As UM football continues to slog towards Chestnut Hill, we here at the 7th Floor will breakdown each position group on the team. Today we look at the linebackers, which is dominated by some youngsters, some injuries, and everything else in-between. Where's Ray Lewis?
Le sigh. I guess that's the best way to kickoff the 2012 position preview for Miami's linebacker corps. In a group dominated by freshmen, it's no wonder that most of us have very little expectations for this group. With that being said, it's also a safe bet to say that they will impress us this year. Returning men Denzel Perryman, who is only a sophomore, and 5th year senior Ramon Buchanan lead a group of men who had only one sack all-together in 2011. One. (Thank you Denzel for that!) The best way to sum up our linebackers this year? YOUNG. Like, REALLY DAMN YOUNG. Jump below the break as we breakdown these fine gentlemen and see what we have in store for 2012!
THURSTON ARMBRISTER / Sophomore / 6'3" 222 lbs / Hollywood, FL
2011 Stats: N/A
On the first depth chart of the 2012 season, Coach Golden once again surprised us as he listed sophomore Thurston Armbrister as one of two starting outside linebackers for the Boston College. The former high school safety, Armbrister didn't play in 2011. Alas, this will probably be changed by the time Boston College rolls around on September 1st with Jimmy Gaines, the junior second-string middle linebacker, probably getting the nod over Armbrister. Yet, defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio spoke only praise of Armbrister after Wednesday's practice:
"The thing that surprised me about Thurston is he's a long guy who plays with great leverage. He's got long legs, limbs. I think he's going to be really big. He can play up on the tight end and do a good job in space and he's tough and he's physical. But he's learning. It was one of those moves where you go ahead and take a look at it and feel like you hit it on pretty good" - Defensive Coordinator Mark D'Onofrio
Needless to say, D'Onofrio likes the kid. However, expect him to step up when an injury occurs this season (which will happen, especially with how fragile our linebackers are so far through training camp).
GABE TERRY / Freshman / 6'3" 210 lbs / Wellington, FL
2011 Stats: N/A
Listed behind Armbrister for the second-strong spot on one of the outside linebacker spots is Gabe Terry, one of our newest recruits out of South Florida. This young man had a troubled youth as he was growing up. Then, last year as a senior, he won a state wrestling championship and was on the track and field team for his high school, Palm Beach Central. As a football player on his high school team, Terry had 58 tackles, and 6 sacks while also convincing the Golden coaching staff that he is a changed man. To them, he definitely is.
As for this upcoming season, it's very unlikely this young man will get much playing time. However, never say never in having Golden give a freshman some minutes this year. Expect Terry to be a playmaker in a year or two, depending on how hard he works and whether or not he can beat out the other men in his recruiting class for starting positions.
DENZEL PERRYMAN / Sophomore / 6'0" 230 lbs / Coral Gables, FL
2011 Stats: 69 tackles, 1 sack
Getting the nod for middle linebacker over the older Jimmy Gaines, Denzel Perryman shows incredible promise for 2012. Last year, Perryman finished second on the team with 69 tackles, including an incredible (and career-high) 14 against Boston College in the last game of the season. Talk about uphill progression as the season went on! This summer, Perryman was in a walking boot for most of the time off and spent his days watching film. Now, he's 100% healthy and ready to use what he learned this summer to be the young anchor of an already young Hurricanes defense. Linebackers coach Michael Barrow only had great things to say about the young man before the summer began:
"The only thing that can stop Denzel from reaching his potential is himself. He just has to detail the work and make sure he's ready. He's definitely got all the athletic ability, and he's a great kid." -Linebackers Coach Mike Barrow
Perryman is set to have a breakout season this year, as long as he stays healthy. I'm excited to see what he can do, and see if he can fill the role that Sean Spence left when he departed for the NFL. Denzel? You out there?! Get ready for a great 2012 campaign sir!
JIMMY GAINES / Junior / 6'3" 232 lbs / Getzville, NY
2011 Stats: 59 tackles
Even though he is listed as the backup to Perryman for the middle linebacker in Coach Golden's most recent depth chart, Jimmy Gaines will see playing time this year. No doubts about that. The 6'3" junior from New York had a productive year in 2011, accumulating 59 tackles. However, no sacks and a foot injury back in the spring hindered him from really excelling as the anchor for the linebackers in the coach's eyes. As mentioned before, expect Gaines to get the nod over Armbrister for one of the two outside linebacker spots in the final depth chart before Boston College.
