The Hurricanes are back on Greentree on Aug. 1. 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.
Manny Diaz is a demanding professor, but if he’s grading on a curve, his starting linebackers aced their 101-level classes.
Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney earned freshman All-American honors from one outlet, and Zach McCloud made his share of highlight plays. Old-school Hurricanes are saying they could be one of the best trios ever to step foot on Greentree.
They held up as freshmen despite the preseason dismissal of leading tackler and top defender Jermaine Grace. They held up as freshmen despite numerous injuries to themselves and others. They held up despite their lack of first-hand knowledge about the rigors of a 13-game college season.
Can they pass their sophomore courses with the same flying colors? Diaz, the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, may have three model students.
Projected depth chart
SAM (strong side)
53 – Zach McCloud – Soph. — 6-2, 230
34 – Charles Perry – Jr. — 6-1, 230
11 – De’Andre Wilder – Fr. — 6-3, 202
55 – Shaq Quarterman – Soph. — 6-1, 240
35 – Mike Smith – R-Jr. — 6-1, 236
44 – Bradley Jennings Jr. – Fr. — 6-1, 230
17 – Waynmon Steed – Fr. — 5-11, 223
56 – Michael Pinckney – Soph. — 6-1, 228
58 – Darrion Owens – Soph. — 6-3, 240
52 – Jamie Gordinier – R-Soph. — 6-4, 235
23 – Terry McCray – R-Jr. — 6-3, 238
Numbers to know
Miami ranked 17th in yards per carry allowed (3.43), a remarkable jump from its 2015 numbers. In 2015, 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 was quite possibly the worst in school history (College Football Reference’s data goes back to 1955. UM records are incomplete prior to 1947). Quite the turnaround, especially considering the youth at play.
Miami started three true freshman at linebacker for perhaps the first time in program history (est. 1926), and was the only team in the country to start more than two true freshmen on defense.
Quarterman finished second on the team in tackles (84), the most by a UM freshman since at least 2008. He had more tackles for loss (10.0) than any ACC freshman linebacker since Boston College’s Luke Kuechly had 13.0 in 2009.
Miami returns 100 percent of its linebacker production. No one graduated or transferred.
Quote of note
“It’s way harder to get from good to great than it is from bad to good.” — Diaz, in 2016
As they try to put their names on Miami’s practice fence, the three starters are looking for All-ACC, All-American status. Quarterman seems to have the best shot of getting there in 2017; several former UM linebackers, including Jon Beason and Jonathan Vilma, have said this offseason Quarterman is the most advanced of the three. He’s a sideline-to-sideline thumper in the mold of Denzel Perryman, and doesn’t get outsmarted or outhustled often. He was a first-team preseason All-ACC selection and was named to the watch lists for the Butkus (top linebacker), Bednarik and Nagurski (both top defender) Awards. Pinckney and McCloud could match him if they become more consistent. Pinckney is a slashing playmaker who could improve against the run. McCloud is perhaps the hardest hitter on the team, but doesn’t always know where he’s going. All three played through injuries last year (Quarterman shoulder, Pinckney hamstring, McCloud shoulder and elbow). Good health would make them even more effective.
How deep is the rotation?
The starters will likely play between 65 and 80 percent of the snaps. UM would like a second line to prove trustworthy. The first reserve off the bench could be Owens, who badly injured his knee in Sept. 2015, had a strong spring and keeps improving. Coaches made him a first-teamer over Pinckney for most of the spring, both a nod to Owens’ work and a message to Pinckney to pick up his play. The tall, versatile Gordinier will see his first action since his Sept. 2016 knee injury, but it’s unclear how much burn he’ll get. After that, it’s a little murkier. Smith has done reasonably well in limited time, and Diaz was enthusiastic about his work in the spring. He’s also a candidate to start at fullback, so his practice time may be split depending on that week’s game plan. Perry is a returning backup role at SAM. The freshmen could redshirt, and probably should, considering Quarterman, Pinckney and McCloud could depart to the NFL en masse after 2018.
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