When the NCAA approved a 10th on-field assistant coach Mark Richt went with an in-house promotion to fill the role. Instead of bringing in an outsider Manny Diaz’s quality control assistant, Jonathan Patke, was promoted to “outside linebackers coach.” Patke was charged with the molding of the new striker position on defense.
With offenses choosing to be more multiple Miami could no longer completely sub out a box linebacker for a nickel back in the era of up tempo offense. Instead, Miami wanted a position that could both stop the run and play in pass coverage. Patke’s two main position players would be Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley.
I covered the linebackers back in August for our pre-season position group materials and we also covered Coach Patke’s path to strikers coach in the pre-season as well.
Can’t wait to take the best defense in the country to New York City!!!! ⛓ ⛓ pic.twitter.com/Dw2hulsZIW— Jonathan Patke (@CoachPatke) December 2, 2018
Romeo Finley came to Coral Gables as a safety and had only seen action in seven games over his first two seasons. As a junior with the move to striker, Finley played in 12 games for the ‘Canes defense that ranked first in the country in tackles for loss and finished the 2018 regular season ranked 7th in defense per the S&P+.
When on the field Finley made up for the coverage lapses of Zach McCloud and the lack of size of typical nickel backs with Trajan Bandy moving to a starting cornerback role with Malek Young forced to retire. Finley finished the regular season with 24 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, and two interceptions. Finley even returned an interception for a touchdown.
Finley played the striker role perfectly and it was proof that Manny Diaz understands his personnel both regarding assistant coaches and players. Sure, Miami didn’t reel in Alex Grinch but the OSU defense finished 37th with two defensive coordinators and a slew of top 5 recruiting classes.
Derrick Smith was the proposed starter coming out of spring and through fall camp. Smith, a sophomore, played in 11 of 12 games making 11 tackles on the season. Smith played well but Finley was the true star under Patke’s tutelage. Thanks to Smith being a good player and Finley being a great one, the position has depth heading into 2019.
I hope to see Smith play more in 2019, and eventually take on the starting role at striker in 2020.
Linebacker Anthony Solomon is a 2019 verbal commitment out of St. Thomas Aquinas. Solomon, standing at six-foot-one, 190 pounds, is a four-star prospect that looks to fit the striker position. Solomon was clocked at a 4.8 in the 40 yard dash while posting a 33.7 vertical jump. That vertical jump would put him in the top 13 of the NFL Combine in 2018.
Samuel Brooks from Miami-Northwestern High School is an outside linebacker prospect that could play a striker type of role or grow into a pass rusher like Trent Harris. Brooks is six-foot-two, 190 pound athlete that provided the Bulls with a serious pass rush threat every snap. With a 4.7 in the 40 yard dash and a 33 in the vertical jump he’s a fairly athletic kid that needs to get in the weight room if he is going to be a defensive end in Coral Gables.