Raphael Kirby, Senior
Oh, the season that could have been.. Kirby was going to be counted on as the leader in this group but unfortunately due to his knee injury, was lost halfway through the '15 campaign. In just six games he totaled a respectable 44 tackles. Even though he may not have made as big of an impact during his career as a Cane as many would have wished, you could tell the effort and leadership characteristics were there during the '15 season. Even after he was lost for the season it was noted many times that he helped the underclassmen study opposing offenses and lent guidance from the bench on gamedays. Due to his commitment to the team he was named one of only three Captains for the '15 season.
‘16-'17 Outlook: Assuming Kirby can make a full recovery, I expect him to take part in the Miami Pro Day before the NFL Draft in April. I don't believe he'll be drafted due to his limited production in the college ranks and then the injury his senior season but look for him to possibly get a training camp invite heading into the '16 season.
Jermaine Grace, Junior
If you would have told me at the beginning of the season almost half this group would be lost for the season I probably would have guessed that Grace would have been one of the injured. The main reason was that he's just undersized for what Golden requested out of the punishing 34 scheme. However, Grace made it through the season relatively unscathed and cranked out team leading numbers on the defense. Grace was seemingly all over the field at times and due to his blazing speed was able to pace the defense with 79 total tackles for the season.
'16-'17 Outlook: When Coach Richt was hired, in my opinion, every player on the defense got a fresh and positive outlook on the defensive front due to the fact that Richt stated Miami would be going back to their old 43 style of defense. One of the many players to benefit from this will be Grace. To put it flatly: he never really fit in Golden's 34 defense. The fact he did so well last year and the season before was because of his individual play making ability. He has never and probably will never have the desired size to play in the 34 scheme but with the transition back his skill sets are perfect for the new design. Next season he'll be penciled in as a starter at one of the outside linebacker positions and will have a chance to possibly add to his stats from last year or be close to the same. If he produces another terrific season in '16 like he did in '15 he'll probably get drafted in the mid rounds of the NFL draft if not higher.
Darrion Owens, Sophomore
The red flags for the linebacker unit started when Darrion Owens was lost for the season early on in the week 2 contest versus FAU. There's never a "great time" to lose a starter but this injury and the timing hurt for the group for the whole ‘15 season. Owens, who was rated a four star prospect out of high school had a decent season in ‘14 coming off the bench and playing on special teams. ‘15 was supposed to be his breakout year due to the fact that he had locked down one of the outside linebacker positions and had wowed during spring camp with his athleticism. However, it just wasn't meant to be. Owens finished the season with just four total tackles.
‘16-'17 Outlook: Assuming Owens can come back from the knee injury at full strength he again could be poised for a monster season. Look for Owens to be a starter at either outside linebacker position opposite Jermaine Grace on the other side and Juwon Young in the middle.
Tyriq McCord, Senior
McCord never seemed to grasp a solid footing in terms of playing time during his entire college career at Miami. Whether it was as an undersized 34 pass rusher when he first joined the team or being too stiff/slow in coverage as an outside linebacker, McCord disappointed. In ‘15 many thought McCord would be able to take over full time as the strongside linebacker. Considering the depth withered throughout the unit as the season progressed, it was surprising to see McCord only being able to start eight of the 13 games and relegated to situational snaps. McCord was able to contribute on the field in his final season but it was never truly as impactful as one would have wanted from the former four star prospect.
'16-'17 Outlook: At the next level, look for McCord to probably get an invite to the "Senior Bowl" type scouting event so he can be evaluated by the NFL personnel executives. I would guess (not a draft expert) he'll go unselected but later get an invite for a rookie roster spot for training camp.
Marques Gayot, Sophomore
Just like Owens before him, Gayot's season ended prematurely as well due to a neck injury sustained in practice (before week four's contest against the Cincinnati Bearcats). During the ‘15 season Gayot saw playing time as a backup behind Jermaine Grace and had multiple rolls on the special teams coverage units. His highlight for the season was when he got lots of playing time against Bethune-Cookman. In the contest he totaled four tackles, 2.5 of those were for losses and 1.5 sacks.
'16-‘17 Outlook: Gayot will again be counted on to backup Jermaine Grace and Darrion Owens at either outside linebacker position. Depth is always needed for any unit and he will be a key contributor to the depth next season. If Owens can't return to full strength at the beginning of the season Gayot may be able to take advantage assuming the newest crop of freshmen don't beat him to the opportunity.
