Today marks the beginning of our 2017 season recap of the Canes’ LB group. Highly heralded coming off of an impressive 2016 where three true-freshmen LB’s started for Miami, the 2017 group steadily improved. The jump from year one to year two was not as large as many would have hoped or wished for, but this group was still one of the best in the ACC and the nation. While the starters were generally top-notch, for most of the season there was a bit of an uncomfortable drop-off when going to the reserves. Redshirt junior Mike Smith got a start in the opener vs Bethune Cookman due to Pinckney’s targeting call in the second half of the 2016 Russel Athletic Bowl win over West Virginia and showed promise. Junior Charles Perry, before getting hurt against Notre Dame, was having a solid season. Three freshmen LB’s joined the team for the 2017 season in Bradley Jennings (7 tackles), De’Andre Wilder (10 tackles), and Waynmon Steed, who redshirted as he continued to recover from a high school injury. Most of the young guys’ work came on special teams, which is nothing out of the ordinary. This group as a whole was not as staunch against the run as we would like, but they played aggressively in the Manny Diaz defense and made many big plays throughout the 2017 campaign. Without further ado, let’s take a look at Miami’s MVP, MIP, and ROY for 2017.
Most Valuable Player: Sophomore Michael Pinckney (13 games, 11 starts)
2017 Statistics: 68 tackles, 11 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery
While teammate and fellow LB Shaquille Quarterman had more tackles on the year (83 tackles), Pinckney was the most aggressive of the bunch and found himself making more big plays than any of the other LB’s. The sophomore from Jacksonville was a 2017 All-ACC Honorable Mention and that was a major snub. He had huge games on the year, highlighted by a ten tackle effort against Duke (he added an INT on the night as well) and a 9 tackle game against Syracuse where he also recorded 3.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks. For his play against Syracuse, he was recognized as ACC Linebacker of the Week and Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week. He was also one of the bight spots (if there were any) in the ACC Championship against Clemson when he posted 8 tackles and 0.5 tackles-for-loss. If there was one LB on Miami that you were comfortable with getting to the QB if you needed it, it was #56. In a year where Miami was wildly inconsistent trying to stop the run, Pinckney was one of the more consistent defensive threats. In terms of perception, many saw Pinckney as the third best LB of Miami’s defense coming into 2017 and he has proved that he has the potential to be an All-American and one day an All-Pro in the NFL.
Most Improved Player: Redshirt Junior Darrion Owens (13 games, 0 starts)
2016 statistics: 17 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss, 1 fumble recovery
2017 statistics: 35 tackles, 4.5 tackles-for-loss
Coming back from injury, Darrion Owens has not been the same. He was a starter coming into 2015 before the knee injury against FAU. While he struggled mightily trying to come back in 2016 and played timidly, 2017 was a great step in the right direction. He started slow, but steadily came into his own as the season wore on. His best game was in the Orange Bowl vs Wisconsin where he played as much as any of the other LB’s and finished with 9 tackles and 0.5 tackles-for-loss. He showed that he can be a reliable back-up for a top-notch Power Five program, just in time for him to transfer. Wherever he ends up, he should be able to provide a good positive impact on the LB rotation. It took him some time and while he will likely never realize the potential he had before his injury, Darrion Owens came back and improved more than anyone else from the LB corps this season.
Rookie of the Year: Freshman De’Andre Wilder (12 games, 0 starts)
2017 statistics: 10 tackles
Wilder saw the overwhelming majority of his snaps come on special teams, but after some injuries to other LB’s, he was the freshman that rose to the top. He saw more snaps at LB in the latter parts of the season and showed well. He still needs to add weight, as he’s listed at just over 200 pounds right now. He is lanky and possibly the most athletically gifted LB on Miami’s roster right now. He has a great frame at 6’3” and showed on special teams that he can run. The other rookie of consideration, Bradley Jennings, had a respectable first year as well. Jennings has a bigger build at 6’1” and 230 pounds but he needs more work overall. The future at LB looks solid for the time-being.
That’s it for part one of the 2017 recap of the LB’s. Hop in the comments and let me know who your MVP, MIP, and ROY for 2017 are. We’ll be back for more on the LB’s, and the rest of the team, soon.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE U!