The position room for defensive line has been so star studded over the past 40 years that it would take hours to mention all of the stars. At defensive end, the ‘Canes have seen All-Americans and NFL stars, like: Danny Stubbs, Rusty Medearis, Kevin Patrick, Greg Mark, Kenard Lang, Kenny Holmes, Calais Campbell, and Chad Thomas. At tackle, it’s even more talented of a list with names, such as: Jerome Brown, Cortez Kennedy, Russell Maryland, Warren Sapp, Vince Wilfork, Gerald Willis III and some jabroni beatin’, pie eatin’ guy from Know Your Role Blvd.
Over the past four seasons Manny Diaz has gotten production out of the Miami defensive line regardless of who their position coach is or how little experience they have. In 2016, Joe Jackson and Chad Thomas were just starting to heat up the defensive line flame with 22 combined tackles for loss. By 2018 Jackson, Jonathan Garvin and Willis went crazy with the havoc stats bringing in nearly 50 tackles for loss and double digit passes defensed. By 2019 Garvin slowed down a little but Gregory Rousseau emerged looking like a young Ted Hendricks and picking up 19.5 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks.
This season the line will have to replace Garvin, Scott Patchan and Pat Bethel but the talent is definitely on campus for another great defensive line. The acquisition happened, now it’s all about the development and deployment.
Gregory Rousseau and Quincy Roche are expected to be the starting defensive ends in 2020. Rousseau is back after his monster redshirt freshman season. The six-foot-seven, 253 pound All-ACC first team defensive end dominated opposing offensive tackles in 2019. Rousseau led the ACC in sacks while playing in all 13 games.
Roche comes to Miami from Temple as an edge rusher. The six-foot-four, 235 pound rush end was the AAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. While at Temple, Roche logged 137 tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss, and 26 sacks in three seasons. I covered Quincy Roche’s versatility earlier in the off-season and am looking forward to hearing about where he’s lining up in the spring.
The best part about the defensive line is there’s a rotation. The same two games can’t and won’t play all game. Eventually to get enough power out of large men you have to sub in more large men. In the old days eventual starters like Kevin Patrick, Darren Krein, Vince Wilfork, and Warren Sapp were the ‘next man up’ in the rotation. The 2020 rotation has a ton of potential that hopefully will be reached as Miami looks to build depth behind two starters that won’t return in ‘21.
UCLA transfer Jaelan Phillips is a former five-star prospect and top-5 player in the nation. Phillips suffered through injuries with the Bruins and has since transferred to Miami where he redshirted the 2019 season. If the six-foot-five, 258 pound junior can get healthy he has unlimited athleticism at Blake Baker’s disposal.
The rest of the rotation is made up by three four-star players in Jahfari Harvey, Cameron Williams and Chantz Williams. Harvey is a six-foot-four, 232 pound pass rusher out of Vero Beach. Harvey played in four games in 2019 securing his redshirt status. Cameron Williams is undersized at six-foot-four, 218 pounds but could play a Trent Harris type of role on “and long” situations as a pass rusher. Chantz Williams is a true freshman and ready-made college football player. Chantz is six-foot-four, 245 pounds and comes to Miami from Oakleaf High School in Jacksonville, FL.
The one sure-fire starter at defensive tackle is John Ford. The six-foot-five, 310 pound tackle out of Dillard High School started all 13 games in 2019. Ford ended his junior season with 18 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Unlike Rousseau, Ford has slowly built to his starting status over his career at Miami.
The other starter could be the heavily hyped Nesta Jade Silvera. Silvera, a former four-star prospect, was a top-5 rated defensive tackle in his recruiting class. The six-foot-two, 299 pounder out of American Heritage was injured before the 2019 season began and it really slowed down his season. Silvera managed to still play in nine games and come away with 19 tackles and a sack.
Even more so than defensive end, defensive tackle desperately needs a strong rotation. The killer for Miami in the 1995 Orange Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers was the lack of rotation at tackle. Late in the game the Huskers were able to trap Warren Sapp and rumble into the end zone with two late touchdowns and a national championship win.
Jordan Miller, Jason Blissett Jr and Jalar Holley are the top rotation players for the ‘Canes. Miller is a monster of a man at six-foot-four, 329 pounds. The Jacksonville native played in all 13 games in 2019, making 12 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss. Blissett Jr was a four-star prospect out of Poly Prep. The six-foot-four, 257 pound Queens, NY native only played in one game in 2019.
Holley was better known for his dancing at inopportune times than his football. The former three-star, also from Queens, NY, only played in two games in 2019. The six-foot-two, 285 pound tackle is a former three-star didn’t log a stat during the season.
Championships are won and lost on the offensive and defensive line. The 1991 Miami Hurricanes had an offensive line anchored by Leon Searcy and a defensive line anchored by Rusty Medearis. When Searcy left for the NFL Draft and Medearis was injured in 1992, the ‘Canes lost to the Crimson Tide in the ‘93 Sugar Bowl. The ‘94 offensive line was swiss cheese and you’ve heard my explanation of what the lack of depth can do to a defensive line, even with four future NFL players and a future WWF/WWE Champion on the roster.
The 2020 Hurricanes are going to go only as far as their trenches will allow them. The defensive line will have to provide enough pressure on their own to allow Baker to cut down on his blitzing. Giving the defensive backs help in the back end with athletic linebackers like Zach McCloud will benefit much more than blitzing and leaving holes. If any duo can bring constant pressure it should be Rousseau and Roche.
I want to hear the phrases “consistency” and “reliability” this spring regarding the defensive line. Rousseau lacked consistency in 2019, Roche is new to the ACC, and Silvera was big hype turned disappearing act after his injury. The defensive line needs to come hungry and their intensity and focus will only improve the offensive line which will be drastically behind the defense as they learn a new scheme from another new position coach. The dancing needs to stop, the production needs to be consistent and reliable throughout the spring and into the 2020 season.