Spring practice for the Hurricanes begins next Monday, and today we’ll be previewing the linebackers and striker for Miami, a position group that’ll look completely different than they did in 2019.
For the first time in several years, the Canes will be missing Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, who both had been starters at LB since their freshman season in 2016. Then at striker, the Hurricanes also lost starter Romeo Finley, who was one of the key contributors on a Miami defense that ranked in the top-20 in 2019.
Romeo Finley | #ItsAllAboutTheU pic.twitter.com/Gf8DlQssiv— GO ‘CANES! (@83_87_89_91_01) August 25, 2019
So, how will the Hurricanes defense, and especially their linebackers and striker look now that those three have moved on?
When previewing the 2020 Hurricanes LB’s, the conversation begins with redshirt senior Zach McCloud. Choosing to come back to Miami for a fifth year, McCloud is without a doubt one of the leaders for this years Hurricanes, and perhaps one of its more important players.
Manny Diaz raving about Zach McCloud, says he can be s centerpiece for this team next year.— Christy Chirinos (@ChristyChirinos) October 26, 2019
If he’s not needed again, this will be McCloud’s last game this season in order to retain his redshirt.
McCloud is a great talent at linebacker and is incredibly athletic for someone at that position, though he was overshadowed by Quarterman and Pinckney. But make no mistake, McCloud’s talent and experience shouldn’t be taken likely, having played his first 42 games to begin with the Hurricanes, and having 32 career starts under his belt.
Tipped by #Santaluces HS (FL) alum & #Miami #Hurricanes LB Zach McCloud (@chief__20 and picked off by #SouthDade HS (FL) D.J. Ivey (@divey8_) vs #Pitt pic.twitter.com/GiD6bGykio— IG: @SleeperAthletes (@SleeperAth1etes) October 26, 2019
I don’t think there’s any doubt that McCloud will be one of the starting linebackers for the Hurricanes, and many believe a big senior season is ahead for him.
Moving on, finding the other starter at linebacker for Miami is next, only problem is, injuries to several at the position will provide an obstacle in doing that. Tirek-Austin Cave, Corey Flagg and Sam Brooks reportedly will miss a majority or all of spring practice.
Spring Ball will begin Feb. 29. The following players will either not participate or not be immediately ready the 29th:— Gaboowins (@GabyUrrutia22) February 5, 2020
- Tirek Austin Cave
- Bubba Bolden
- Sam Brooks
- Navaughn Donaldson
- Corey Flagg
- Don Chaney
- Bradley Jennings
- Brevin Jordan
- Michael Redding II
So, this means that several other linebackers will have the opportunity to showcase their skills in spring practice with others out. The player that sticks out the most to me is redshirt freshman Avery Huff, who came to Miami heavily recruited out of powerhouse St.Thomas Aquinas.
Can’t Wait Till We Transition @ LB Next Year ...... Give Me— Big Mac Extra Cheese (@OpaLando_305407) October 19, 2019
Speed - Toughness - Nastiness
Huff is actually my pick to start alongside McCloud, as I’m a huge fan in his potential and talent he brings. Once Brooks is healthy, I think this duo is the future at linebacker for Miami, bringing athleticism and quickness that the Canes have been without at the position for years.
Avery Huff and Sam Brooks will give the LB group lots of speed on the field next season.— Caneville (@caneville305) December 19, 2019
Three guys who will also be practicing in the spring is redshirt juniors Bradley Jennings Jr. and Waynmon Steed, then redshirt sophomore Patrick Joyner Jr. Jennings and Steed both suffered leg injuries near in spring ball last year, so staying healthy is going to be critical for them in 2020.
#UM announces redshirt sophomore linebacker Waynmon Steed has sustained a left knee injury (I've heard its a torn ACL). Steed will undergo surgery at the UHealth Sports Medicine Institute at The Lennar Foundation Medical Center. No timetable for a return— Manny Navarro (@Manny_Navarro) April 6, 2019
Joyner is an interesting case. Having switched from defensive end to linebacker during last years spring practice, Joyner showed great potential at middle LB and was expected to play a role during the regular season, until an injury sidelined him for most of 2019. If he can get back to where he was last spring, I think he could serve as a solid backup to McCloud.
Patrick Joyner closes the hole on DJ pic.twitter.com/j4Ic095mJP— DSFB (@gregminnick_) April 20, 2019
There’s also redshirt sophomore Ryan Ragone, who reserved Pinckney several times in 2019 when the senior was injured. Though I don't think he’ll be competing for a starting job, it’ll be interesting to see what the walk-on is able to do in the spring with some experience. from last year under his belt.
Since a lot of Miami Hurricanes fans were so quick to s**t on and criticize the play of No.34 Ryan Ragone (Redshirt Freshman), who I thought played “SOLID” in reserve. Let’s all be fair and critique the other 10 players on the field as well, ESPECIALLY AT HIS LB POSITION ... pic.twitter.com/IyFLxEkOsC— Guy With The One Dimple!!! (@RashadJamaalB) October 21, 2019
As we now look to the striker position, replacing Romeo Finley’s production over the past couple years will not be easy. However, there are players that I feel confident in with doing just that. The first guy that comes to mind for striker is redshirt sophomore Gilbert Frierson, who backed up Finley in 2019.
Once Romeo Finley is gone, Frierson will fill in that striker role nicely pic.twitter.com/fPnkncOWPF— Mamba Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) November 6, 2019
Last year, Frierson was decent in pass coverage and had an interception, but definitely needs to improve in that area, as well as putting on size. Though, with more starting experience coming in the spring, I think Frierson has the tools to be a breakout star for the Hurricanes defense.
Miami DB Gilbert Frierson perfectly jumps this screen to give the Hurricanes their biggest play of the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl. pic.twitter.com/wCHeZzJWoM— Rob Paul (@RobPaulNFL) December 26, 2019
Then, announced just a few days ago, it was said that Miami coaches would be switching sophomore Keontra Smith from safety to striker. This move makes sense for two reasons, first to provide depth, and two for Smith’s quality skills in pass coverage. Though he saw minimal action in 2019, Smith excites a lot of people, and it’ll be a great battle between him and Frierson for the starting job.
So Keontra Smith is moving to striker... hmm get the best players on the field at all times. Like that idea Manny— Caneville (@caneville305) February 21, 2020
I wouldn’t be surprised if another defensive back is switched to striker, one that I’m keeping my eye on is Amari Carter.
When it comes to the linebackers and striker for the Canes, there’s definitely a lot of questions marks and concerns. Some of that has to do with injuries, but mainly it comes down to inexperienced players. Starting positions are up for grabs, let’s see who jumps at the opportunity this spring.