SOTU Position Preview: Linebackers

Kevin Liles-US PRESSWIRE

As the 2013 season draws near, SOTU breaks down each position on the field for you player by player, so you can go into game one knowing the team as best you can.

Miami will open the season in the not so distant future, and to help you prepare for what is sure to be a great year, we are back to preview each position on the team. We will let you know who is back, who is new, and how each player projects for the 2013 season.

During the season last year many wondered "where are the linebackers?" Sometimes they would show up on fourth and short in crucial situations (a la GT) and then sometimes they just.. wouldn't show up at all (ND). Let's take a look at who's returning this year and how they could possibly project for the upcoming season. The order of the breakdown is based on who I think will make the most impact next year for the team.

Denzel Perryman/ Junior / 6'0", 236lbs / Coral Gables, FL

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2011

12-5

47

22

69

6.5

13

1.0

0

2

0

0

0

0

2012

9-6

45

19

64

6.0

14

0.0

0

1

0

2

1

41

When looking for a player that really needs to step up and take a leadership role next season, Denzel Perryman is the guy. He's been playing since his freshmen season which was in 2011 and hasn't relinquished the starting role. The only blemish on his record has been his spats with the big, bad injury bug. You can read more on him here if you want to check out more on Perryman but if you want the cliff notes version: if this defense is looking to improve on last season's abysmal rankings they'll need him roving side line to side line in coverage getting after the opposition in the open field. Last season Miami had him playing the middle linebacker position out of necessity but this season they'll be pushing him back to his natural position which is on the outside. We can expect Perryman to be on several watch lists and possibly be nominated for many awards for the upcoming season. If the Defense takes a step forward and Miami shines this year, be on the lookout for some new hard ware coming his way!

Alex Figueroa/ Freshman / 6'3", 231lbs / Stafford, VA

No Stats due to playing in High School.

If any of you would like to start an argument about the "star system" for recruiting, this new arrival may be the poster child for your discussion.. He comes to us from a suburb of Northern Virginia where he was raised with discipline by his two military parents (see Canes All Access). He was not highly recruited (was a three star) but Head Coach Al Golden and Defensive Coordinator Coach Mark D'Onofrio liked his work ethic and game tape so they decided to offer him a scholarship. Since his arrival on campus (if you didn't watch the above video) he has gotten down and dirty into the "U Tough" program and has blossomed. Per the last Spring Depth Chart, he's the starter alongside Perryman manning the other outside linebacker position. He brings this team an added "thumper" when it comes to the linebacker core as he's a readymade player at 230lbs. Under Golden it seems gone are the days of bringing in 190-200lbs linebackers which was a needed purge.

Raphael Kirby/ Sophomore / 6'0", 230lbs / Stone Mountain, GA

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2012

7-0

16

9

7

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

Now we get to the fun part.. The fight for the middle linebacker position.. In this battle we have two contenders, Raphael Kirby and Jimmy Gaines. Kirby had an unfortunate start to his college career by breaking his right leg in preseason practice before last season. Due to the injury he missed roughly half the season but contributed in the last 7 games. With this coinciding with him being a freshman and trying to get his conditioning back during the season, he really only saw spot duty. However, with a full offseason regimen planned out by the strength and conditioning staff at UM he's done well to throw his hat into the ring for a possible starting spot. The reason I have him above Gaines in the pecking order is that we've seen what Gaines can do. Don't get me wrong, he's a good player and a positive contributor but Kirby was a 4 star recruit and has shown a bigger upside when it comes to overall athletic ability.

Jimmy Gaines/ Senior / 6'3", 235lbs / Getzville, NY

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2010

5-0

0

1

1

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2011

12-8

24

34

58

3.0

7

0.0

0

0

0

1

0

0

2012

11-6

34

23

57

3.0

14

0.0

0

0

1

1

2

8

With the above stated about Kirby, let's get to Jimmy Gaines. He came to Miami as one of the last recruits under former Coach Randy Shannon. He was an unranked ball player from upstate New York and has been a solid to above average contributor to the Canes since he's been on campus. Many pegged him for a breakout year last season due to his strangle hold on the elusive "Black Jersey" which Golden gives out to only the most worthy of student athlete's but overall, Gaines' impact was average on the field. You can see in the stats that he did well in the tackling department (was 5th on the team last year) but overall he didn't contribute much else. With that said, he does bring leadership and valuable experience (14 starts over the last two years) to a depth chart that doesn't have much behind him..

Tyriq McCord/ Sophomore / 6'3", 236lbs / Tampa, FL

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2012

12-0

10

5

15

3.5

24

3.5

24

0

1

1

0

0

Many have tried to surmise what Coach Golden has meant by the term "hybrid defense." From what I've seen, it's just a cute way of saying he's transitioning UM from a 4-3 scheme to a 3-4 base defense. He ran it at UVa when he was their Defensive Coordinator and he ran it exclusively at Temple when he was the Head Ball Coach. No other player can demonstrate the vast difference between the two schemes then McCord. He was recruited as a Defensive End from high school (see player review here ) and had a solid year as a rush specialist off the edge his freshman year. However, with the transformation slowly taking shape along the defensive front, Golden and D'Onofrio decided to "stand him up" as an outside linebacker this offseason so that he could attack from many different angles around the offense. As a freshmen he was second on the team in sacks and looks to improve off his numbers from last season. Look for him to rush the passer and be a Terrill Suggs/Brian Orakpo/Ryan Kerrigan type player. Not asked to play coverage too much but used primarily to get after the QB.

