- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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When Miami coach Randy Shannon talks about the program’s throwback defensive lines -- comprised of former players like defensive tackles Russell Maryland, Cortez Kennedy, Jerome Brown and Warren Sapp -- he points out one common trait: None of them were freshmen when they were at their best.
“People don’t realize it took Russell Maryland three years to be Russell Maryland,” Shannon said. “Cortez didn’t play ‘til his senior year. Jerome Brown played a little bit as a freshman. The third year he blossomed. It always takes a defensive lineman until his third or his fourth year really to come out. Sapp was the same way. Whenever you get somebody in his third or fourth year, they should be ready to take that next step.”
Consider Miami’s defensive line ready.
This year’s projected starting lineup includes two seniors -- Allen Bailey and Josh Holmes -- and two juniors -- Andrew Smith and Micanor Regis -- but there’s so much depth that the competition continues and nothing is set in stone. Even with the dismissal of Steven Wesley, Miami still has 14 defensive linemen to choose from. If all of them play to their potential, it could be reminiscent of some of the program’s best defensive lines of the past.
“I really wouldn’t want to be on another team that plays against us,” Miami quarterback Jacory Harris said. “Our defensive line is pretty good this year and I’m sure they’re going to open a lot of guys’ eyes.”
“They’re all fast guys, and they also have size on them,” Harris said. “That’s what makes it worse.”
Expectations are highest for Bailey, who at 6-foot-4, 288 pounds led all Miami defensive linemen last year with 34 tackles. He led the team with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss and should be one of the best players in the conference this fall. Still, he’ll draw a lot of attention from opponents, forcing those around him to raise their level of play.
Bailey said that won’t be a problem.
“We have the talent, we have the athleticism, we have the numbers,” Bailey said. “It’s a real good D-line this year. We could be real good. It’s not only me. We have 16 or 17 d-linemen. There’s like four at each position. It’s improved a lot. It raises the competition for playing time. You’ve got to compete every day, every practice.”
Bailey is roommates with defensive backs DeMarcus Van Dyke and JoJo Nicolas, and lineman Adewale Ojomo. To them, he’s known as the “house chef.”
“He knows how to cook everything -- shrimp pasta, chicken pasta, everything,” Van Dyke said. “Man, he can cook.”
He can also hit.
“I tell him I feed off him,” Van Dyke said. “If he gets three sacks, I get three interceptions. If I get three picks, he’ll get three sacks. That’s how it goes. It’s me and Allen’s last year, so we’re trying to go out with a bang and make it special.”
Miami linebacker Sean Spence said Bailey is “worth every penny” of the preseason hype, but Bailey isn’t the only one capable of making plays.
“We’ve got a lot of depth down there,” Spence said. “You could interchange them easily. All of them could play. I’m expecting good things from those guys this year.”
So is Shannon.
“Over the years these guys should be ready to take that step now,” he said. “ … Those guys are mature now. It should be the time for them to take the next step.”