Every group of linebackers that comes through the University of Miami from this point forward will be compared to three guys that walked onto campus and gave their all to this program from day one: Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud. Collectively, they have led this Hurricanes defense for the past three years and will be sticking around for one more shot to finish their career out successfully.
This past season was a special year for the defense in general who led the nation in multiple categories including tackles for loss and passing defense. Those accomplishments would have never been possible without a group of linebackers that went far beyond the Hurricanes Bermuda Triangle.
Mike Smith might have been one of the most underrated players not only on this defense, but on the entire team. As a senior we saw the type of player that Smith was always capable of being. He finished with 41 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in nine games this year, mostly serving as a reserve. Before 2018, he had never had a complete tackle for loss in his career. His effort and efficency provided a massive relief for the core of linebackers.
Another guy that made a tremendous jump in 2018 was Romeo Finley, who excelled as the Hurricanes striker. Finley was basically a hybrid linebacker that was able to provide coverage while also serving as a free rusher in Manny Diaz’s attacking defense. Prior to the development of this striker position, Finley had played in just seven games throughout his first two seasons and accumulated just thirteen career tackles.
Those numbers changed drastically this past year. The junior played in all thirteen games and collected 28 tackles, five tackles for loss, and two interceptions for Miami, including a pick six against North Carolina in a game where the Hurricanes scored three defensive touchdowns:
Sophomore striker Derrick Smith was Finley’s backup at the striker position and saw action in 12 of 13 games this year. He had six total tackles.
While both Smiths and Finley provided necessary depth at linebacker, there is no doubt about who ran that unit. Quarterman, Pinckney, and McCloud combined for 200 tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, and 11 sacks. The impact that those three have on this defense cannot be measured solely on those numbers; their leadership deserves a level of praise all on its own.
Quarterman led the unit with 82 tackles and 14 tackles for loss with six sacks, earning him first team All-ACC honors. He also started every game for the Hurricanes for the third consecutive season giving him the longest current starting streak of any Hurricanes player (39).
Pinckney has been another reliable linebacker for the Hurricanes. He started all twelve games that he was active for in 2018 and started every game of his freshman and sophomore year. His 75 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks earned him All-ACC honorable mention honors for the second consecutive season. One of Pinckney’s biggest plays of the year was when he picked off Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois in the third quarter of the game that eventually allowed Miami to score to make it a one-score game.
McCloud has not had the luxury of health as his two counterparts have. Although he's played in almost every game of his career, he has constantly had a nagging injury or something that has kept him from being 100%. It is exciting to know that his best football is still ahead of him, despite collecting 44 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss.
Those three guys returning for their senior years instantly keeps Miami relevant and dangerous defensively. Had they left, I’m not sure what the Hurricanes would have done at the position moving forward.
Young guys like Patrick Joyner, Bradley Jennings Jr., and Waynmon Steed and also helped the unit from the depth standpoint. Jennings Jr. led the group with eight total tackles in four games. Sophomore linebacker De’Andre Wilder missed a majority of the 2018 season with a neck injury, but he could fit in very nicely at the striker position.