Defensive Line Impressive in Camp
By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The University of Miami’s defensive line exploded on the college football world in 2016, wreaking havoc in opponents’ backfields for 13 weeks.
The Hurricanes had 108 tackles for loss as a team a year ago, their most since recording 115 in 2010, and Miami’s defensive line had a lot to do with that success. The Hurricanes ranked fifth in the NCAA in 2016 in tackles for loss and finished 22nd in the country in sacks. Miami’s assistant head coach / defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski is excited to see what his group can do for an encore performance.
“I like them. I like them a lot,” Kuligowski said. “I think they can be really good. I don’t think there will be too many people in the country who can line up and say they have better people than ours. Hopefully I can get them trained to do the right things.”
The defensive line brings back a group that accounted for 58.5 tackles for loss and 23 sacks a year ago. Senior Chad Thomas, who finished with 4.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss, is considered one of the leaders on the defensive line. Kuligowski is looking for him to emerge as an elite player in his final season playing for Miami.
“To be an all-conference player. To be an All-American-type of player,” Kuligowski said. “He’s got the talent. He’s got the ability. He needs to be a leader. He’s shown great leadership quality all throughout the summer. For a guy that was probably a little bit more a shy mouse that was in the back of the line when he got here, now he’s leading out front. He’s giving great effort and being a dominant player. We are really looking for him to be an all-conference player and hopefully maybe at the end he gets mentioned for All-America teams as well.”
Sophomore Joe Jackson is likely to line up on the opposite defensive end spot from Thomas when the first snap is fired on Sept. 2 against Bethune Cookman. A Freshman All-American a year ago, Jackson led the Canes with 8.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss, but Kuligowski sees a fire in the young end that is pushing him to be even better in 2017.
“Joe Jackson is a much better player at this time than he was last year at the end of the season,” Kuligowski said. “We talk about getting better every day and that kid has focused on his weaknesses and gotten better at them. He wants to be the best player on our team, wants to be the best player in the country and he’s working his way towards that.”
The defensive tackle tandem on juniors Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh is often forgotten, but the duo produces results. A year ago, Norton has 10 tackles for loss and two sacks, while McIntosh added 9.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. The duo has been working hard in camp to prepare for another big season in the middle of the line.
“We pride ourselves on being consistent, so we have been competing every day,” Norton said. “Practice has been good. We’ve been getting great weather and haven’t gotten rain during practice for the first time, so we have been having some good days.”
Kuligowski expects sophomore Pat Bethel and senior Anthony Moten to step in behind Norton and McIntosh at defensive tackle, and he has been impressed with their work so far in camp.
“We moved Pat Bethel from end to three-technique tackle in the spring and he’s done a great job,” Kuligowski said. “He had a nice day yesterday and again today. Also we have Anthony Moten, who is a senior and has played a lot. I really feel he is behind Kendrick [Norton], but really he is a starter-level player, so he will get a lot of time and we are expecting big things from him, too.”
While Demetrius Jackson and Trent Harris provide depth and experience at defensive end, there are two highly freshmen that will push for playing time in 2017 and each has made an impression on Kuligowski.
“Jonathan Garvin has really looked more like an upperclassman than a true freshman,” Kuligowski said. “We are very happy that we had him in the spring and all summer to train. I think he will contribute some good things for us this year.”
While Garvin was a bit ahead because he enrolled in January, DJ Johnson has gotten up to speed quickly since arriving at Miami this summer.
“He’s been great,” Kuligowski said. “The big thing about the freshmen is they come out here and they have to learn how to stretch, where we eat, go to meetings. We are making them work harder than they ever have in their life and it’s a shock and awe factor that goes on. The big thing is to get better one day at a time. I think he’s really done that. I see him and he’s a guy that weighs 270 pounds and can really fly. Once he learns to do it, who knows what could happen.”
Miami opens the season at home on Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m., ET. Click here for ticket information.