Miami Hurricanes 2016 camp preview: Linebackers

The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Thursday. Let’s go position-by-position and tell you what we know, what we don’t know, and what we want to learn this month. 

Here’s a look at the linebackers, which could be a very strong unit if the first- and second-year players are ready for prime time:

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Jermaine Grace (5) has a habit of being around the ball. (Getty Images)

Jermaine Grace (5), who has a habit of being around the ball, will be counted on to lead UM’s linebacking corps. (Getty Images)

Projected depth chart

SLB
5 – Jermaine Grace, Sr., 6-1, 210
34 – Charles Perry, Soph., 6-1, 230
53 – Zach McCloud, Fr., 6-2, 230

MLB
55 – Shaq Quarterman, Fr., 6-1, 240
52 – Jamie Gordinier, R-Fr., 6-4, 235
23 – Terry McCray, R-Soph., 6-3, 230

WLB
56 – Michael Pinckney, Fr., 6-1, 220
58 – Darrion Owens, R-Soph., 6-3, 245
57 – Mike Smith, R-Soph., 6-1, 230

Numbers to know

Miami ranked 115th in yards per carry allowed (5.26), which is its lowest national rank since at least 2008 (according to CFBStats.com). That yards per game average is quite possibly the worst in school history (College Football Reference’s data goes back to 1955. UM records are incomplete prior to 1947). That says something about today’s offense-heavy era, but it also shows you a run defense that was really, really bad.

Grace led UM in tackles (79, six for loss) and registered a season-high 17 against Duke. He had the third-highest single-season tackle total in the Al Golden era from a UM linebacker not named Denzel Perryman or Sean Spence.

Miami loses 59 percent of its linebacker tackling production – and 67 percent of tackle for loss production — with the graduation of starters Raphael Kirby and Tyriq McCord, the transfer of reserve Marques Gayot and the possible dismissal of expected starter Juwon Young.

Quote of note

“We’re probably going to have to try to create some positional flexibility in the linebacker room, just to make sure we can get our best guys on the field. The first thing is to find out who the best ones are, then find out who can play what.” – Defensive coordinator (and linebackers coach) Manny Diaz

Breakdown

Miami’s newly aggressive front seven should suit Grace, who has some of the best wheels on the team. He’ll play a hybrid linebacker/safety role for Diaz. His range and ability to strike will help ease UM’s issues on the back end (we’ll get to that in another post). Miami doesn’t have another Grace, but others could fill in at the Sam position.

Diaz concedes that starting freshmen at linebacker “is a heck of a proposition,” but in the next breath he says that Quarterman and Pinckney are not your average freshmen. Those two – along with McCloud, who battled a preexisting shoulder injury in the spring – arrived on campus looking fit and ready to play. They’ll get the chance. Quarterman, whom Diaz refers to as an “alpha dog,” could be a Day 1 starter at Mike. Pinckney, similarly fearless according to his coaches, will battle Owens for time at Will. Owens was considered one of UM’s brightest defensive talents before a knee injury in Week 2 ended his season. He is expected to return to practice at some point this month.

Diaz said he doesn’t quite know where everyone will play, but it looks like he has a strong corps of ‘backers with Grace, Owens, the three freshmen, Gordinier and Perry. McCray and Smith will be looking to join that group. Depth here is good – so good that UM could withstand the loss of Young, who is suspended indefinitely and likely will not be back with the team.

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