Juwon Young, Sophomore
With all the injuries that occurred throughout the season, Young was probably the backup that gained the most experience and provided the biggest lift coming off the bench when pressed into service. Young started five of the seven last games of the season after Kirby's season ending knee injury. Once he was given the chance at extended playing time he excelled in certain games and disappeared in others. For example, in the Clemson, Georgia Tech and Washington State contests he totaled 10, 13 and 10 tackles respectively. However, in the other four games to end the season he registered no more than 3 tackles per contest. When he showed up, he shined really bright. In the end, he finished second on the team in tackles at 57, had one forced fumble and one interception.
‘16-'17 Outlook: Young will be counted on to start in the middle next season. Moving from the 34 to the 43 will probably be a boon for him in terms of stats. Young has an outside shot if he develops and becomes consistent as a 100+ tackling machine and possible all conference (2nd or 3rd team) player at the end of next season. The experience he gained at the back half of '15 could propel him to bigger and better things for '16.
Charles Perry, Freshman
As was predicted by most observers of the team, Perry was relegated to special teams duty for the entirety of the season. If this team had solid bench players maybe he could have redshirted but with the thin depth and then the injuries, as noted previous times before in this article, Perry was pushed onto the playing field. Now, luckily he didn't have to play on gameday for the defense and was able to learn on the practice field but he did take part in special team's coverage. Due to his niche roll he only totaled two tackles.
'16-'17 Outlook: With Perry's ideal size and athleticism he should be able to contribute anywhere in the linebacker unit next season. If I had to guess, look for him to probably be a main backup in the middle though behind Juwon Young. He'll be continued to be counted on as a special team ace as well.
Mike Smith, Redshirt Freshman
Just like the others who saw an uptick in playing time as the season progressed, Smith saw the field more and more due to the attrition. He never started for the Canes but he was a solid backup off the bench the last five games of the season. For the 2016 season he totaled six tackles.
‘16-‘17 Outlook: Even though Smith didn't have a big impact statistically I seem to remember him being all over the field the last quarter of the season. Maybe it was his hair (dreads) or just my imagination but I swear I saw him flash a little bit more than the numbers indicate... Anyways, Smith maybe another one of the young linebackers who could potentially thrive with the system change from 34 to 43. His size and speed (6'1" 220) translate well for Diaz's attacking style and he could prove to be a valuable backup in '16 at all three positions.
James King, Freshman
King was not as widely heralded a recruit as Perry coming into the season but had about the same impact on the football field. He played in three total games and totaled no stats while playing on special teams. To be honest, I don't know why he wasn't redshirted but I guess when you need people to play... those notions go out the window.
'16-'17 Outlook: It's pretty tricky to project what's next for King. I could see him possibly taking a big jump this offseason in terms of development and being a solid backup next season for the Canes at all three positions... Or I can see him getting passed by the highly regarded prospects in the '16 recruiting class as well. In the end it's all up to him and his training in the offseason to write the narrative.
Jamie Gordinier, Freshman
In this group, he was the only player that redshirted.
'16-'17 Outlook: I picked Gordinier to possibly be a sleeper pickup for Golden in his 34 scheme heading into '15 and beyond but now with the installation of the 43 I'm not too sure of his position moving forward. Gordinier, per Miami's homepage, is listed as 236 pounds. Could he put on 10-20 pounds and play defensive end? Possibly. He played the position in high school so maybe he can convert and put his hand in the ground. However, could Manny Diaz and his defense employ him as a mauling inside linebacker? That's possible as well. There's no definitive track that has been revealed for Gordinier's future so we'll have to wait and see on his development and where that will be.
With all the injuries and all the young players having to be taken into account, I don't think this group did all that badly. It was a mix and match group that played relatively well I thought all season. Yes, Clemson and UNC destroyed Miami's defense but I never thought this group in particular was the sole reason for that when it came to the defensive inabilities.
Looking ahead as I've noted many times, I think this group is setup for good things. They only lose one player (Kirby) from the group and add back a possible starter in Owens and a backup in Gayot. Mix in the fact that Richt and Diaz are bringing in arguably the best linebacker grouping in the country in the '16 recruiting class and you have a solid if not dominant group from top to bottom. For me, the only penciled in starter is Grace due to his natural abilities and the fact he's played for four years. Juwon Young, Darrion Owens and the rest will be fighting for playing time and that will only make the group better. Thinking about it now, this group could be the best amongst the defense when comparing the defensive line and the secondary..