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Position Breakdown: Linebackers

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For our lead up to NSD the SOTU Staff will be having articles designated for players leaving the program due to graduation or the NFL draft, position breakdowns and of course, opinion pieces on the events that have occurred on or after NSD. Stay tuned for more from SOTU.

Perryman is chasing down his dream and looks to be ready for the NFL Draft come April.
Perryman is chasing down his dream and looks to be ready for the NFL Draft come April.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Position Breakdown: Linebackers

Overview of 2014-2015 Group

When looking at the group as a whole and taking a step back to digest the season from the Miami Hurricanes linebacking unit we as fans have to be relatively happy with the output the group gave. This group very much took a step forward from the impact (or lack thereof) that the 2013-2014 group had for the defensive unit. Swap out the seniors who graduated in Jimmy Gaines and Tyrone Cornelius from the 2013 group for the baby faced freshmen Darrion Owens and Trent Harris and the reviewer starts to see hope for the future. Also, keep in mind that two very important players (JaWand Blue and Alex Figueroa) to the unit were kicked off the team early in spring ball due to a sexual assault that occurred.

Let's breakdown what happened this season though before we look ahead:

Players Graduating:

Denzel Perryman

There is so much to say about Perryman that it's actually hard to find a place to begin. In a nutshell, he will leave the Miami Hurricanes as one of the all-time greats at the position, probably top 10 to 15 overall. Although he may have been smaller in stature for the middle linebacker position (about 5'10") he packed a wallop when a came in to stop an offensive player in their tracks. Besides the fierceness in his tackling Perryman often brought a passion for the game that was unmatched throughout the entire defensive unit. For the year he finished with 110 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception. Besides the gaudy stats for 2014-2015 season he also leaves the Canes after being voted a first team All ACC member, third team All American and a Butkus finalist. Look for Perryman to go in the first two to three rounds in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Thurston Armbrister

Armbrister was a pleasant surprise for the Hurricanes in 2014. I wouldn't say he was a revelation because the fact of the matter was he started out the year on-fire registering four of his five sacks against the first three opponents (Louisville, FAMU and ARK ST) and then petering out the rest of the season by registering marginal stats. He finished the year with 56 tackles, five sacks, two forced fumbles and one recovery. Not a bad season or career actually considering four years ago when he was signed by Miami late in the recruiting cycle (right around high school graduation) he didn't have a Power Five Scholarship offer and was being brought in as a safety. Armbrister developed into an "attacking" linebacker getting after the quarterback and played solid both against the run and in pass coverage. Armbrister may be a late draft pick in the Draft.

Players Returning:

Raphael Kirby

If there was ever a player who had the measurable and "looked good" in a uniform, it would be Kirby. Before last season however Kirby had not had much of an impact for the Cane defense. Last season due to roster attrition and off field expulsions by the two others in the unit Kirby was forced into a starting role for the entire 2014 season. Even though he started the entire season he only ended up with modest numbers similar to Armbrister with 54 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, an interception and two forced fumbles.

The future looks bright for Kirby though as he'll look to fill the role Perryman is vacating at the middle linebacker position. Being a senior next season the coaching staff is going to count on him lining up the unit and the defensive line based on offensive packages being subbed in and out. We'll see if he takes a big jump in his impact on the field come 2015.

Jermaine Grace

Just like Kirby, Grace was a highly rated recruit out of high school (4* by most of the services) however, many of the pundits knew it would probably take him time to make an impact on gamedays due to the fact that he was recruited to Miami in a 34 scheme and he really didn't fit the mold coming out of high school (weighed in at about 200 lbs.). Even though he was shielded from most offenses his first season playing primarily special teams he did play and thus could not earn a redshirt. Heading into 2014 the staff wanted to put a little more on his plate but not necessarily throw him to the wolves just yet. As noted earlier with Kirby, because the two players were lost before the season started Grace was thrust into a primary backup role in the unit. He played in all 13 games last season registering 60 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two fumble recoveries.

