Well Worth The Wait

UM fans have waited seven long years for the return of a dominant defensive line; 2002 will be remembered as the year it arrived. Long gone seemed the days when a dominant UM defensive line (led by Kevin Patrick and Darren Krein) chased former Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward out of the Orange Bowl in '92.

Since the departure of defensive tackles Warran Sapp and Patrick Riley following the 1994 season, UM's defensive line transformed from terrors into a group that perennially underachieved. The 1994 unit, which consisted of Sapp, Riley, Kennard Lang and Kenny Holmes anchored a Hurricane defense that ranked first in the nation in points allowed and second in rushing yards gained. More importantly, the performance of the 1994 unit illustrated the fact that a dominant defensive line can carry a weak offense. This point is lost on many fans who fail to realize that the outcome of a football game is won or lost by the performance of the offensive and defensive lines not the play of the skill position players (WR, DB, RB and QB) who garner all the headlines and highlight reels.

University of Miami football has long been synonymous with producing top-flight quarterbacks and elite defensive lineman. A long list of former Hurricane defensive tackles, have emerged as Pro-Bowl recipients in the N.F.L. This list includes such greats as the late Jerome Brown, Cortez Kennedy, Russel Maryland and Warren Sapp. UM has also sent a plethora of defensive ends to the professional ranks including Kennard Lang and Kenny Holmes, both of whom were first round picks in the 1997 draft. However, from 1995 through the 1999 Miami fans witnessed a talent drought along the defensive line that resulted in less than stellar play by the defense as an overall unit. Opposing offensive lines, were no longer intimidated by the group of four they squared off against at the line of scrimmage. In fact, the unthinkable began to occur and in the unlikeliest of all places. Hurricane defensive units, which customarily held opposing rushing attacks under 2.5 yards per attempt and 70 yards per game, began to routinely allow 100 yard performances by opposing backs. In a 1998 contest against Arizona State, the Hurricanes sank to a new low as two ASU backs ran for over 100 yards on the hallowed grounds of the Orange Bowl. Hurricane fans were besides themselves in explaining how their defense had fallen off the map so quickly.

The explanation was simple. The overall deficiency in talent along the defensive line as well as the team as a whole could best be attributed to the loss of thirty-two scholarships the team suffered as a consequence stemming from several NCAA infractions in the early ‘90's. When Butch Davis took over as head Coach in 1995 the scholarship penalty had just been levied against UM. Davis, who will be remembered by Hurricane fans as an astute recruiter and talent evaluator never seemed to be able to put the pieces together along the defensive line. While he recruited every other single position extraordinarily well, Davis tenure as head Coach at UM will also be remembered by many loyal fans by the fact that (as a former Cowboys Defensive coordinator) his defensive lines terribly underachieved, were often limited in athletic ability and simply never controlled the line of scrimmage. The fault cannot lie with Davis as he should not be blamed for taking many risks in recruiting during his initial three years, as the Hurricanes were strapped in the recruiting process by a lack of scholarships they could offer. Furthermore, one cannot fault Davis for the mere fact that many of his heralded recruiting coups never quite panned out (ie; Quincy Hipps, Cameron Binion and Adrian Wilson). Alas, one must also remember that the cupboard was quite bare when Davis took over the head coaching job, as former Coach Dennis Erickson inexplicably neglected to recruit the defensive line very hard over his final two seasons. Hurricane fans should keep in mind the simple fact that Davis is at least partially responsible (along with Greg Schiano and current d-line Coach Greg Mark).

When former Hurricane Defensive Coordinator, Greg Schiano, came on board in 1999 things began to change. Schiano began to blitz more regularly and it seemed that the defensive line began to control the line of scrimmage in a more consistent manner. Hurricane fans finally witnessed the fruits of Davis' labor as the defensive line began to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks for the first time in years. In 1999 former prep All-American Damione Lewis finally emerged as a legitimate force and in 2000 became a wealthy man as a first round pick in the N.F.L. draft.

