The Miami Hurricanes' trio of early-enrollee linebackers made their presence felt on the defense this spring. They earned starting reps during camp, and when called upon, have only impressed. Normally, playing freshmen can be attributed to depth issues or injuries, and there's a bit of both in play for the Hurricanes. But these young linebackers are playing with confidence, and when you impress your coaches, regardless of class, you're going to play.
That's just what these players have done -- they exceeded expectations during spring practices and did so consistently, topping it off with a strong showing in Miami's Spring Game. Depth at linebacker was a concern for the Hurricanes heading into the offseason, and these players have done well to strengthen the ranks.
Shaquille Quarterman, Zack McCloud, and Michael Pickney. They've been called the Three Amigos and The Bermuda Triangle reincarnate, and they're showing early signs of deserving such titles.
MLB Shaquille Quarterman leads the charge as the first-team offense runs into a wall of first-team defenders. M.Seay/Dorseyitis
Benefiting from the coaching change, where upperclassmen didn't have the advantage of familiarity with the playbook or the coaches, the three linebackers walked onto the Greentree practice fields with a clean slate, completely equal to the rest, and left an impressive mark.
Shaquille Quarterman, perhaps the most eye-catching of the three, finished the spring atop the depth chart and started as the Hurricanes first-team middle linebacker in the Spring Game. His work ethic during camp earned him the defensive leadership award, a truly stunning feat for a freshman.
Shaquille Quarterman on the defensive leadership award he received:
"It meant a lot. First of all, to come early and jump into the program the way I have, and then to not only do that, but to be chosen as a leader, meant a lot. It's a humbling award also. You can't get it and just assume that you have it made. You have to continue to do that because as a leader, you have to continue to lead."
State of the U's Cameron Underwood saw firsthand the play of Shaq Quarterman, Zack McCloud, and Michael Pickney at the Hurricanes 2016 Spring Game. As we all were, Cam was skeptical at first, but as you'll read below, he left Lockhart Stadium a believer.
"While several incoming recruits will benefit from a redshirt, LBs Shaq Quarterman and Mike Pinckney are ready to go RIGHT NOW.
That pair, who started and played the entire game with the 1st team defense, played with high energy and great effectiveness. Quarterman was credited with 7 tackles and a TFL, but I had him closer to 10 tackles on the day. Pickney had 5 tackles and 2 TFLs, and also was a factor in pass defense.
Any uncertainty I had about starting 2 freshmen LBs was erased by what I saw on Saturday. They're not perfect players and will make mistakes, but those are the growing pains you have to go through with young players. But, I think it's pretty clear that the Canes' first team defense is better and stronger with Quarterman and Pinckney on it." - Cam Underwood, State of the U
The three formed one of (if not) the best linebacker classes in the nation in 2016 with Quarterman and McCloud both earning 4-star rankings and Pickney, often said to be an underrated prospect, grading out as a 3-star, per 247Sports Composite rankings.
But there's another position group brimming with talent that'll soon arrive in Coral Gables -- Miami's #Swag16 class of receivers. This receiving group rivals the linebackers' star power in the recruiting rankings and could be just as impactful moving forward.
Head coach Mark Richt's first recruiting class netted elite receivers Ahmmon Richards, Sam Bruce, and Dionte Mullins, all with 4-star rankings, per 247Sports, and JUCO transfer Dayall Harris. They weren't afforded the chance to arrive early and compete in the spring, like the aforementioned Three Amigos, but with a lack of depth at the wide receiver position, the four 2016 signees appear destined for playing time in the fall.
Mark Richt on how much the four incoming wide receivers will play:
"They'll have to play. They'll have to play for sure. We're telling them all to get ready to compete and there's no doubt that those guys will get a boatload of reps. If they can function well, they don't have missed assignments and they're not afraid to compete, they're not afraid to play major college football, then they'll be in the game because I don't want to have like we had today where one side of the ball you basically had five skill guys taking every single snap. It's just not good."
And again, with players of such quality, seeing freshman on the field in 2016 isn't as terrifying as it should be. Sam Bruce is electric; Ahmmon Richards is a dynamic player with great hands; Dionte Mullins set the Under Armour All-American game ablaze; and Dayall Harris is a former 4-star (out of high school) prospect as well.
When grading the Miami Hurricanes' 2016 recruiting class, Jerry Steinberg dubbed it a case of "quality over quantity." That's a fitting title when assessing the class as a whole and, truthfully, it was a welcoming sight considering past recruiting classes and the limited time the new coaching staff had to operate. However, with these two position groups, the linebackers and receivers, both quality and quantity needs were met. The Three Amigos and the incoming receivers are bound to see action this upcoming season. With so much talent, and promising play during the spring, there's potential for great things from the young Hurricanes.
If the play of Miami's freshmen linebackers carries over into the fall, and the incoming receivers match that intensity, the Hurricanes are that much closer to being a well-rounded team.
What say you, 'Canes fans? Can the freshmen receivers outshine the linebackers? Which group of freshmen would you rank higher? Share your views below in the comments section and in the poll.