When the 2007 season began the most recognizable face of the University of Miami's football team belonged to its tallest defensive player, 6-8, 280-pound defensive end Calais Campbell.
After a stellar sophomore season in which he racked up 10.5 sacks, most expected Campbell to not only lead another typically solid UM defense but to possibly become the greatest pass rusher in UM history. Campbell and the Hurricanes fell well short of the goals they set. In part to a rash of injuries that decimated UM's depth on the defensive line (and plenty of double teams) Campbell finished with only six sacks and Miami's defense endured one of its worst seasons in recent history. The Canes struggled against the run (ranking 8th in the ACC) and fell all the way to 52nd in the nation in scoring defense.
Fast forward to February and the buzz surrounding UM's defense heading into the start of the spring on Feb. 26 once again surrounds another mountain of a prospect, but not Campbell. It's about 6-4, 289-pound sophomore Allen Bailey, who has been moved from linebacker to defensive end. With three starters gone on UM's defensive line and very little experience returning from last season (aside from senior defensive end Eric Moncur), Bailey could become the player who generates the most excitement on UM's young defensive line come the fall. He's already got defensive line coach Clint Hurtt creating new words to describe him.
"He's a freakazoid," Hurtt said. "Right now Allen is sitting at 289 pounds at 7 percent body fat. You're talking about a guy with a 39½-inch, 40-inch vertical leap. It's ridiculous. If Bruce Johnson vertical leaps 39-40 -- that's outstanding. But to watch Allen Bailey do that? that's a nightmare. I think the fact he's 290 you can play him at d-tackle. But I look at him as a 290-pound defensive end that can play in space. I think he creates a lot of problems for you. He can stand up and get into coverage. He can stand up and play like a Shawn Merriman type. There are a lot of different things that we can do with him. [New defensive coordinator Bill] Young and I have not sat down yet and determined what we can do with him. But I'm pretty sure we will and once we do we'll have fun with it."
While Bailey will definitely be one of the stories to follow on UM's defensive line in the coming months, it won't be the only one. In this Spring Preview/Forecast, I'll take a look at UM's defensive line and try and provide some thoughts and insight to get you ready for what's to come.
WHO IS GONE: DE Calais Campbell (early entry to the NFL Draft who is expected to be a 1st round pick); DT Teraz McCray (started 9 games in '07); DT Chris Perry (freshman transferred to Texas Tech); DL Vegas Franklin (started 5 games in '07).
WHO IS BACK: DE Eric Moncur (6-2, 255, Sr., started seven games and tallied 5.5 sacks); DE Courtney Harris (6-3, 254, So., played in 10 games and tallied 0.5 sack); DE Adewale Ojomo (6-3, 236, R-Fr., was Scout team defensive MVP); DE Steven Wesley (6-3, 235, R-Fr., played in eight games and had 3 tackles); DT Antonio Dixon (6-3, 331, Sr., started 3 games and played in 9 despite injury, 12 tackles, 1.5 sacks); DT Luqman Abdallah (6-3, 307, R-Jr., played in six games with no starts and had a total of five tackles, one for loss); DT Dwayne Hendricks (6-4, 287, Sr., started 3 games and played in 6, 9 tackles, 1 sack); DT Josh Holmes (6-2, 270, R-So., played in only 3 games due to injury); DT Joe Joseph (6-3, 271, Jr., played in 9 games and started 5, 12 tackles, .5 sack); DT Chaz Washington (6-4, 305, R-So., Did not play).
WHO IS NEW: DT Marcus Forston (6-2, 286); DT Micanor Regis (6-3, 300); DT Jeremy Lewis (6-3, 295); DE Andrew Smith (6-3, 240); DE Allen Bailey (6-4, 289, So. moves in from linebacker). Forston, a Rivals 5-star recruit from Miami Northwestern, was considered the best DT in the country in this class and will be the only newcomer involved in the spring. Regis, a star at Pahokee High, and Lewis, a standout at Palm Beach Lakes, are not far behind in talent according to most experts. Smith wasn't highly-touted coming out of Coconut Creek Monarch High, but Hurtt considers him a diamond in the rough.