Last season marked the resurgence of Miami's defensive line. Butch Davis' recruiting finally paid off along the defensive front. For the first time in seven years the Hurricane defensive line surpassed all expectations and was legitimately dominant in most games. UM's defensive unit ranked first in the country in points allowed and ranked among the top twenty defenses in the nation in net rushing yards allowed. Head Coach Larry Coker and new Defensive Coordinator (a lifelong Hurricane) Randy Shannon were blessed with a stockpile of talent that would make many N.F.L. teams jealous. If you felt that last year's defensive line unit was impressive than this year's squad should be downright scary as all four starters as well as several key reserves return from a unit that barely scratched at the surface of what they may achieve this year.

This year's unit, will be anchored by pre-season Playboy All-America William Joseph. Joseph, (6-5 297) a senior, was selected as a third team All-American last season by the Associated Press. 2001 marked William Joseph's coming out party as he registered 10 sacks, 14 tackles-for-a-loss, 4 forced fumbles and led all lineman with 61 total tackles. Joseph emerged as UM's next great defensive tackle and has earned comparisons to former greats such as Cortez Kennedy and the late Jerome Brown. What makes Joseph so lethal is his initial explosion off the line. His first step is extraordinarily quick for a tackle and he has an impressive size/speed ratio for a man his size. While Joseph came into his own last season, he may yet develop into the top lineman in the country this year. Originally he was known as a run stuffer, yet gained notoriety last year for his ability to collapse the pocket, making him a complete lineman. Few, if any realize that Joseph is still mastering the nuances of his position after being moved inside from defensive end prior to the second game of his sophomore year. Over the final three games of 2001 (Syracuse, Washington and Virginia Tech) Joseph compiled five sacks and six tackles-for-a-loss. Lining up next to Joseph will be a combination of Matt Walters and Vince Wilfork. Walters, (6-5 280) a fifth-year senior, is known among his coaches as the glue that keeps this unit together. He has been an active playmaker along the defensive front since being inserted into the two-deep depth chart in 2000. Walters, initially was considered undersized for his position as his playing weight hovered around 265 in 2000, and the mid 270's last year. Reports from spring practice indicate that Walters has added almost seven pounds to his frame since January and we can expect his playing weight to be in the mid 280's for his final season as a Hurricane. A larger Walters bodes well for the fate of UM's ability to play the run. Walters has been instrumental to the Hurricanes defensive success over the past two years for his ability to collapse the pocket with his quickness. However, Walters has also been considered by many as a liability due to his size or lack thereof, and perceived inability to play the run. Last year he really stepped up and improved throughout the course of the season, finishing with eight tackles-for-a-loss. Walters' increased size may translate to him holding his position better, thus enabling him to occupy an opposing guard which will allow linebackers such as Jonathan Vilma increased opportunities to freelance and increase their productivity.

Vince Wilfork, (6-2 340) will compete with Walters for reps at Left Tackle. As a true freshman in 2001, (after sitting out the 2000 season due to ineligibility) Wilfork, made his presence felt garnering 41 tackles for the season (9 more than Walters) while playing in a reserve role. He also compiled 11 tackles-for-a-loss and 15 hurries. Wilfork is a two-gap as opposed to a one-gap tackle, meaning that he is more inclined to stuffing the run and occupying an opposing lineman than he is to collapse the pocket. The Hurricane coaching staff is hoping that Wilfork can shed ten pounds prior to August, which would help improve his flexibility, agility and endurance. As it stands now, Wilfork will likely split reps with Walters and will provide an excellent change of pace as the two compliment one another quite nicely. Wilfork will likely take his game to another level with a year of experience under his belt and similar to Joseph can be downright dominant when healthy.

