The loss of standout defensive tackle Gerald Willis left the biggest hole on the Miami football team in 2019. Willis was named the Hurricanes Most Valuable Player in 2019 and a second-team All-American.
Rising Senior Pat Bethel who was the other starting defensive tackle for the Miami football team in 2018 returns to anchor the interior of the Hurricanes defensive line. Miami’s has one of the deepest depth charts at defensive end but is inexperienced at defensive tackle entering 2019.
Bethel has been described as workmanlike. The son of former Miami tight end Randy Bethel finished 2018 with 22 tackles, five tackles for loss and two sacks. In three seasons Bethel has 46 tackles, six tackles for loss and three sacks. He will be the leader of the Miami defensive tackles this season.
Rising junior Jon Ford and graduate transfer Chigozie Nnoruka from UCLA are expected to challenge to be the other starter at defensive tackle next to Bethel. The Hurricanes have been high on Ford since he entered the program in 2018. Nnoruka has more experience.
Ford entered the Miami football program as a three-star prospect and 27th ranked defensive tackle in the Class of 2017. The Hurricanes need him to produce or at least be productive in 2019.
In two seasons Ford has nine tackles, two TFLs and has yet to record a sack or force a turnover. All but one assisted tackle in 2017 came last season. New Miami co-defensive coordinator Blake Baker told the Sun Sentinel’s Christy Chirinos he has been impressed by Ford’s play this Spring.
DC Blake Baker names the biggest surprise through five spring practices pic.twitter.com/wCawx9LNA9
— Christopher Stock (@InsideTheU) March 28, 2019
“Probably the biggest pleasant surprise early on has been Jon Ford…He hasn’t played a ton of football around here, didn’t know much about him. But if he puts it together and is consistent every day, he can be as good as he wants to be.
He’s a load inside. He’s powerful. He’s got length. But, from what I’ve seen last year to this year, he’s been a really pleasant surprise.”
Nnourka will give Miami stability and experience on the defensive line. He fell out of favor when Chip Kelly took over in Westwood last season. Nnourka had 46 tackles, eight tackles for loss and two sacks as a starter for the Bruins in 2017.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Miller and rising Sophomore Nesta Jade Silvera will fight for playing time behind Bethel, Nnoruka and Ford. Silvera had 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss as a freshman in 2018. He was much higher regarded coming out of high school than Miller.
Miller had a chance to sit and develop last season as a redshirt. He has passed Silvera and been playing with the second team this spring. Baker praised Silvera’s play this spring.
“His want-to is there. He’s a load inside, he’s got great ball get-off, great explosiveness. Natural talent, low center of gravity. He’s everything you want in a defensive tackle.
We have to work on some hand-placement things, but he’s doing some really good things and I think he’s trying to do exactly what we’re asking him to do. I’m happy where he’s at.”
Miami has five quality defensive tackles in the potential rotation. The key is getting Ford, Miller and Silvera ready to play this fall. None of them have extensive playing experience at the collegiate level. Miami is not going to get the production at defensive tackle from any one player that they had from Willis last season.
The Miami football defense needs to improve against the run. After the abysmal performance against Wisconsin in the Pinstripe Bowl Miami finished 42nd nationally against the run. Miami allowed over 200 yards rushing four times in 2018.
The Hurricanes need to stuff the run in 2019 and force opponents to throw the football. If Miami can do that it will allow their talented edge rushers to pin their ears back and get after opposing quarterbacks this fall.