THE BIG QUESTIONS: Aside from Moncur, who is going to develop into Miami's other dependable starting end? How long will it take Bailey to adjust and how much can he be counted on? And, after all the injuries to the defensive tackles last season, do the Hurricanes feel confident any of the returnees can really do the job or will Forston and the rest of the highly-touted freshman be forced into action immediately?
HURTT SAYS: "If you just watched the New York Giants in the Super Bowl you noticed what a difference a defensive line can make. When you got some horses up there that go up and get after it, its a different deal. I think we can get back to that. We sorely missed Kareem [Brown] and Bryan Pata. It's a bit different rotation when you can start with Kareem and Pata and rotate in Dixon and Teraz. Or when a guy like Baraka [Atkins] is your fifth tackle. Or when Eric Moncur and Baraka and Calais are your defensive ends. This year, you scout the talent level. In all fairness to Joe Joseph and those guys, they're just not quite there yet. But it's a year later and they'll be a little bit better.
"It's going to hurt losing guys like Vegas and Teraz and Calais because you're losing the experience factor they brought to the table. But on the flip side, our talent level increased. Injuries took a toll on us last year -- probably worse than any year that I've been here. We were just beaten down to the ground. We increased our depth this year. By increasing our depth we increased it with it quality, which is going to improve the competition stand point. We moved Allen Bailey to defensive end. That increased the depth at that position. Adewale is still emerging as a defensive end candidate. Steven Wesley, it's the not the prom anymore, it's time for Steven to grow up. With him, Adewale, Eric Moncur, Allen Bailey, Courtney Harris (he's still coming in) and then you bring in Andrew Smith that's definitely going to help. And the same thing at defensive tackle. You got Dixon. You got Dwayne Hendricks coming back healthy. Dwayne will be able to help. Joe Joseph, he got a lot of experience this year. He had his good and his bad moments and he'll continue to improve. And obviously Josh Holmes, he's a guy that has to stay healthy. Marcus Forston being here this spring, it's going to be a huge help to him and I think a huge help to us a defense. I don't know what all the so-called experts are thinking, but he's a guy that can definitely help us out and can be an impact guy right away. And then, obviously you got the other two guys coming in the fall. And I think both of those guys have extremely bright futures there with Marcus."
MY TAKE: While Miami's defense as a whole has always been great when its had a strong pass rush, the bigger concern in my eyes for the Hurricanes is stopping the run. Injuries certainly devastated Miami's front line -- especially at tackle -- last season. Now with McCray and Franklin gone, UM is entering this season without a single proven player it can place at the center of its defense. Antonio Dixon has the most experience, but has spent most of his career out-of-shape and is still coming off an injury. Hendricks and Holmes only played in three games last season due to injury. Joseph just doesn't appear to have the talent and who knows for sure if Abdallah and Washington will ever see the field (if they aren't headed somewhere else already). That leaves Forston, a tremendous talent, but still a freshman who will have to get used to going up against monsters every week. And Regis and Lewis will not arrive until the fall. While I'm pretty confident a tandem of Moncur, Bailey, Ojomo and Harris (once he gets back in the fall) along with some cameos from freshman linebacker Marcus Robinson on third downs will give UM a solid foundation at end, I think there are definitely plenty of reasons to worry about what happens at tackle.
'09 RECRUITS: Hurtt, who also plays the role of recruiting coordinator, said Miami will be looking to sign two defensive tackles and two defensive ends in its '09 class. Lucky for the Canes, there are some pretty talented recruits again across the state to choose from including a few in South Florida. Seffner Armwood's Ryne Giddens (6-4, 240) is considered one of the best ends in the country and already visited UM with his family before his team played Booker T. Washington last year in the state playoffs.
Other talented ends include Hialeah American's Oliver Vernon (6-3, 230), who already has a UM offer, and South Dade's Ed Stinson, a 6-5, 235-pounder who is considered more of a project because he's a recently converted basketball player. At tackle, there are two locals -- Krop High's Brandon Taylor (6-2, 295), who is the son of former Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, and Columbus High's Antwan Lowery (6-3, 300). Miami is also said to be hot after Tallahassee Godby's Corey Gaines (6-1, 270).