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Best Case, Worst Case, Likely: LB

Miami’s big three enters its third year together; what should we expect?

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like long ago that Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud stepped onto campus and became a trio of freshmen starting linebackers. It didn’t take long for them to live up to the hype either, asserting themselves as playmakers in their first years and continuing to be a big reason why the Miami defense is so damn good. They shut down the run, do a solid job of pass coverage in the middle of the field and occasionally, get to the QB.

This is probably one of the easier position groups to project going forward. We have seen them play and grow together for the last two seasons. Still though, what will 2018 bring to this unique position group?

Best Case Scenario

The starting three’s growth continues as juniors. Quarterman asserts himself as the best middle linebacker in the nation and is a sideline-to-sideline, tackling machine. Whatever runners manage to slip through the stingy defense line don’t find too much room left when Shaq gets downhill. Quarterman improves in the passing game as well and is able to wear the turnover chain a few times this season. McCloud is not so much the forgotten man and isn’t beset by nagging injuries, making big impacts in the biggest games this season. Although he doesn’t play in Miami’s nickel defense, his run-stopping work is obvious when he does find himself on the field in base sets.

Pinckney takes a massive leap forward. He finally plays with game-to-game consistency and, at times, outshines Quarterman while playing weakside. His speed allows him to knife through gaps and bring RBs and QBs alike down. He’s much more polished in pass defense and is a turnover creating machine. Pinckney grabs a few interceptions this season as QBs try to work over the middle.

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Worst Case Scenario

Injuries and inconsistency plagues this unit. McCloud can’t stay on the field, hurting the Canes’ base formation. Quarterman is really good but still lagging behind as a pass defender. Offenses with athletic backs and tight ends find ways to take advantage of him. Pinckney continues to have one great game followed by two “meh” ones. Having dealt with his own share of nagging injuries, Pinckney’s ailments further resets his efforts to be more consistent.

The depth players are average but the drop-off in quality of play when one of the starters leaves the field is obvious. A unit that was one of Miami’s strongest and most dependable can’t find its footing for a defense that leans heavily on it.

Likely Scenario

Miami’s linebacking corps looks better, even if incrementally. We don’t get to see much of Zach McCloud but when he’s in there, the run defense is noticeably better. Quarterman continues to improve the finer points of his game, like reading plays and reacting faster. He has his best season to date but still has some issues in pass coverage that holds him back from being the clear best middle linebacker in the nation. Still, Quarterman is in the top two or three of the conversation.

Pinckney is improved and his problems with consistency, while still present, are much less of an issue than in the past. Pinckney, while not as strong and consistent as Quarterman, makes a case for being the most talented linebacker on the roster. The three backers are mostly injury free and whatever games they do miss, the solid depth behind them should be able to handle it. The strength of the linebacking corps makes the Miami front seven as tough to beat as any in the nation.