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2017 Position Preview: Linebackers

Take a look at the returning players and see what lays ahead for the 2017 linebackers.

Miami v Georgia Tech Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

As we creep slowly closer to College Football Saturdays we at State of the U will bring you content to keep you primed on all the previews for the 2017-18 season. In this piece we’re going to take a deep dive into the linebacker unit and see who’s returning and what my expectations are for the individuals and then the unit as a whole. Let’s get to it:

Shaq Quarterman, Sophomore, Starting Middle Linebacker

Quarterman was everything Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz needed and more in a prototypical starting middle linebacker during the 2016-17 season. He was a tackling vacuum in the center of the field and was rarely out of position. The fact that Quarterman put up 84 tackles and corralled quarterbacks 3.5 times as a freshman last year was simply sensational.

Looking forward to the upcoming season Quarterman is probably going to look to improve on his first seasons numbers and who can blame him, that’s the type of personality and work ethic he has. I remember reading an article right after the bowl game victory that Quarterman and a few of his teammates were already working conditioning drills with air mask devices on the week or two after the contest. For me though, I hope Quarterman can improve and stay on the current track he has set for himself and his career at Miami. He’s already being nominated for preseason defensive player awards so the national media is taking notice of the budding sophomore superstar.

Michael Pinckney, Sophomore, Starting Outside Linebacker

If Pinckney were on any other team in America he’d probably be viewed in the same light as Quarterman when it comes to playing ability and overall potential moving forward in his college football career. Both players are that good and are sharing the spotlight on one team. Pinckney had a solid freshman season. To me he was more of a “wow” player in the sense he could make the spectacular play at any time on the field which would make you turn your head in amazement. Pinckney finished his first year with 61 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

For 2017-18 I pretty much have the same mentality for Pinckney as I did with Quarterman, he needs to keep developing and honing his craft, don’t sit idle. The fact he was able to start all his freshman season and put up good (not necessarily “great” yet) numbers is a solid foundation to build on. Take it to the next level in 2017.

Zach McCloud, Sophomore, (Co)Starting Outside Linebacker

The third of the freshman phenoms last season was McCloud. He started 11 of the 13 contests and had an okay year. Of the three, he probably could have benefitted the most from a redshirt year to acclimate to game speed. For the year McCloud had 37 tackles.

Looking to next year, McCloud may have some competition in keeping his starting spot, hence the reason I marked him a “co-starter.” The next player on our list could vie with him for the starting spot all preseason long and could potentially win it outright before the start of the campaign.

Darrion Owens, Redshirt Junior, (Co)Starting Outside Linebacker

Right behind the three sensational sophomores we start to see the primary backups. In this case, Darrion Owens may be a potential starter heading into next season. In 2016 Owens spent the preseason and a game or two into the season rehabbing from his knee reconstruction that he had to have completed during the first initial weeks of the 2015 football season. The medical staff and Owens worked diligently to slowly work him into the rotation; first on special teams and then into the base defense. Towards the last 4-5 weeks of the 2016 season Owens saw more playing time in the base defensive sets at outside linebacker and started producing tackles. In the bowl game last season he was around the ball constantly and recorded two tackles and one half sack. For the season he accounted for 17 total tackles and half a sack.

Why am I so bullish on Owens heading into the 2017-18 year? Because Owens was just like Quarterman, Pinckney and McCloud a few short seasons ago. He came to Miami as a four star recruit and played as a true freshman. It’s just that during his sophomore year he suffered a knee injury and had to work his way back up the pecking order. If he’s gained full trust in his knee (reports state that he’s shed the knee brace completely) the sky is the limit for the once heralded four star recruit.

Jamie Gordinier, Redshirt Sophomore, Backup Middle Linebacker

Gordinier’s story is similar to Owens’ except his knee injury was suffered last year in the first game of the season. If you all remember correctly though, Gordinier was in competition and actually was named the starting middle linebacker for portions of the spring practices in 2016. Towards the end of camp though the coaching staff went with Quarterman as the starter and Gordinier was supposed to be his primary backup.

Now that Gordinier is back I’d expect a similar rehabilitation process to occur with him that was seen with Owens. The staff will push Gordinier to do the best he can’t but won’t push him onto the field until he’s ready. If he can come back and play the way he was at this time last season then Miami may have found a capable backup middle linebacker for the next few years.

Charles Perry, Junior, Backup

Perry played in 12 games last season and mainly played on special teams. For the year he contributed 12 tackles, most of those take-downs were on the kick and punt coverage units.

Perry, at least in my opinion, is at a crossroads in his Miami career. He came to Miami as a four star recruit who excelled as both a running back and linebacker but coming out of the high school ranks was “raw” in his technique. The last two years and now heading into his third season, you wonder if he’ll take that illustrious “next step” and gain playing time in the base defense. Time will tell. What especially will be telling is if or when the true freshman pass him on the depth chart. If they do, it wouldn’t surprise me after next season if Perry transfers away for more playing time in his last season of eligibility. In the meantime though Perry is a contributing member on the special teams and looks to hopefully gain more defensive snaps heading into the 2017-18 season.

Terry McCray, Redshirt Junior, Backup

Just like Perry above him, McCray may also be at a crossroads in his UM career. Over the last two seasons McCray has only played in 9 total games and has seen action primarily on special teams or if the Canes are blowing out their opponent (i.e IAA teams). Last season McCray participated in five games and had four total tackles.

Looking forward into 2017-18 we’ll have to see if McCray can provide depth to the linebacker unit and potentially play more of a role on special teams.

Waynmon Steed and Bradley Jennings Jr, Freshmen, Backups

For both Steed and Jennings Jr they’re the next crop of linebackers to come through the Miami pipeline. Both were rated consensus three start prospects. Steed is seen as an inside linebacker and Jennings Jr. is projected to play on the outside. For both, the objective this year is to learn and get better as the season goes on. With two entrenched starters, two “co” starters and a few upper classmen ahead of them on the depth chart at this moment it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both of these players redshirt this season. Steed may be the most likely to redshirt due to the fact that he was diagnosed last season with a knee injury that required offseason surgery heading into Miami.

De’Andre Wilder is not on Miami’s roster at this time so he was not included with the above freshman. Assuming he makes it onto the roster, he could either be redshirted or used as a rushing specialist due to his blazing speed.

Overall Synopsis on the Group

The linebacking group heading into the 2016 season was thought to be the weak link of the defense due to having to play true freshmen at each of the three starting positions. Luckily (pretty much miraculously) none of the three players sustained an injury and were able to execute their roles admirably as new comers. Heading into 2017 the group goes from being a weakness to being a strength due to the cast and characters all coming back to their roles a year older and hopefully wiser. With Owens coming back more into his own he could potentially push the group to new heights in regards to daily competition for playing time on Greentree. With the potential of more depth Miami may be able to redshirt the newcomers they signed in the 2017 class instead of having “trials by fire” like we saw last year.

What do you think of the linebacker unit? Leave your thoughts below.