The Miami linebacking group is an eclectic mix of a few upper classmen, lots of underclassmen and heavy on unknowns moving forward into the 2015-2016 season. After the departure of stalwart tackling machine Denzel Perryman to the NFL Draft, Miami is now looking to the young cadre to see who will step up to fill the void. In the segment below we'll breakdown each player in the unit and discuss when he came to Miami (as a recruit) what he's done so far for the team on the field and I'll take a guess as to what I think the crystal ball will read for each player next season.
See you passed the jump!
Raphael Kirby 6'1" 235 (Sr)
The first Cane we'll breakdown is probably the most important in the group, senior Raphael Kirby. Kirby came to Miami as a highly regarded four star recruit out of Stone Mountain, Georgia but has yet to consistently shine on the field. Before last season he assisted the team by mainly playing special teams on the coverage units. During last season he slotted in as the strong side linebacker all season and accounted for 54 tackles and two forced fumbles, not bad numbers but not earth shattering.
Heading into the 2015-2016 he'll be taking over the middle linebacker spot from the recently drafted Denzel Perryman and will be immediately counted on to get the defense set and ready for the opposition. Prognosticating his possible stats is a daunting task as he's done okay during his tenure at Miami but never truly shined during a given game, or even a highlight reel tackle for that matter that I can remember. Nevertheless it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that during his last hurrah as a Cane he goes out and puts together a solid season of 70-90 tackles and leads the defensive unit as a team captain.
Jermaine Grace 6'1" 208 (Jr)
When discussing Grace and his career at Miami you have to marvel at his work ethic as well as his determination to play in the Canes defense. The reason is very simple and to the point: he doesn't fit the scheme. As you will see throughout the group in the descriptions below, Grace is very much the "runt" in the litter of the Miami linebacking corp. Weighing in at just 208 pounds (per UM's player profile) he doesn't fit the prototypical 34 linebacker which usually weighs in at 220s pounds, at the smallest.
Grace came to Miami well regarded as a high four star and even a five star by some recruiting services. He had offers from all the big name schools across the country but decided to stay in his home town of Miami and play for the Canes.
He didn't come into the program with delusions of grandeur thinking that he would start right away as a freshman, he just wanted to compete. As noted above, his biggest hindrance was his size. When he got to Miami he weighed in at roughly 190 pounds and that simply wasn't a sustainable weight to play linebacker over the course of the entire season. Even though he was on the slight side he still was able to play a bit his freshman season on special teams and recorded 8 total tackles. Last year, in his sophomore season, he was tasked with more responsibilities and saw the field as the primary backup to Thurston Armbrister as an outside linebacker and immediately became a play maker. Even though he never started all season he came in second for total tackles with 60 (6.5 tackles for loss) and also corralled the quarterback three times.
Heading into this fall Grace is primed to have a breakout season, measurables be damned. He was awarded as one of the offseason workout warriors by the team and also clocked in with the fastest forty for the entire squad at 4.38. Pretty good for a linebacker. As the starter at weak side linebacker he'll rush the QB occasionally but will primarily handle coverage duties. Look for him to again improve upon his numbers and hit the range of 70 to 80 tackles this year and possibly an interception or two in the open field.
Tyriq McCord 6'3" 236 (Sr)
McCord has seen action every season since he walked on campus four years ago and has had a relatively successful career. He came to the Canes as a highly regarded rushing specialist and at first that's how the Canes coaching staff used him during his freshman season. In each of the following off seasons however he's gotten a little bulkier and has learned better technique to eventually be molded into a linebacker and thus is being moved to strong side linebacker to start the season.
With the move to the strong side position it's hard to say what the role exactly will be for McCord. He's not very fluid in coverage and still has the skills of being an edge rusher. Hopefully the coaching staff uses his abilities to the fullest extent and unleashes him on opponents next year. If I have to give a guess to what his stats will be by the end of the season I'll go with 50-65 tackles, 5 sacks and possibly a pick or two. He's filled up the stats sheet every season with solid yet unspectacular numbers, let's see what he does next year as a linebacker and not a rushing specialist.
Darrion Owens 6'3" 238 (So)
When thinking of a prototypical "freak" athlete a coach is looking for in the recruiting cycle, you'd point to Owens. In high school he played safety due to his height and his speed. However, coaches at Miami believed he would eventually fill out and be able to take his agility into "the box" and become a linebacker. They offered him as such and here he is today, a Cane. Owens was a consensus four star recruit who had offers from the other big programs which were highlighted by Auburn and Georgia among others.
As a freshman last season he was pressed into duty and not redshirted. There were two main reasons. First of all, he's a very talented player and due to the fact that he enrolled last January he was able to get a head start on his conditioning for the season. Secondly, the fact that Jawand Blue and Alex Figueroa were both released from their scholarships and kicked off campus paved the way for Owens. Even with the added conditioning and prep as a early enrollee the best phrase to use for Owens' freshman season was: "a work in progress." He was around the ball a lot but never really got into the fray, always a second too early or too late. He finished the season playing in all but one game but only had 23 total tackles.
Heading into next season I think Owens takes a giant leap forward in production. He'll be a primary backup in the linebacking unit and at times could start if he gets into a rhythm. The future looks bright for Owens as he may fill our even further to get up to the 230s to 240s. Mix that in with his speed and he could be one of the next great linebackers to come out of Miami.
Juwon Young 6'2" 245 (So)
Juwon Young and Darrion Owens were the two freshmen last season who both got playing time last year but both didn't really make much of an impact in game. Young came to Miami as a solid three star recruit out of Albany, Georgia. He had offers from many of the mid-tier IA teams in the country and chose Miami over the likes of North Carolina and Ole Miss. Last year he dressed for all 13 games but only had two tackles on the season.
