miami has another promising defensive tackle heading to league in Gerald Willis III and the Hurricanes once again have to figure out what’s next for the position and new defensive line coach Todd Stroud must become acclimated in the ways of this Hurricanes defense.

Apart from figuring out who is going to play in the secondary, deciding who is going to fill Willis III’s shoes has to be one of the biggest storylines of spring practice. There are plenty of talented options both on the team now and set to join the team this summer. Let’s review the options that defensive coordinator Blake Baker and Stoud will have to choose from this spring.

Incumbent starter Pat Bethel returns for his senior year after a solid junior campaign which included 12 starts, six tackles for loss and two sacks. The 285-pound tackle displayed athleticism and explosiveness that fits the mold of a Manny Diaz/Blake Baker type of defense.

Nesta Silvera is the fan favorite to win that open tackle spot next to Bethel. The former four-star out of Plantation American Heritage had high expectations coming into Coral Gables, but has not had an opportunity to live up to them. In 2019, he should get a real chance to showcase the disruption and explosiveness that he displayed in high school.

The sophomore is listed at 6-2 and 305-pounds, but a recent social media post by Silvera showed that he was down near the 297 range. He is a big body regardless and his work to get into better shape should translate onto the field this spring as he looks to become a regular part of the rotation, if not the Hurricanes starting defensive tackle.

Jon Ford was a guy I mentioned last year as someone who needed to step up to keep the Hurricanes defense great. I clearly underestimated Willis’ impact, but now he actually needs to step up and contribute with a spot open for grabs and a rotation that needs productive depth. At 6-5 and 300 pounds, he is one of the largest guy the Hurricanes have at the position and he needs to start playing like it heading into his junior year.

Last year, Ford had just eight tackles in 10 games with two of those tackles coming for a loss.

Jordan Miller is a 6-4 325-pound tank of a human being. I mentioned Ford as being one of the largest guys in the room, but Miller might be the largest. As a recruit, Miller was an under-the-radar type of guy out of Sandalwood High School in Jacksonville. It wasn't until the latter part of his recruitment that Miami jumped into the mix, along with Virginia and a few others.

The Hurricanes wound up with his commitment and signature with the understanding that he was more of a developmental guy rather than someone who would be expected to contribute right away. Miller was a member of the practice squad during his redshirt year and will surely get a look now before some of the newcomers get to campus this summer.

Redshirt junior Tyreic Martin has played in just one game throughout his Miami career and spent the last two seasons as a member of the practice squad. Martin is from Lanett, Ala. and held offers from Missouri, Kentucky, and South Carolina coming out of high school.


While that looks like a short list of guys competing for reps at defensive tackle this spring, there is plenty of help on the way. UCLA transfer Chigozie Nnoruka will join the Hurricanes as a grad transfer. Nnoruka played in all 13 games for the Bruins last year, starting 10, and finished with 49 tackles, 8.5 of those for a loss and two sacks. He brings experience that is desperately needed at the position.

The Hurricanes also filled some needs by going out and grabbing two of the top defensive tackles in New York in Jason Blissett, a 6-3 271-pound tackle out of Poly Prep in Brooklyn, and Jared Harrison-Hunte, a 6-4 286-pound athletic freak from Middle Village, NY.

Blissett was identified by Miami early in the process long before other schools took note of his talents and he shot up the national rankings. He finished the cycle as a four-star and the 294th ranked player in the country.

Harrison-Hunter has a basketball background and has flashed his athletic ability with big in-game dunks while playing for his high school. Despite being a mid-three star guy, Alabama, Ohio State, Penn State, Georgia, and Michigan all offered him. This could be one of the biggest steals in the 2019 class for the Hurricanes.

Both will be reporting to Coral Gables this summer.

Jalar Holley is a 6-2 280-pound tackle out of Buford, GA where former defensive line coach Jess Simpson coached and went 164-12 with seven state titles. Simpson, who is now the defensive line coach for the Atlanta Falcons, was a major factor in his recruitment.

Holley seems like a redshirt candidate off the bat just based on the numbers that Miami has brought in at the position.

How It Plays Out

Miami, who is still waiting on the arrival of four guys at the position will likely keep a steady rotation of Bethel, Silvera, Ford, Miller, and Martin with some redshirts sprinkled in there and see what happens. I think Silvera takes this opportunity to establish himself as the alpha in the room and despite the arrival of a more experienced guy in Nnoruka, he solidifies himself as a starter on this team going into summer workouts and fall camp.

Todd Stroud also has to get a feel for his new group of guys and continue to develop them hopefully at the same rate that Simpson and Kuligowski before him have. There is some talented guys that need still have plenty of room to grow and Stroud’s job is now to make sure that they reach their max potential.

Throughout spring, I would anticipate Bethel and Silvera taking first-team reps while Ford and Martin/Miller split the second-team. The numbers aren't ideal, so it will be interesting to see how the coaches manage the workload of those five guys.