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Next Men Up at Defensive End

Next Men Up at Defensive End

by David Villavicencio

How do you replace a guy like Greg Rousseau?

Considered one of the most dominant athletes in the country at defensive end, the reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year opted out of the 2020 football season due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic just before Miami opened fall camp on August 7.

Rousseau’s absence on Miami’s defensive line could be a cause for concern for Canes fans.

While the gregarious and supremely gifted pass rusher will be missed, the concerns are not overwhelming on the Greentree Practice Fields, as Miami’s defensive ends are up to the challenge of following in Rousseau’s footsteps.

“Our guys, they’ll be ‘next man up’ and our guys will be excited to play,” head coach Manny Diaz said. “Those guys were already highly motivated for the season but now they know that their role really steps up. I think all those guys, I mean, I think our entire defensive line room is energized and very excited about the new state of affairs.”

The Hurricanes have earned a reputation for developing defensive linemen under Diaz, who produced standouts like Gerald Willis, Chad Thomas and Trent Harris in his three seasons as Miami’s defensive coordinator before taking over as head coach in 2019. That reputation of success has helped the Canes create impressive depth on the defensive line and that depth will prove handy in 2020.

“The beauty of this defense and what we’ve been able to do here at Miami is we’ve been able to recruit depth,” defensive line coach Todd Stroud said. “I think that with our style of defensive play, we don’t really talk about four but we talk about eight. We try to be two deep on our front and that end depth that we talked about, we have three guys going into camp and I think will be very dominating players in our conference, Jaelen Phillips, Quincy Roche and Jahfari Harvey.”

Roche, Phillips and Harvey each took unique paths to The U. A graduate transfer after a stellar career at Temple. Roche racked up 137 total tackles, 39.5 tackles for loss and 26 sacks in his career, and ranked fifth in sacks (13.0) and No. 11 in TFLs (19.0) a year ago. He was selected as American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in his final season with the Owls, and he brings his experience and leadership to Coral Gables.

“It’s no different than what I did at Temple, being the guy in the room that has to take control of the room,” Roche said. “There’s a lot of talent around and a lot of talent in the room. We’re so deep at defensive end. Obviously we’re going to take a hit with Greg, but it’s next man up. JP, Jahfari, Quentin [Williams], Cam [Williams], we’ve got a lot of guys in that room that can play football. I’m still excited about this D-line and I still think we can do some big things in this conference.”

Stroud raves about what the 6-foot-3 veteran newcomer brings to the defensive line on the field and in the meeting rooms and sees a highly motivated player ready to prove himself on the big stage.

“Quincy Roche has been solid as rock with us,” Stroud said. “As far as his return to play, he has never wavered. He knows that he came here for a reason, he came here to improve his draft status. He had a great career at Temple and he came here to improve his draft status, so it would be silly to rest on his laurels and not relish the opportunity to play with the Miami Hurricanes on this defense and see what he can do in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He’s been great. He’s been a tremendous leader for us and I can’t say enough positive things about Quincy as far as what he’s done for us.”

Phillips, who was a former five-star recruit coming out of high school, transferred to Miami after spending time at UCLA. The former top-ranked recruit in the country according to 247 composite, Phillips dealt with injury and frustration while with the Bruins, but has rekindled his love for the game since he arrived at Miami a year ago.

“Back when I was at UCLA, it got to a point where after all the injuries and coaching change and everything, like I kind of got to the point where I was like last guy in, first guy out and wasn’t really invested in football and kind of was focusing on things outside of football and trying to figure out my passions outside of football,” Phillips said. “I just wouldn’t think about football outside of football, but I was telling coach Stroud that I find myself daydreaming literally every single day when I’m taking showers or I’m lying in bed. Like I daydream of making plays, football is just in my head 24/7. I’m watching film like a fanatic. It’s been a blessing, and it’s hard to even fathom just because two years ago I never thought that I would have been in this position again. And so I think that has given me a fresh perspective, and definitely kind of rekindle my passion and my hunger also.”

His renewed passion for football is one of the many things that have impressed Miami’s coaches. Defensive coordinator Blake Baker, who says Phillips’ athleticism for his size is “like creating a player” on the old NCAA football video game, believes the 6-foot-5 rusher’s “best football is ahead of him.”

“I feel really good about him. I think he’s 265 pounds and did a standing backflip the other day from a standstill position, so those kind of guys don’t really exist very often,” Baker said. “Obviously, athletically, brings a lot to the table; very, very smart young man. We only got to see four days of him in the spring, as well, so we’re excited to see him put it all together. He was knocking some of the rust off early and having some of this time to really study the film and get to know our defense. I’m excited to see what he brings to the table this year.”

Harvey is the youngest of Miami’s top three defensive ends, but he also might be the fastest. He got a taste of college football as a true freshman a year ago, appearing in four games, but spent the entire season learning from veterans like Rousseau and Trevon Hill. Now Harvey is ready to perform in a bigger role as a member of Miami’s two-deep.

“I took that year really to learn, learn the playbook, learn how to move better,” Harvey said. “But my mindset has not changed from last year to this year. I always do everything at 100 percent. It’s always like ‘go,’ so it hasn’t really been a big change.

“I learned many things from all the D-ends last year,” Harvey continued. “Everybody really taught me different things and different people have different moves, but I picked up on or their way of doing things. There’s a lot of knowledge around the D-ends.”

A former consensus four-star prospect, Harvey has impressed Roche and believes the 6-foot-4, 245 lb. defensive end’s athleticism is what makes him an elite pass rusher.

“For Jahfari, it’s his athleticism. He’s real fast,” Roche said. “We do the runs, he’s in the front every time. On the bag drills, he’s competing with skill guys and combo guys, so he’s really athletic.”

The trio of Roche, Phillips and Harvey give Miami three outstanding talents leading the way at defensive end, but every team needs more than three ends to succeed and that is where the Canes’ depth comes into play.

“The challenge for me now is sorting things over the next couple weeks as we get into our first scrimmage and get in full pads and we fly around, is to try to decipher where we are with the fourth and fifth end position,” Stroud said. “And we’ve got some very capable guys out there that have showed really well here the first couple days of practice. We’ve got Cam Williams, who is a veteran coming back after an academic redshirt year, who really shows promise. We got a young pass rusher in last year’s class from Oakleaf named Chantz Williams, who during the pandemic he went from 238 to 261 and he’s kind of settled back at about 255 now and still runs very well, and really rushes the passer and started off very strong and looked very good [Tuesday night]. And then we got a couple true freshmen in here in Elijah Roberts and Quentin Williams that haven’t shied away and jumped right in. So we got a good problem right now. I’ve got five other guys I’ve got to evaluate and we’ll make some decisions over the next few weeks, but we have three right now that I feel are as talented as anyone that we’ve had here in a long time at the University, which is s a beautiful thing.”