Heading into next season Young will be counted on to contribute as he'll likely be getting reps as the second team middle linebacker. He has the build for the position at 246 pounds, we'll have to see if he has the mental makeup to assist the team in their formations and in game adjustments to what the offense throws at them.
Marques Gayot 6'1" 220 (So)
Gayot was a safety and played a little wide receiver at Park Vista High School. The Lake Worth native had four interceptions his senior season and returned one of the picks for a score. He was rated a three star recruit coming out of school in 2014. Most of the recruiting services listed his offers as: Louisville, Arkansas and Oregon. Besides being a ball hawking safety he was also noted for his bone jarring hits to unsuspecting pass catchers who tempted him across the middle of the field.
During his freshman season instead of redshirting for the year he played primarily on special teams, specifically on punt and kickoff coverage. For the season he recorded one tackle which can be seen in the highlight below.
Early prognosis for Gayot is that he could possibly get playing time this season at weak side linebacker behind the entrenched (entrenched?) starter Jermaine Grace. Look for Gayot to play a big role on special teams again this season and possibly in a season or two start at the position. There's really no pressure on the converted safety to start this season but registering 20 to 30 tackles for the season would be deemed a successful year as a backup.
Charles Perry 6'1" 212 (Fr)
Perry is one of the players to get excited about from the class of 2015. It's interesting looking up his senior stats in highschool as they're not eye popping like you usually see coming up in the ranks but make no mistake, Perry is the crème of the crop Golden was able to snag from Royal Palm Beach high school. The main reason his stats and arguably his rating (was a solid four star recruit by many services) was a little lower than what it potentially could have been was due to him pulling double duty as a linebacker and a running back. Due to playing both sides he "only" rushed for 900 yards his senior season and compiled 60 tackles with four sacks.
Looking into the crystal ball with freshman can be difficult because there are often so many questions. Does Perry grasp the speed of the game? Does he learn his proper reads? Can he withstand the beating a linebacker can take over the course of the season (currently listed at a meager 212 pounds)? In interviews Coach Golden has raved about his work ethic and the way he preps for the days trials and tribulations but we'll have to see how he does come game day next season. If I had to guess his production I'd go with something close to what Owens produced last season as a freshman: 10 to 20 tackles and maybe a turnover or two.
Jamie Gordinier 6'4" 236 (Fr)
Gordinier just arrived on campus from Red Bank Catholic High in New Jersey. He was rated throughout the recruiting cycle as a three star recruit and held offers from Maryland, Michigan State and most of the other Big 10 schools.
While at Red Bank, Gordinier primarily roamed as a middle linebacker but will be slotted in at Miami as a backup strong side linebacker to Tyriq McCord and Owens. With his hefty build already developed he could potentially see early playing time at Miami. Although he wasn't highly publicized in the 2015 recruiting class as a "sexy" pick, make no mistake, Gordinier was a good get by the coaching staff.
Terry McCray 6'3" 223 (RFr)
McCray redshirted last season and in so doing has yet to see the field at Miami. As a senior in highschool he was a solid three star recruit coming out of Blanche Ely. Both his senior and junior stat lines were impressive as he a amassed a total of 199 total tackles to go along with 32 sacks over the course of those two seasons.
Look for McCray to possibly be a fringe player in the outside linebacker rotation come next fall. He'll more than likely contribute on special teams in coverage duty, however. Down the line he may eventually turn into a flex bench linebacker (playing everywhere when needed) or possibly start in a few years. "Possibly" being the key word.
Mike Smith 6'1" 225 (RFr)
Smith was another player who redshirted his first season on campus last year so we also don't know much about him and if/how he'll contribute next season. What we do know is that he's a former three star recruit out of the local area (Miami Northwestern High School) and he was an edge rushing specialist tallying 25 sacks over his junior and senior seasons.
If I were to guess his role next year it would be possibly as a special teams contributor. He may earn fringe time but he'd have to have a really good camp to do so.
James King 6'1" 200 (Fr)
There isn't really much to say about King besides the fact it's kind of surprising to see him on the team. King was rated a low level three star recruit who sported offers from the likes of FAU, USF and Arkansas. The primary train of thinking for why he's on the roster is because a few of the last minute hopefuls Golden and the staff wished would pick Miami come signing day last February chose other locations and thus they needed to fill a roster spot. King was always an option; he just needed a scholarship offer.
Look for King to redshirt next season. In the years to come he may provide a solid backup among the other linebackers on the team or possibly play a role on the special teams unit. For now however, he needs to grow and dig into the playbook to see how he can assist the team on the practice field.
After reviewing the list you may be concerned with the grouping, deservedly so. Raphael Kirby leads the group (or, is being counted on most heavily) and he's underachieved in all four years at Miami. Jermaine Grace could be a great piece for the defense but do you really want to rely on a player that maybe all speed and no punch? McCord is being moved to linebacker from the defensive line and he may have the most ingame experience even if you combine all the other players in the unit. Lastly, the primary backups (Owens and Young) who the team will rely on to fill the void when any of the starters aren't playing have a total of less than 30 tackles in their combined stats from last season. It could leave a fan wonder... "how did we get here? How did the unit fall so far when it comes to experience? It's actually a pretty simple answer: roster attrition.
In a perfect world, assuming all the players Al Golden recruited eventually stayed in the program, Miami wouldn't have this problem, at all. The team kicked off starting linebacker Alex Figueroa and primary backup Jawand Blue before the season last year due to a sexual assault they committed. The seasons before that the team released/lost the likes of Antonio Kinard (academics), Gabe Terry (discipline), Devante Bond (academics), Josh Witt (career ending concussion), Eddie Johnson (discipline) and Gionni Paul (discipline). That list is an entire unit!! Due to that we're left with a thinly experienced unit that will have to grow up quickly in 2015.