In 2011, Gaines had a few standout games. Against, then-No. 21 Virginia Tech, Gaines recorded eight tackles and, the week before, he did the same thing against the lesser Bethune-Cookman. Back to back games like that shows the type of things Gaines can do, against both a good and a not-so-good team. It'll be interesting to see what Gaines can do if he does get the starting nod over Armbrister. Nevertheless, he'll get minutes in 2012.
RAMON BUCHANAN / Redshirt Senior / 6'1" 228 lbs / Mebourne, FL
2011 Stats: 18 tackles
It's safe to say that this is a make or break season for Ramon Buchanan. After having a devastating knee injury in 2011 after only four games, Buchanan received a medical clearance by the NCAA to return for his 5th year at the University of Miami. Now, after recovering enough to receive the starting nod for one of the outside linebacker positions, Buchanan has had an excellent training camp and is ready to redeem himself during his last year at UM.
Buchanan had a good game in the training camp scrimmage on August 12th, registering seven tackles. He was named a starter in 2011 last year as well, playing in four games and recording 18 tackles before he got injured and missed the rest of the season. Coaches have been pretty mum about Buchanan, however they have mentioned that he is ‘fully integrated' into the team. Expect Buchanan to be a leader for the young linebacker group and that he continues where he left off before he got injured in 2011. Let's just pray that Buchanan stays healthy and doesn't screw up his knee again...
TYRONE CORNELIUS / Junior / 6'2" 215 lbs / Stone Mountain, GA
2011 Stats: 7 tackles
Now is where is gets kind of funky with the linebackers. Above are 5 men who all have the capability of getting good playing time this year, especially with the current injuries harassing Raphael Kirby and Gionni Paul (more on them later). Tyrone Cornelius, the former 3-star athlete from Georgia, has barely seen the field as on defense as a Hurricane. Mainly used as on special teams, Cornelius was actually a safety last year before returning to the linebacker position. As of Golden's most recent depth chart, Cornelius is listed behind Ramon Buchanan on the weak side of the ball. This will change once Raphael Kirby and Gionni finally become 100% healthy, but Cornelius may see the field if something happens to Buchanan before Kirby comes back from his injury sometime in the middle of the season.
RAPHAEL KIRBY / Freshman / 6'1" 220 lbs / Stone Mountain, GA
2011 Stats: N/A
Oh injuries. Especially when it comes do those darn knees. The 4-star recruit from Georgia in Raphael Kirby was one of the best linebackers coming out of the 2012 recruiting class and a bright spot for Golden's coaching staff. However, he injured his knee in training camp and we don't expect to see him until sometime midseason. Quoting the man with the beautiful hair Coach Golden himself:
"[Kirby is] a great kid. Worked really hard. I think knowing his work ethic and character I wouldn't rule him out from coming back this season. Maybe he'll have a chance to come back midseason." -Head Coach Al Golden
Kirby is liked by the coaching staff, and with the injury not requiring any surgery, he will be back to play a few games in 2012. Praised by coaches in having a very bright football IQ and strength against the run, expect Kirby to develop along the other freshmen for better years ahead of him.
GIONNI PAUL / Sophomore / 6'1" 230 lbs / Lakeland, FL
2011 Stats: 4 tackles
Another linebacker, another injury. The sophomore Gionni Paul had his knee go into a little bit of a funk a last week when freshmen running back Randy ‘Duke' Johnson juked him on a play. Since then, Paul has taken a few days to recover and is practicing again with the team. However, he remains walking around with a limp and is not listed in Golden's recent depth chart. Safe to say, Paul was expected to be a backup this year.
Paul injured himself during spring training camp as well, so it's conclusive to believe that injuries have been haunting him throughout his career at UM. He has been praised for his work ethic and his athleticism, so the future may still very well be bright for Paul. Let's hope that he recovers nicely and can be another productive member of this young group and add some competition for this group.
NANTAMBU-AKIL FENTRESS / Sophomore / 5'9" 205 lbs / Nashville, TN
EDDIE JOHNSON / Redshirt Freshman / 6'1" 238 lbs / Atlanta, GA