It’s kind of funny “taking a look back” at my previous write up of this position group. Well, I call it funny. Others may call it sad. When I wrote the preview last season it was about a unit that could mix in a few talented players as well as lean on the depth of the senior leadership. Little did we all know, roughly a month or so after posting that piece both potential conference All American Jermaine Grace and starting middle linebacker Juwon Young would be thrown off the team due to impermissible benefits and lying to university investigators.
And poof went that preview.
Heading into 2016 after both players were kicked off the football team, Miami was going to be led at both outside linebacker positions as well as the inside linebacker spot by true freshmen. Their main backups? Many developmental players who hadn’t seen much playing time before 2016 either and even another teammate rehabbing from the previous season long injury he sustained. After the first game against FAMU the group took yet another subtraction when primary backup Jamie Gordinier went down with a season long injury and all of a sudden Miami really didn’t have depth.
After the first game though, the group stabilized and luckily sustained no further injuries. Here’s how the group faired for 2016 from “most impactful” to “barely played.”
Shaq Quarterman, Freshman
I remember watching Quarterman’s highlight reel hits about this time a year ago when he was still in high school and saying to myself “yep, he’s ready to play from day one” and boy was he ever. Quarterman took over the starting linebacker position almost immediately in spring camp and never relinquished it. I don’t think anyone even challenged for playing time behind him. The 2016 season for Quarterman was scary productive if you remember the fact he’s only a freshman. He had 79 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks (keep in mind, he plays middle linebacker) and one fumble recovery. Due to his personality and production in 2016 he’s already one of the top leaders of the defense.
For 2017 I hope Quarterman can keep up his production. In interviews during the bowl week he seemed to allude to the fact that he has areas of his game to work on so he needs to train a lot more to perfect his craft... I say “you do you” as long as it doesn’t hinder his future as a Cane. Guys, 2016 was a phenomenal year from Quarterman. If he can produce the same or a little better in 2017 it’s all good.
Michael Pinckney, Freshman
Quarterman may have been the leader of the linebacking group but Pinckney wasn’t far behind him in terms of defensive impactful performances during the 2016 season. The second of the three true freshman started on the outside all season long for the Canes and registered 57 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for losses and an interception. Both he and Quarterman have been recognized nationally as freshmen all American types for their performances during the 2016 season.
Could asking for a repeat performance in 2017 be too much to ask from us of Pinckney? We don’t need an outside linebacker sucking up all the tackles on the team. Maybe just an added sack here and there maybe? Pinckney had a great 2016 inaugural season and we look forward to him hopefully putting up the same if not better stats next season as the entrenched starter again in 2017.
Zach McCloud, Freshman
McCloud was the third in the group of three heralded freshmen who played an expanded role all season (he started 11 of 12 games) for the Canes this season. You could argue that of the three he was probably the one who needed a redshirt season the most to get used to the flow of the college game. His play in 2016 really reminded me of how Darrion Owens’ freshman season went: he got lots of playing time, was around the ball a lot but seemed to just miss the play when it comes to making the tackle or another impactful result.
Looking ahead to 2017 there’s a good chance McCloud keeps the outside linebacker position locked down as there isn’t necessarily a player immediately better than he is on the team. Also, we’ll probably see McCloud progress and hopefully get better. His 2016 totals were 31 total tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Jamie Gordinier, Redshirt Freshman
Sometimes when switching from one type of scheme to another there can be personnel casualties. This is due to the fact that certain players may not “fit” into the new scheme. Gordinier could have possibly been one of those players as he was seen as a plodding outside linebacker in the previous coaching staff’s strategy. Diaz wanted to change the defenses strength to more of a speed team; a team that caused havoc for the opposition and a slower, more powerful defense wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Gordinier however was able to transition from the old scheme to the new and was looked at by the coaches as the first backup in the linebacker rotation or possibly even a starter down the line in 2016. However, during the first game of the season against FAMU, Gordinier went down with a knee injury. It was later revealed that the ailment would need the whole season to rehabilitate so Gordinier was done for the rest of the 2016 campaign.
Looking to 2017 we’ll have to see what Gordinier can do after his rehabilitation is complete. Two years ago Darrion Owens injured himself around the same time Gordinier did and took about a half season to “get back in the flow” of the game. If Gordinier can come back and play how he was during last spring, you can expect him to be a valuable depth player in the rotation next season.
Darrion Owens, Redshirt Sophomore
Due to his season ending knee injury in 2015, Owens was nursed back to health slowly in 2016. He returned versus the opponent he actually sustained the injury against the previous season, FAU and was able to get a few tackles which was a confidence booster for him. Overall for the 2016 season Owens was a backup who played mostly on special teams. For the season he accounted for 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a fumble recovery.
For 2017 I really don’t know what to predict for Owens. He was a high level recruit coming into the program, played a lot during his freshman season and then sustained the injury. Maybe he’ll break through and shake all the rustiness off in 2017 but it’s hard to see him take on more reps at this stage and taking “that next step” in terms of progression. He may just be a rotational player heading into his redshirt junior season instead of wrestling away a starting role.
Charles Perry, Sophomore
Here’s another player who was relatively highly rated out of high school (high three star or four star by some services) but hasn’t necessarily put it all together yet at the college level. Perry came into this season as a rotational player as well as having duties on the special team’s coverage squads and accomplished those tasks. For the year he accrued 12 total tackles and one forced fumble.
Next season, similar to Owens, I don’t see Perry really expanding in his responsibilities unless there’s an injury to a player ranked higher on the depth chart. His ceiling seems to be that of rotational player to spell the starters and solid special team contributor.
Mike Smith, Redshirt Sophomore
Smith was another one of those depth players for the linebacking group. He was mainly a second string linebacker as well as special team’s coverage participant. For the 2016 season Smith had a solid 11 tackles and one interception (that deflection versus APP State).
Prognosticating 2017 I’d have to say that Smith probably retains the same role he had in 2016. Maybe he’ll get a few more tackles but overall he will probably stay a depth player for the linebacking unit.
Terry McCray, Redshirt Sophomore
I’m not going to lie... I thought I saw McCray on the field more in 2016 than I did in 2015 but that’s not the case. The three-star recruit from Blanche Ely only played in two games and had three tackles on the year (two of which were against FAMU). For whatever reason McCray hasn’t been able to break the linebacker rotation on a team that seemingly has “no depth” at the group.
In 2017 we may see more of the same production for McCray, unfortunately. With Richt bringing in another three or so linebackers in the class of 2017 they may leapfrog McCray for playing time unless the coaching staff wants to redshirt the new additions.
Even though this group may have been seen as a potential burden at the beginning of the season, thanks to preparation and luck (i.e no more injuries) the unit as a whole played pretty well. Granted, the three freshmen who started had close to all the defensive production but what’s worthy to note is not a single player will be lost from this group to graduation during the offseason of 2017. Now, will someone transfer for more playing time behind the three entrenched starters? Perhaps so but we haven’t heard any rumbling of this yet.
Looking ahead to 2017 I believe the phrase “more depth” will be used when trying to analyze this unit. Everyone returning will be a year older and hopefully a little more improved over the course of another off season. Many fans are clamoring for the three freshmen in the 2017 class to immediately become the primary backups to Shaq, Mike and Zach but if one or two (heck, even if all three) need to be redshirted I’d have no problem with stretching out the position group an extra year if possible.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!