Backing up William Joseph at Right Tackle will be Santonio Thomas a third-year junior who saw extensive time last year spelling William Joseph. Thomas (6-4 302), is a two-gap run stuffer who also has the ability to collapse the pocket. With additional experience and improved technique Thomas could become an outstanding backup this coming year and will be primed for a breakout senior year in 2003, as he may take over the Right Tackle position after Joseph graduates. Also vying for time at Right Tackle will be heralded red shirt freshman Orien Harris. Harris (6-4 294), was considered the second best prep lineman in the country behind Oklahoma University's Tommie Harris who shined as a true freshman last year. Orien Harris impressed the coaching staff with his outstanding play for the scout team last year, and impressed all in attendance during the spring game in which he compiled three sacks and four tackles-for-a-loss. Although Harris put up such gaudy stats by primarily squaring off against second and third team lineman during the game, he is considered a player of the future for the ‘Canes and will earn reps at Right Tackle based on his continued improvement. UM is so deep at both tackle positions that Wilfork, Thomas and Harris would almost certainly start and likely star for any other team in the nation. The Hurricanes second unit at defensive tackle (Thomas and Wilfork) would be among the ten best starting tackle units in the country if they were to start.

Although the Hurricanes are deep at tackle, the depth of quality talent at defensive end is equally impressive. Starting at Left Defensive End will be senior Jerome McDougle. McDougle (6-4 271), a junior college transfer was named third team All-America by the Associated Press following a standout junior season in which he amassed 15 tackles-for-a-loss, 7 sacks, and an absurd 48 hurries. Only luck prevented McDougle from gaining an additional 5 sacks last season. McDougle finished second among all linemen with 59 tackles. His lone drawback was that he sometimes struggled against the run, yet improved his consistency through the second half of the season. McDougle has added an additional five pounds in the off-season and should be even stronger against the run this year. It is important to remember that last year was McDougle's first season (red shirted in 2000) playing at the Division I-A level and he improved throughout the season as he gained more experience. Facing off against Joaquin Gonzalez every practice certainly enabled McDougle to further his progress.

Andrew Williams (6-4 262), a fellow junior college transfer will likely start at Right End. Williams, was off to an impressive start last season prior to injuring his left knee against West Virginia. Williams has superb athletic ability and decent size. His lone drawback is his lack of overall experience. Unlike McDougle Williams never took a red shirt year, and enrolled at UM in the spring of 2000 after completing his eligibility at Hinds Junior College (Mississippi). It will be interesting to see what Williams can do if he stays healthy for a complete year. Playing to the right of Joseph, will allow Williams to feed off of the double coverage his teammate will face, and his numbers should improve drastically.

Competing for time at Right Tackle with Andrew Williams will be fifth-year senior Jamaal Green. Green (6-3 261), became a starter in 2000 and the lost his job to Williams prior to the start of the 2001 season. Green has always been a playmaker (has the most career sacks among active UM players) and filled in quite nicely for Andrew Williams, from the West Virginia game until the end of the season. Green never relinquished his grasp on the starting role during the second half of the season and is coming off an outstanding performance in the Rose Bowl. His performance throughout the spring while Williams sat out with an injury, only served to solidify his argument that he should start at Right End this fall. Competition will be fierce between the two this August, and both should see considerable time this fall. Green and Williams are legitimate pro prospects and will be playing their heats out in their final year of eligibility.

Red shirt freshman Thomas Carroll will spell McDougle at Left End. Carroll (6-5 230), has outstanding athletic ability but must add at least 15 pounds of muscle to stand up against the run. Carroll still has another year before he will be vying for a starting role and the coaching staff is high on his potential. Another intriguing prospect is third year sophomore John Square. Square (6-5 230) also must add more weight to his frame if he is ever to legitimately compete for a starting role at UM. Defensive Coordinator Randy Shannon will continue to use Square where he excels; as a rush end in passing situations. Square finished fourth in sacks on last year's squad with 6 sacks in limited playing time.

Other reserves who may see limited playing time include red shirt freshman end Miguel Robede and fourth year junior tackle Larry Anderson. With outstanding talent and equally impressive depth, the Hurricanes should feature the nations' premier defensive line. In fact UM's second-team unit (Jamaal Green, Vince Wilfork, Santonio Thomas and Thomas Carrol) could be among the nation's top ten defensive line units. It has been a long wait, but the wait for a dominant defensive line is over at UM. UM fans must be licking their chops waiting for this year's line to tee off against the likes of Florida's Rex Grossman, Tennessee's Case Clausen, and Florida Sate University's Chris Rix. With the abundance of young talent, the Hurricanes could have a dominant front-four for years to come.

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