Thurston Ambrister/ Junior / 6'3", 220lbs / Hollywood, FL

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2012

12-4

25

15

40

2.0

2

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

The above mentioned players will probably get the bulk of the snaps come game days on defense. The next few guys listed will be extremely important when it comes to the special teams unit. Ambrister was another lightly recruited player coming out of High School, he only had one offer which was from Northern Colorado. He signed with Miami the year Golden got on campus and was actually a "late signee" who literally waited until the last minute (he signed pre-graduating high school, like RIGHT BEFORE graduation). Many thought he wouldn't contribute much if at all for UM but he actually has been a pleasant surprise and needed depth as an outside linebacker. His first year on campus he competed on the practice squad, even though he didn't record a tackle he had to have played in a game or else he would have been considered a redshirt. Last year he started a few games due to injuries. With the compounding of his duties on kick/punt coverage, he came away with respectable numbers for a backup. Ambrister is one of those guys that could develop to be a fringe starter along the outside but really his work will be as an ace special teamer. Even though that sounds like a step down from the other ‘backers he is a pertinent part of the field position game and will be counted on to make sure no big returns occur!

JaWand Blue/ Freshman (RS) / 6'0", 225lbs / Boca Raton, FL

Redshirted, no stats.

Out of all the players I get to write about, Jawand was easily the most fun to research, only because his recruiting story is pure gold. Blue was a consensus three star inside linebacker coming out of the great state of Florida. He had many offers but had long been verballed to Virginia Tech. This wasn't a soft verbal like many are used to hearing about from recruiting services, this was a solid decision he made that many didn't think he would change his mind on, including Virginia Tech. On signing day our Miami Hurricanes had a scholarship open up due to a recruit deciding to go elsewhere so Golden called Blue to see if he'd be interested in staying home. He said yes and to say Virginia Tech was baffled and angry was an understatement. Read the link here.

Anyways, Blue redshirted last year so he was able to get into the playbook some more and hopefully contribute on special teams this year. If the depth is tested, he'd probably be the "next man up" behind Jimmy Gaines/Raphael Kirby when it comes to snaps at middle linebacker.

Tyrone Cornelius/ Senior / 6'2", 215lbs / Stone Mountain, GA

SEASON

G-GS

UT

AT

TT

TFL

YDS

SACK

YDS

FF

FR

PBU

INT

YDS

2010

10-0

3

3

6

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2011

9-0

4

3

7

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2012

12-3

17

12

29

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

3

0

0

CAREER

31-3

24

18

42

0.0

0

0.0

0

0

0

3

0

0

Just like Jimmy Gaines, this is another of Randy Shannon's last linebacker recruits. Let me make it known, there's nothing wrong with that but you can just tell the physical differences between what we have at the position now and what we used to trot out onto the field in previous years... Anyways, Cornelius came to us as a three star recruit and has bounced around from safety to linebacker as needed. The reason for this is because of his "tweaner" size. He's pretty speedy as a linebacker but too small to necessarily take the brunt of punishment. Although he is an adequate size for a safety he's too slow when it comes to coverage so therein lies the problem with him.. With all that said however, he has still helped out the Canes. He plays special teams and even spot started on the outside when asked to last year (again, injuries and very little depth are the reason).

Jermaine Grace/ Freshman / 6'1", 210lbs / Miami Gardens, FL

No Stats due to playing in High School.

I may get a lot of flak for putting Grace this low in the "rankings" but I believe he should be redshirted, thus why he is where he is. I know he has the talent to be in the rotation but he wasn't an early enrollee and I see his physique being a hindrance to both himself and the team as he currently weighs in at a svelte 210 pounds. Again, I want to make it known, I think he could be a very good impact player due to his highlight reel hits and game changing ability in coverage (consensus four star recruit ). I just don't see it in his best interests or the teams to burn a perfectly good redshirt year. Hopefully he can grow mentally and physically over the next year and be ready to fill in behind Perryman (assuming he doesn't leave early), Kirby or possibly vie for a job with Figueroa.

Walter Tucker/ Freshman / 6'0", 205lbs / Plantation, FL

No Stats due to playing in High School.

If we were to debate about Grace possibly getting playing time next year I'd understand your argument. Tucker on the other hand has no excuse to be playing. He is too small and will need at least one to two years of seasoning at the linebacker position (he may possibly move to running back). The reason for this is because Tucker is a two sport star. He was a late signee by Coach Golden due to the fact he wanted to be able to play football and also run track at his college of choice. Golden is allowing this due to the fact that Tucker is a two time state champion in the 110 meter hurdles and.. Why not? He's holding one of 80-85 scholarships, its okay to take a flier on 3-5 kids and he's one of them. His upside, if he were to commit to football, could be through the roof. This is a kid we'll just have to wait and see what happens, he could very well settle on the track team if he is really successful and no one would blame him if he did.

Akil Craig/ Senior / 6'1", 226lbs / Tampa, FL

One Tackle in 2013.

Craig has mainly attributed to the Scout Team offense and defense at UM. Last year he was able to play the field in a handful of snaps and recorded one tackle. Based on redshirting, injuries or overall depth, we'll have to see if he can help on the special team's front this year. Only time will tell!

Overall Thoughts on the Linebackers for Next Season

If you compare this group to previous years, this band of men is easily the most physically gifted set we've had in the last 4-6 years. Under Coker and Shannon you'd see smaller linebackers who were more fast than dominant when it came to playing their assignments. These players could guard tight ends and running backs but really they couldn't push them around or be assertive. The current group is a tad bit young but they have all the physical tools to be able to play with anyone's personnel matchups. We'll just have to see if the scheme takes advantage of what they bring to the table.

Please note, I used the Miami Hurricanes Official site as a Roster and that's where I was able to retrieve the stats from as well. I am fully aware that I didn't include Alquadin Muhammad and Devontae Bond. Neither is technically on the team yet due to academic issues. I hope they are able to make it onto the roster but until then, this is what we got!

What do you all think? Let me know!

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