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Miami Hurricanes 2020 Spring Position Preview: Linebackers

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Who’s going to replace Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney for Miami at linebacker?

Florida State v Miami Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.