Behind the eight wall

There is a running joke among University of Miami defensive linemen and Vince Wilfork doesn't think it's too funny. "Who says I don't smile," asks Wilfork. "I smile when I look into a quarterback's eyes and see that look of doubt. That really makes me smile." Wilfork might be a picture of happiness all season long.

Wilfork, a 6-2, 350-pound sophomore, is one of eight Hurricanes defensive linemen that is being heralded as the best unit in the country and perhaps the grandest of all to step on the Coral Gables campus. Yes right up there with the likes of Warren Sapp, Russell Maryland, Jerome Brown and Cortez Kennedy.

Only better.

Even with a raw and inexperienced secondary that has cast some doubt over the Hurricanes defense heading into the 2002 season, there is little doubt about how the eight players that make up the defensive line will perform. And it's because of Wilfork, Andrew Williams, William Joseph, Jamaal Green, Jerome McDougle, Matt Walters, Cornelius Green and Santonio Thomas- all potentially NFL players.

Names like Antrel Rolle and Kelly Jennings might not scare opponents at least for now, but the same can't be said about the group up front that goes over a combined weight of 2,100 pounds. There are 12 quarterbacks that will have to deal with the Hurricanes defensive line. And that's probably 12 more that will have a little trouble sleeping the night before facing Miami.

Each starter and reserve from last year's national championship defensive line is back as the Hurricanes are being lauded as having the top unit in the nation. And Wilfork intends to live up to the billing.

"I can't wait to step on the field and just validate all of it," says Wilfork, who had 41 tackles (24 unassisted) and a sack as a freshman last season. "With all the guys in the secondary last year them boys up front weren't noticed all that much. That will change this year, but we just have to go out there and do our jobs. It's great that people are talking about us."

With several days before the start of the season, the projected starting line-up was left end McDougle, a 6-4, 270-pounder, Joseph, a 6-5, 297-pounder at left tackle, senior right tackle Walters, a 6-5, 270-pounder and Jamaal Green at right end. Cornelius Green will back-up McDougle, while Thomas will spell Joseph. Wilfork is Walter's back-up and Thomas will spot Jamaal Green.

With the season-opener against Florida A&M nearing (Aug. 31 in the Orange Bowl), the Hurricanes were still trying to get McDougle and Williams up to speed in order to have play against the Rattlers. McDougle, who returned to practice earlier this week, missed several weeks of practice with a strained pectoral muscle, while Williams is still recovering from off-season knee surgery.

But defensive line coach Greg Mark, who was a member of the 1987 and 1989 UM national championship teams, isn't too concerned with the availability of both Willliams and McDougle. Rather, than dwell on the absence of arguably his two best players, Mark outs a positive spin on the situation.

"We don't want to rush anybody out here for the sake of having them play," said Mark. "Look at it this way, a lot of our younger players are getting the chance to get reps and play that they won't have gotten if Andrew and Jerome were healthy. Yeah, you want Jerome and Andrew in there. But we have a lot of guys that can pick up the slack."

Joseph, a senior, is already on numerous list as a potential first-rounder in next year's NFL draft. A candidate for the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy, Joseph is already feared as one of the best in the country at his position. Joseph's 10 sacks last year ranked 10th on the UM single-season list and. He also had 61 tackles to finish fourth on the team.

But all that talk about the next level should be put on hold, says Joseph.

"I'm not to concerned with that. I want another national championship and the school sack record for the defensive line," says Joseph, who enters the season with 15 career sacks.

McDougle, also a senior, is another player that professional scouts are keeping a close eye on. McDougle, the younger brother of Detroit Lions offensive lineman Stocker McDougle, has NFL teams salivating over his quickness off the corner and ability to get to the quarterback. Last season, McDougle had seven sacks to go with 48 QB hurries.

Jamaal Green and Williams will also have plenty to say before the season is over. Jamaal Green, a senior, took over the starting job for Williams and was a major factor in the latter part of the season. He finished the season with 47 tackles and six sacks. Green was also credit with 22 quarterback hurries.

Williams, a senior from Tampa, saw action in eight games and started in five last season before being slowed by the knee injury. Williams had 30 tackles. Four sacks and four tackles for losses totaling 29 yards.

"These kids can really play," said Mark. "I wouldn't want to be the quarterback facing them."

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