Just five months ago I was writing a defensive tackle preview about a Miami Hurricanes Tackle room that was reeling from sudden losses and injuries heading into the spring. Though the headliner of that article, Nesta Silvera spent much of the spring recovering from a shoulder injury. The fourth-year tackle’s presence is one hard to replace, though provided time for depth to see more time on the practice field. The Hurricanes respected the medical retirement of Jason Blissett, an explosive interior lineman who, prior to this last spring was a swingman on the line. The New York native was expected to deliver a jolt to the interior with his basketball athleticism, similar to his good friend Jared Harrison-Hunte. That left the rotation with limited man power, but plenty of time for others to grow.
Fast forward to the fall, and the Hurricanes are back to full strength, and quite frankly stronger than ever.
While we will address Nesta Silvera’s health deeper in the article, the reinforcements from the recruiting trail are what brings the defensive interior to a strength level it hasn’t seen since Kendrick Norton was playing guitar with FSU legs. While that doesn’t seem so long ago, the transition time has seen the defensive numbers suffer for it.
Enter Leonard Taylor.
Leonard Taylor is the highest ranked interior defensive linemen since Marcus Forston came down to the Gables from Miami Northwestern in 2008. The reviews back from Taylor from his first step on campus to now during camp have been the best for just about anyone on defense. The top recruit from the Hurricanes 2021 class is as advertised. From his ridiculous first step that can beat just about any interior offensive lineman you put in front of him to his strength already translating to the college game, Taylor is quickly making a play to be in the defensive tackle rotation early and often. Reports coming back have Taylor beating just about every 2nd and 3rd team lineman in one-on-one drills. When you imagine that this is just the first week of practice for Taylor in a Canes uniform, you truly see that the sky is the limit for the young man.
Keys to Success: Learn the playbook, Play (even) Faster, Be Leonard Taylor
From the most highly rated tackle of the 2021 class to the the most underrated, Allen Haye will be a name to keep near the top of the pile. When you watch his film, you don’t see a mid-ranked 3-star talent, but a player who’s first step jumps of the screen. Haye plays with pop and purpose, and is a player that knows the game of football, sporting a generous a football IQ. Take a listen to this clip from his Footballville Interview, and you’ll immediately hear this young man’s strong understanding of the game. While Haye won’t draw the same headlines or depth chart love in year one, he can quickly make a name for himself similar to a Kendrick Norton or a Jordan Miller. Take care of your body, keep grinding, and year 2 we should start hearing more about the young man Allan Haye.
Keys to Success: Learn the Playbook, Adjust to the College Speed, Excel in Special Teams and Chance Opportunities
Team Run It Back
The Three Elder Statesmen of the defensive Tackle room are three that will loom large going into the 2021 season. Nesta Silvera, Jon Ford, and Jordan Miller, nearly 1,000 pounds of tackle, will all play varying and important roles for the defense.
The most glaring need of the three is for Nesta Silvera to complete his transformation into an All-ACC defensive tackle. The 6’2 305-pound tackle was able to put together his healthiest and most complete campaign last year playing in all 11 games, posting 35 tackles, 8 tackles for loss and one sack. Most importantly, the pressure that Silver is able to apply to a backfield was a big reason defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche were able to get home in the backfield as much as they did. Taking his game to the next level would be exactly what Miami needs to get back to the levels reached in Diaz’ first 3 seasons.
Keys to Success: Relentless Motor, Improve Technique, Play Run At A Higher Level
The biggest man on the defense, Jon Ford has stood out physically since he first stepped on campus five years ago. While Ford is more of a traditional nose tackle, absorbing multiple blockers in the pass game to allow the rushers less impediments, Ford’s biggest contributions for Miami have come in the running game. Ford shows a good ability to shed blockers at the line of scrimmage, allowing him to fill gaps and make tackles on the interior. While unsexy, anyone who watched last year will appreciate the value that Ford provides Miami here. Seeing Ford maintain his presence in the middle is mandatory. Yet the growth as a leader for players like the aforementioned Leonard Taylor, Allan Haye and others will bear the most fruit, leading by example and assisting the pups in transitioning to the college game.
Keys to Success: Lower Pads, Consistency, Leadership
The big man that snuck into the 2018 recruiting class has made quite the noise this offseason. The tackle has completely change over his body, shedding his baby fat and gaining what looks to be a substantial amount of muscle. As a rotational player on a team that will look to rotate often, Miller will be depended upon to maintain varying levels of success when called upon. The redshirt junior can be a player at both nose tackle and rushing the passer. One has to think that the body changeover will allow Miller to utilize his quick first step and improve strength to attack guards and centers enough to make more noise in the backfield, whether chasing down the QB or blowing up the running game.
Keys to Success: Improve Pass Rush Moves, Violent Hands, Stamina
The X Factors
The most gifted defensive tackle on the roster not named Leonard Taylor, Harrison Hunte is looking to build on a very promising 2020 campaign that saw the New York native pile up pressures and tackles for loss in a limited snap count due to a positive covid test that took 3 games from the young tackle. The sky is the limited for Harrison-Hunte. Both coach Todd Stroud and Jess Simpson rave about his athleticism, and now with Simpson back coaching the defensive line, is beginning to add more technique and football IQ to his repertoire. If the 6’4 tackle can continue growing his game and take the anticipated next step as a pass rusher, the Hurricanes defense will be one that provides little to no breaks for opposing offenses.
Keys to Success: Improving Technique, Controlling the Point of Attack
Roberts is yet another excellent athlete on the defensive line that is coming into a return season. This time around will be year 2 for the Columbus grad, and this should be a very interesting season for the swing linemen. Roberts is a unique player for the defensive line as he can play both at the tackle spot as well as on the edge, creating a dynamic that was missing from the defensive line in 2020. Roberts showed his explosiveness in limited time last year but should see a strong increase in time this season. Those that know Roberts journey, understand that the lineman shares a bond with Coach Jess Simpson, as he was Roberts primary recruiter and possibly his biggest fan during the 2020 cycle. Roberts exhibits everything Simpson looks for in a lineman prospect, long, tall, athletic and technically sound. If there was one player on the line that could surprise in a big way, its Roberts.
Keys to Success: Display Improved Strength, Proficiency at Both End and Tackle
The rich get richer, as Quentin Williams brings his unique blend of power, strength and speed to the defensive tackle room. While adding 20 pounds in the offseason, Williams has maintained his explosiveness that made him a top Nike Opening participant and ultimately guaranteed his spot alongside Roberts in the 2020 class. The exciting tidbit about Williams is that he has truly become comfortable in his own skin on campus, and begun to make noise in the weight room and the practice field. While this season may not be the payoff, Williams provides a strong depth and surprising talent that could make plenty more noise if given the right opportunity.
Keys to Success: Consistency, Doing the Little Things, High Motor At All Times
This is the section of the defense that will be the core to the body of the defense. Each arm of the defense is dependent on what happens in the middle of the defensive line, especially in a Manny Diaz 4-3. The defensive ends will need this group to dominate the middle of the offensive line in order to attract more one on ones on the edge and allow the talents like Jahfari Harvey and DeAndre Jordan to shine. The linebackers need the tackles to hold the point of attack and do their job to best navigate their gaps and use the speed at linebacker to its best advantage. Even the secondary will derive its success from the play of Nesta Silvera, Harrison-Hunte and Leonard Taylor. More activity and finishing plays in the middle means more turnover opportunities and less loose running backs consistently challenging that last line of defense.
Ultimately, whether Miami’s defense can return to the top 25 will rely on the play of its biggest members. Big plays equal big opportunity. Miami is in a excellent position to capitalize on its largest group.