Next season look for Grace to start as the weakside linebacker filling in for the departed Armbrister. He has the skills to play the position but it's debatable whether he truly fits the system implemented by the staff. We'll have to see how the clash of measurables (he now weighs about 210 lbs.) and scheme come together next season.

Darrion Owens

If you go back and watch tape of Darrion Owens from 2014 you have to be nothing but happy for the guy. This time last season he early enrolled at Miami and was in the offseason conditioning program. In spot duty during the season he played very well and the Coaching Staff should be thrilled that he was able to piece together a freshman season of 23 total tackles (didn't record any other stats for the season). What is also encouraging is that he should have had more tackles. He just seemed to be too late on some plays or too early to gaps in the run coverage but those are common freshman mistakes.

For the future it wouldn't be shocking to see Owens starting next season and beyond at the strongside position. He already has the measurables (checked in last season at 6'3" and 235 lbs.) and the speed to play every down. The impact he will have in the passing game is hard to tell however. Will he excel in rushing the passer or covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield? Hopefully that question is answered positively in 2015.

Juwon Young

Young was the other freshman forced into playing time last season but his role was specifically inside the special teams unit. He played on the kickoff and punt coverage teams. Due to the niche role he only registered four total tackles for the season. Young was recruited out of Albany High School in Georgia where he was tabbed as a three/four star recruit in the 2014 class.

Look for Young next season to expand his role and have more of an impact on the field. He'll probably be the primary backup to Kirby at the inside linebacker position. The coaching staff will probably say there is a battle for playing time at the position come spring but it would make sense for Kirby to win the role for 2015 and then Young to be groomed to be his heir apparent in 2016.

Terry McCray

McCray was the only linebacker from the class of 2014 to redshirt (counting Michael Smith as a rush end). Hailing from Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Florida he was widely rated as a solid 3* recruit. McCray will probably have to step into a role on the special teams unit as well as be a backup for the outside linebackers.

Recruits Coming to Miami:

Charles Perry

Our recruiting Czar, Cam Underwood has lots to say about Perry so I'll keep it short. Perry is widely rated as a four star linebacker coming from Royal Palm Beach High School. Even though he played running back his senior season (and dominated I might add) he'll be transitioning to the defensive side of the ball when he steps foot onto Green Tree Field. At his current listed height and weight of 6'1" 203 lbs. I'd wager to say he'll start on the outside, probably weakside of the linebacking unit. As you can tell by the article there really aren't many backups listed for the unit currently so look for Perry to have an instant impact next year probably starting out on special teams and maybe, just maybe, as the season progresses he may get more burn.

Jamie Gordinier

If SOTU had a round table discussion on recruiting and the question was posed "who would be the recruit who makes the most surprising impact as a freshman?" my answer would be Gordinier. He has the measurable at 6'4 231 lbs and yes he is from the New Jersey area but it's not like other big name Universities weren't after him. On his scholarship offers he has Michigan State, Boston College and Nebraska (there are others but those are the big three) so others have taken notice. Most Miami fans don't really take notice of him for two reasons. First, he's from the New Jersey area and to be honest, it hasn't really worked out so well for players from the north east region to come down to Coral Gables and translate into good football players for the Program during Golden's tenure. Second, he's been verbally committed for so long to Miami that the fans have forgotten about him.

Conclusion:

Heading into the 2014 season Miami looked to be more athletic than they were in the 2013 season based on the personnel who departed and who were progressing/coming into the program in their stead. The 2014 season for the unit could be looked at as a positively building year. Perryman was stellar all season, Grace and Kirby carved out significant roles as starters and primary backups and lastly Armbrister came out of nowhere to have a positive season. Next season Miami will take a hit with the loss of Perryman to graduation, there's no question about that but the unit as a whole will probably be even more athletic and more "multiple" as the coaches like saying come 2015. Will this be the type of lineup that could boast Jonathan Vilma and D.J Williams type players on the same field in 2015? No, not yet but the group does look to be better than the personnel that have been used in 2012 and 2013.