CORAL GABLES — Jermaine Grace doesn’t perform like the rest of his fellow Miami linebackers.
“Certainly he’s ahead of the rest of them. That jumps out as obvious,” said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who also coaches linebackers. “I’ve been using him as an example in the LB room to say, ‘We’ve got Grace and we’ve kind of got a mush pile of other guys.”
Diaz means that Grace, who will be a senior this fall, is bringing it in the effort department. That bodes well for his potential production, since he’s faster and more fluid than most (or all) of his peers. He is 6-foot-1 and between 205 and 210 pounds, though the previous staff wanted him to bulk up to 225. He has always been light for a linebacker — but he hits hard.
Grace, a Miami Gardens native who played at Miramar High, was Miami’s leading tackler (79) by a margin of 22 tackles. He was third in tackles for loss (six) and registered two sacks. He also broke up five passes and recorded a quarterback hit and a forced fumble.
“Certainly there’s still more for Jermaine,” Diaz said. “He wants to be pushed. He wants to be held to a higher standard. What I’ve been most pleased with him is he’s really put some physical plays on tape, knocking into fullbacks and some things like that. He’s a powerful kid and I think he likes the role he’s at right now.”
This spring, Grace is playing strong-side linebacker, after starting at weak-side linebacker last season under coach Al Golden and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. The previous staff’s 3-4 scheme called for Sam linebackers to be around 6-2 to 6-4 and between 230 and 250 pounds. The main duties were to handle the run and cover tight ends.
In Diaz’ 4-3, the Sam does some of what the weak-side (Will) linebacker did in the previous 3-4: he “spends a lot of time walked out, he’s got to run out there and tackle the bubble screens, he might have to match up on wide receivers,” Diaz said. “The teams that are really good right now in college football have Sams that are almost hybrid linebacker/safety types that are athletic enough to play in coverage and physical enough to play in the run game.”
* Though Miami has not released a depth chart, players say redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier and sophomore Charles Perry are the other starting linebackers. Redshirt sophomore Darrion Owens, who remains out with a knee injury, is a projected starter once he returns.
* Sophomore James King, who played mainly special teams last year and was a reserve weak-side linebacker, is practicing with the safeties.
* Coach Mark Richt would not address whether redshirt freshman defensive end Scott Patchan, who was absent from practice, is injured. “I’m not going to make any comments on injuries around here,” he said. “At least not today.”
* Offensive tackle Sunny Odogwu, a redshirt junior this fall, is “supporting his teammates” by suiting up but his offseason knee surgery is keeping him from practicing. Sophomore Tyree St. Louis is the first-string right tackle, opposite left tackle Trevor Darling, a junior. Redshirt freshman Bar Milo said he is working as the second-team left tackle.