There are going to be many exciting story lines to monitor over the course of the Hurricanes spring practices. A revamped offense, a dynamic quarterback, two of the top pass rushers in the nation and a renewed kicking game.
There are a lot of things that give the impression that Manny Diaz’s second season will be significantly better than his first in Coral Gables.
Hidden in the glamor of the off-season are questions that are genuinely concerning — one being the state of the linebacker room.
Miami is losing Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, two four-year starters who led the defense for the entirety of their college career. In fact, Quarterman has been the only person to start at middle linebacker for the Hurricanes since stepping foot on campus as a freshman in 2016. The first-team All-ACC linebacker broke record for most consecutive starts in program history with 52 in and set a career-high in tackles with 107 last season.
Now, Miami needs to move on from that era of consistency at the position and transition into one of uncertainty. Zach McCloud, a redshirt senior who came in with Pinckney and Quarterman in ‘16, elected to redshirt last year in order to fill the hole his classmates would leave and make the process of filling those gaps much easier.
Without him making that incredibly unselfish decision, the linebacker room would be a Mariana Trench sized hole in Blake Baker’s defense.
But when spring ball begins on Feb. 29 and all eyes are on D’Eriq King, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and the offense, know that the linebacker position will be just as important.
In the 2020 class, Miami signed two linebackers that enrolled early. Neither Corey Flagg Jr. nor Tirek Austin-Cave will be available for spring practice due to a knee and shoulder respectively.
Aside from the two promising newcomers, Sam Brooks, who started in place of Pinckney in the Independence Bowl, will also be out for the spring with a shoulder injury. It’s a blow to the second line of the defense from a repetition standpoint.
It would have been valuable for Brooks to participate in spring to establish himself as McCloud’s right hand man, but that clearly isn't going to be the case.
Bradley Jennings Jr., who was hurt at the Hurricanes scrimmage at Traz Powell last year, will also be recovering from a hip injury. Jennings Jr. was looking like a key piece in the rotation of linebackers until he suffered the injury that kept him out all of last season.
Moving forward, the available linebackers this spring are going to be:
- RS Fr. Avery Huff
- RS Sr. Zach McCloud
- RS Jr. Waynmon Steed (missed all ‘19)
- RS So. walk-on Ryan Ragone
- RS Fr. walk-on Zac Smith
- RS Jr. walk-on Colvin Alford
- RS. Fr. walk-on Jake Hoffman
- RS So. Patrick Joyner Jr.
It’s concerning. You’re looking at a situation where you have just as many walk-on’s as guys on scholarship at a key position that loses a lot of experience.
Still, you must see the importance in the mental reps that Brooks, Austin-Cave, Flagg Jr. and Jennings Jr. will be receiving and that is extremely valuable — especially for the two early enrollee’s. But not having them out there working through their mistakes and getting all those physical practice reps isn't ideal given the situation.
This is a prime example as to why it’s so important to recruit well year in and year out. It shouldn't be an issue that two freshman linebackers are going to miss the spring because you’d ideally have groomed replacements and have guys ready to take that next step.
Unfortunately, Miami isn't quite there yet and they’re going to feel that this spring.
To look at the glass half full, Avery Huff (9) was a highly touted recruit out of St. Thomas Aquinas who is certainly going to get every opportunity to play after redshirting last year.
The 2020 roster lists him at 6-3 208 pounds, so the size and frame is there to become a difference maker. Now, it’s about preparing to take the next step in his development and becoming a reliable guy that eases the loss of two all-time Miami greats at one of the programs most storied positions.