Despite the difference in overall performance from 2017 to 2018, one thing stayed mostly the same: the dominating play of the defense. Much of the defense’s success can be attributed to the solid and consistent play of their linebacker corps, who brought a wealth of talent and experience while setting the tone for Manny Diaz’s attacking defense. This was made possible by Miami’s 3 starters that have been in the middle of the defense since they were true freshman in 2016: Shaquille Quarterman, Michael Pinckney, and Zach McCloud. Unlike the defensive line and the secondary, the linebackers were not as affected by off season attrition, as the coaching staff was able to convince all 3 starters to return for their senior seasons.
One more round. I’m all in! pic.twitter.com/EbUzU7PJ4V— ShaqTheGr8️⃣ (@OgBoobie_Shaq) January 1, 2019
While the starters appear set for 2019, the future of the position is unclear for the first time in years. Let’s take a look at all the linebackers heading into the spring:
Along with safety Jaquan Johnson, Shaq has been one of the undisputed leaders on the defense for the past couple seasons. He’s a sure tackler, able to attack laterally and downhill, and can hold his own in pass coverage. A true Mr. Consistent, he has finished with 84, 83 and 82 tackles in his previous 3 seasons, while developing an ability to get to the quarterback, collecting 6 sacks in 2018. Shaq will be hoping to establish himself as a first-round draft prospect as one of the top linebackers in America.
While Quarterman is Mr. Consistent, Pinckney is Mr. Impact Play, regularly blowing up opposing running backs and inside receivers with bone-crunching hits. He brings the attitude that distinguishes Miami from other programs, while developing his football IQ each year. 2018 was Pinckney’s best season, finishing with 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks and an interception.
The third member of Miami’s homegrown linebackers has been a serviceable member of the defense, but hasn’t quite reached the heights of his compatriots. Still, McCloud tallied 44 tackles and .5 sacks in his junior year. He definitely has the most room to improve going into his final season in Coral Gables, and with intriguing options rising in later classes and through the transfer market, McCloud has something to prove this spring.
Behind the 3 starters, Miami boasts a collection of special teamers looking to break in as rotational players, including De’Andre Wilder, Waynmon Steed, and Bradley Jennings Jr. Wilder was a former 4-star recruit, which would imply that he possesses the raw talent to become a regular contributor for the Canes. Steed and Jennings were 3-star recruits that will have to show flashes of promise this spring to avoid being surpassed by incoming freshman or transfers.
Speaking of incoming freshman, Surge19 included two outside linebackers from South Florida, Avery Huff and Samuel Brooks.
Huff is a 4-star linebacker from local powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale. At 6’3” 200lbs, he exhibited great speed and coverage skills, which should prove useful in the current age of spread offenses. Huff has the potential to fill out his frame and become a cornerstone of the Canes’ defense in coming seasons.
3-star Miami Northwestern product Sam Brooks has similar size to fellow freshman Avery Huff, but exhibits more of a propensity for playing downhill and affecting the running game, In his highlight video below, you can see Brooks making plays in the backfield as a down lineman or standing on the outside. Still, Brooks may have a longer way to go to get his body college-ready, and could be a redshirt candidate in 2019.
Recently, Manny Diaz’s mastery of the transfer portal yielded the ultimate wildcard, former UCLA Bruin Jaelen Phillips. The Redlands, CA native was the #1 recruit in the country in 2017 according to 247’s composite rankings, However, after 2 seasons, Phillips has struggled to recreate the form that made him so sought-after by coaching staffs across the country. He has totals of 41 tackles and 4.5 sacks over that period, and temporarily retired from football after this past season before deciding to restart his career at another school. If the 6’5” 255lb pass rusher can find a way to stay on the field, he could add a whole new dimension to the Canes’ defense.
While Miami should be set at Linebacker for 2019, there is plenty of room for new faces to make their way onto the field in 2019 and beyond.