While there were many storylines for the Canes this offseason, I believe that the single most important storyline will be the decision of the Linebacker core to return for their Senior season. With the “Three Amigos” bypassing the NFL draft and returning for a final ride, the defensive unit got its biggest injection of experience, toughness, and leadership back. The Linebacker position is a staple in Manny’s defense and will likely continue to be featured under new DC Blake Baker.
Taking a closer look at the position, lets rank what we currently have.
Here is the list of contenders (Alphabetical order by last name):
1. Samuel Brooks - True Freshman
Not a whole lot to say here. Brooks is an intriguing tackler that has the right size and speed to rush the QB. He isn’t listed on the roster yet, but that should change come fall camp later this month. I expect his contribution to be on special teams initially as he adjusts to the college game, but like the other young backers, he will need to be prepared to take snaps this season in relief of the Seniors. How many snaps will be dependent on how soon Steed, Jennings, and Wilder return (if at all). I’m rooting for Sam to pick up the basics and contribute early.
2. Romeo Finley – Senior - Striker
Finley has 38 games of experience under his belt for Miami as a back up to Zach McCloud. He was able to start 4 games last season, and he performed well when given the opportunity. With 28 tackles, 5 TFL, and 2 interceptions last year (1 for a TD), expect him to gain more snaps this season and challenge McCloud for the starting role. Phil Steele has Finely ranked in the preseason as 4th team All-ACC.
3. Gilbert Frierson – Redshirt Freshman - Striker
Gilbert played in 2 games as a DB during his Freshman year before redshirting, and had 1 tackle and 1 pass break up, so experience here will be needed. With the position change in the offseason, I see him initially playing mop up duty to pick up the speed of the game and learn the nuances as a Striker, but he could be thrust into action when games are still up in the air if the injury bug hits. I expect to see more of him as the season wears on because the staff will need to rely on him next season, so now would be the time to get him meaningful snaps.
4. Avery Huff – True Freshman
Avery hasn’t enrolled as of publishing of this article, but he is expected in by Fall camp. Originally expected as a Summer B enrollee, this delay will likely set him back on the field. He will need to get conditioned, learn the playbook and signals, and adjust to a full academic schedule all at the same time. This is going to be tough, so I don't want to overestimate his contribution to the team. I think he will have a better chance to play earlier in the season as Steed, Jennings, and Wilder are out. Things will tighten as the season wears on and those guys return to the lineup. The staff will need to prepare him for the increased role expected of him next season, so look for Huff to play a lot of special teams this season.
5. Bradley Jennings Jr. – Redshirt Sophomore
Jennings is Shaq’s back up at the MLB spot, but his experience is limited at the collegiate level. He only played 48 snaps last season before being redshirted. Couple that with him being injured in the Spring game, and you have a lot of uncertainty at the position behind Quarterman. Without knowing the severity of the injury he experienced, fans should take a wait and see approach and proceed with caution. If Jennings is able to return from injury this season, look for him to be given the opportunity to produce in spot relief. In his favor, Jennings is entering his third season in this system so he should be able to re-acclimate quickly. Conditioning will be key to his ability to stay on the field for longer durations as the season progresses.
6. Patrick Joyner, Jr. – Redshirt Freshman (Read a player breakdown here)
Joyner is likely ready for a larger role in this defense given his switch from DE to LB. His size and skill will suit him well at the linebacker position, and gives Miami much needed depth at the position. Manny Diaz was pumped about Joyner’s effort during the Spring and said “He stepped up at linebacker. We recruited him with the idea of being both a linebacker and defensive end.” That flexibility will serve him well as he looks for more playing time.
7. Zach McCloud – Senior - Striker
McCloud has played in 39 games as a Miami Hurricane and has been solid on the strong side. In the 2018 season, Manny Diaz and company created the Striker position and Zach led that charge. He is being pushed by fellow Senior Romeo Finely as Finley has come on strong in relief of McCloud and even started 4 games last season. Expect Zach to start the season, but he and Finely will likely share reps at the position.
8. Michael Pinckney – Senior
Pinckney will be looking to leave his mark on the program this season. Having played in 38 career games for Miami, he is primed to compete to be a first day pick in next April’s NFL draft. Expect more of the same from him this season as he gobbles up running backs and pressures quarterbacks to the tune of Solo D’s famous anthem “Turnover Chain”.
Expect Pinckney to add to his list of his honors this season.
2018 ALL-ACC, HONORABLE MENTION
2017 ALL-ACC, HONORABLE MENTION
2016 FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA (ESPN)
9. Shaq Quarterman – Senior
Shaq is a man on a mission. Having last season end the way it did was hard to deal with for both fans and players, and Quarterman said as much to David Wilson of the Miami Herald back in March when asked about why he returned for his Senior year.
“Did not want to leave Miami the way that the season ended off last year.”
As the old saying goes, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.
As he prepares to enter his 4th and final season with Miami, he will suit up for his 40th consecutive game on 8/24 against the Florida Gators. If anyone understands “The Miami Standard” it’s Shaq Quarterman. So many greats have poured into him, and mentored him. He is not the type to take that tutelage lightly. I expect him to have a career high in tackles this season (projecting 87), and to lead the team in that category. I also expect he will sit atop the 2019 ALL-ACC First Team again. Out of respect for his last 3 seasons of work, I’ll list his prior accolades.
2018 ALL-ACC, FIRST TEAM
2017 ALL-ACC, SECOND TEAM
2016 FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICA (ESPN, 247Sports, Pro Football Focus)
2016 ALL-ACC, THIRD TEAM (Coaches)
2016 ALL-ACC, HONORABLE MENTION (ACSMA)
10. Waynmond Steed – Redshirt Sophomore
Having retorn the same ACL as he did in High school, I expect Steed will be out for the season. While anything is possible, I’m willing to say it is not likely that we will see Steed suit up for the Canes this season... A major disappointment as I expected him to get significant playing time this season after working so hard to get back from his previous injury.
11. De’Andre Wilder – Redshirt Sophomore
De’Andre Wilder was forced to redshirt his Sophomore season (last year) due to a neck injury and didn’t return to the field for spring practice this season. UM hasn’t given any indication on his ability to return this season, or if he will ever be cleared to play again. We’ll keep an eye on his progress and update you as info becomes available. Let’s hope the young man is able to fully recover, but for now I will list him as a medical retirement.
Derrick Smith – Redshirt Sophomore
Smith played the Striker position last season, but has been re-purposed as a DB this season. The likelihood is he will play one of the Safety positions. This is subject to change, but is accurate at the time of publishing.
LB position rankings (based on expected 2019 contribution)
1. Shaq Quarterman
2. Michael Pinckney
3. Zach McCloud
4. Romeo Finley
5. Patrick Joyner, Jr.
6. Bradley Jennings Jr. (Injured, but return is possible)
7. Gilbert Frierson
8. Sam Brooks
9. Avery Huff (yet to qualify)
10. Waynmond Steed (Likely out for season with torn ACL)
11. De’Andre Wilder (Medically retired? Career in question)
That wraps up our review and ranking of the Linebacker position group.
How did my rankings compare against yours?
Let me know in the comments below.