A look at the additions to the Miami Hurricanes defensive line

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UCLA linebacker Mitchell Agude (45) celebrates the team’s victory over LSU in an NCAA college football game on Saturday September 4, 2021 in Pasadena, Calif.

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If you’re not paying attention to Miami Hurricanes football this offseason and turn on your television (ACC Network) for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. opener against Bethune Cookman, you might look at the defensive line and say, ” Who are these guys? ”

Of all the personal accomplishments of coach Mario Cristobal and that staff in his first eight months on the job, improving the defensive line ranks No. 1 on the list, along with his streak of elite of 2023 in attack and defense.

Four-star freshman defensive ends Nyjalik Kelly and Cyrus Moss were added to the Class of 2022 recruiting. Moss had two sacks in the spring game and Jason Taylor praised Kelly.

And five veteran defensive linemen have been picked from the transfer portal, all of whom are expected to play heavily in 2022:

Mitchell Agude of UCLA, Akheem Mesidor of West Virginia, Antonio Moultrie of UAB, Jacob Lichtenstein of Southern Cal and Darrell Jackson of Maryland.

Not only are they skilled players, most have positional versatility. Mesidor, Moultrie and Lichtenstein can play end or tackle.

Lichtenstein played mostly tackle in the spring and is expected to play there mostly this fall. Moultrie spent a lot of time on defense at UAB, but UM says he views him as a tackle. He missed the Spring Ball due to injury.

Mesidor played a lot of defensive end as a rookie at West Virginia, but recorded many of his snaps at defensive tackle last season for the Mountaineers. He was UM’s most impressive defensive end in August practices, according to two people who attended the practice.

Agude is a natural point player, able to play outside of linebacker or defensive end, which is where he thinks he’ll play mostly with Miami. The Bowl’s senior manager, Jim Nagy, raves about him.

Jackson, at over 300 pounds, has the size and strength UM covets on the inside defense and has been impressive this month, according to people who watched the practice.

The five players combined last season for 204 tackles, including 28.5 for loss, 12.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

The addition of this quintet leaves UM’s defensive line in a much better state than that left by the previous regime.

On the defensive side, expect the much improved Mesidor, Agude and Jahfari Harvey to play a lot, with Chantz Williams, Thomas Davis, Jabari Ismael, Elijah Roberts and Moss and Kelly improving a lot to save time.

At tackle, expect a top six – in no particular order – from Leonard Taylor, Lichtenstein, Jared Harrison-Hunte, Moultrie, Jordan Miller and Jackson.

This group is good enough to win a lot of games, given the strength of the secondary and the offensive riches of the Hurricanes. The question is whether that’s good enough to deliver a winning effort at Texas A&M and Clemson, UM’s two toughest assignments this season.

Some measurements on each of the five additions of line D:

▪ Mesidor, who is 6-foot-2 and 272 pounds, left the UM folks raving about him during fall camp.

“Explosive,” said Mario Cristobal. “I didn’t know how versatile he was – he plays inside, outside. Really good in terms of using his hands, edge grip, ability to counter. Very few guys are able to get stuck in and get away with a good counter move and have a counter after that.

Last season for West Virginia, he had 38 tackles including eight for loss, 4.5 sacks and 33 quarterback pressures, which were eighth in the nation among Power 5 defensive tackles.

He recorded 226 snaps at nose tackle and 207 at defensive tackle.

PFF ranked him 324th out of 861 qualified defensive tackles. He ranked below average against the run, but earned excellent marks as a pass thrower (91st among all FBS inside tackles in this area).

He was even more productive as a defensive pass thrower as a rookie, producing five sacks in nine games, up from 4.5 in 12 last season when his role changed.

UM will be hoping the comeback at the end – with a bit of tackle work – will maximize their strengths.

Mesidor said he left West Virginia in part because he feared for his safety.

“I decided to transfer for my general well-being and in search of a better environment for my development on and off the pitch,” Mesidor wrote on social media. “Sometimes I didn’t feel safe on campus. NOTNot so long ago, one of our teammates was stabbed, so what could really happen?

He told 247 Sports when he left last spring that Mountaineers fans “all loved me when I was in West Virginia and sacrificing my body there. Now that I want to find a place that suits me better, I’m public enemy number one. Everyone on the outside looking inside doesn’t know what I’ve done and what I’ve sacrificed for West Virginia football. I’m rarely in trouble.

“I stay off those lists. I’m always on time. I work extremely hard. Whatever is required of me, I do and do to the best of my ability. It’s just that people on the outside don’t understand that.

▪ Lichtenstein – who was excellent in the spring game – had 28 tackles (six losses) and four sacks at Southern Cal last season.

He had 13 pressures and ranked well against the run last year. Overall, PFF ranked him 363rd among 861 inside defenders. Considering Jon Ford’s departure was 509th and Jordan Miller’s return 539th, Lichtenstein should be an upgrade.

Whether he’s as effective as Nesta Silvera — who was seeded 134th and traded to Arizona State — needs to play. Silvera had some good times but never became the consistent impact player many hoped he would be.

▪ Agude had 55 tackles, including 6.5 for loss, two sacks and four forced fumbles last season for UCLA.

Pro Football Focus ranked him the fifth-best point rusher in the Pacific-12 last season and 328th among 824 FBS point guards.

He had pressure every 8.2 snaps, which is great, and PFF ranked him 175th among all edge players as a passer and 470th as a rush defender.

“He’s got a certain maturity,” UCLA coach Chip Kelly said last season. “He is very dedicated to everything he does. He takes everything very seriously – the classroom,… the weight room,… the training ground… He sets the tone for the success we have on the defensive side thanks to the strength with which he play.

Agude is one of the best in the country at forcing fumbles; he had six in two years at UCLA.

“He has a knack for the ball and a good understanding of where football is,” Kelly said. “Peanut Tillman led the NFL in forced fumbles. These guys have a unique talent for hitting the ball. And we are working on it. »

Agude’s story is quite remarkable. Fox’s Tom Rinaldi reported last year that Agude suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell off a skateboard and hit his head on a concrete ramp in a California park. Doctors expected him to suffer brain damage, but he was fine when he woke up from a coma after three days.

▪ Moultrie had 62 tackles, including eight for losses, and two sacks for UAB last season, as well as 14 rushing quarterbacks.

PFF ranked him 478th out of 821 edge defenders – below average but not in the bottom third. He could end up being UM’s fifth or sixth defensive tackle.

▪ Jackson played just 225 defensive snaps as a freshman at Maryland and finished with 22 tackles, with no sacks or tackles for loss.

But his three best PFF ratings came in the last three games of the season, against Michigan, Rutgers and Virginia Tech in the bowl game. And he left an impression on UM coaches in August.

At 6-foot-6, 300 pounds and with an 86-inch wingspan, he can be a disruptive force at nose tackle. One of Cristobal’s priorities was to get bigger and more physical on both sides of the line, and Jackson is aligning with that.

This story was originally published September 1, 2022 6:20 p.m.

Barry Jackson has written for the Miami Herald since 1986 and has written the Florida Sports Buzz column since 2002.

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