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Debates on Greentree: Running Backs vs Linebackers

What’s More cause for Concern: The Running Back Depth Chart or Linebacker?

UM FOOTBALL - FALL CAMP Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

When it comings to sports fanaticism, there are usually Two primary parts to it.

  1. Experiencing the game.
  2. Reacting to what we see.

Just as anything in life, the most exciting part, experiencing the actual games, takes up only a fraction of our time. The reactions, hot takes and debates, though, can last a lifetime.

I would like to introduce to you, Debates on Greentree, a weekly article aimed at a hot topic of the week concerning our Miami Hurricanes. Whether its how we feel about personnel, opponents or history, there is always a healthy debate to be had.

Depth Chart - Running Backs vs. Linebackers

Going into the 2020 season the Miami Hurricanes face uncertainty at two positions that have been secured for the better part of a decade, Linebacker and Running Back. For the past four years we have been spoiled with big hits and big plays from the two positions. From the leadership of Shaquille Quaterman and Travis Homer to the game changing plays of Michael Pickney and Deejay Dallas, Miami has not had to worry about what those positions would field. But for the first time in a long time, both spots feature more potential than actual experience.

Running Back

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Depth Chart

Cam Harris, Robert Burns, Jaylan Knighton, Don Chaney Jr

The Miami Hurricanes always field a set of running backs that can run fast and hard while making plays. Whether its a combination of Lamar Miller and Mike James, Duke Johnson and Gus Edwards, or Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas, there is rarely a time Miami is bereft of talent. That is no different this year.

Miami features three running backs, Cam’Ron Harris, Jaylan Knighton, and Don Chaney Jr., who were top 10 from their recruiting cycles position group. Had it not been for injuries from Robert Burns, he would have likely been the 4th, as he was initially ranked a 5 star player as a sophomore. It is very easy to forget how great Burns was early on, as his first 5 scholarship offers where from Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida St, Clemson and Alabama. Each player is a candidate to really hit the ground running and could carry the load of lead back if asked.

The question with the group isn’t talent, but experience. Junior Cam’Ron Harris and Robert Burns are the only players with any of it. Harris touts 19 games yet only 142 carries, while Burns lags far behind with 8 and 31, respectively.

True Freshmen Jaylan Knighton and Don Chaney Jr. are both workhorses with pedigree from High School, but have yet to prove what they can do on the field in college, in game or practice. Knighton only received four practices before things were shutdown due to the pandemic, while Chaney has been out with an injury. Knighton received rave reviews from that week, but it is still just that, a week.

The Running Back position has ALOT to prove with so little experience. The hopes that a new offensive scheme and fresh blood will serve this group well but that is yet to be seen.


Depth Chart

WEAK-SIDE: Sam Brooks, Avery Huff, Tirek Austin-Cave, Waynmon Steed

MIDDLE: Zach McCloud, Patrick Joyner, B.J. Jennings, Corey Flagg

STRIKER: Gilbert Frierson, Keontra Smith, Ryan Ragone

Over on the defensive side of the ball, the linebacking core is, in a way, much different than the running back group while being similar in others.

Where the similarities lie are in the talent. Returning redshirt senior Zack McCloud is an excellent hitter that plays with very good power and shows range when he knows where he is going. The most physically gifted of three LBs from the 2016 class, its never been athleticism but his diagnosis and trust in what he sees on the field. If he has cleaned up between the ears he's a surefire game changer.

Behind him are two rising sophomores that are even more athletic than McCloud. Sam Brooks and Avery Huff are missiles at the position, with testing numbers through the roof. Brooks was the Miami Dade defensive player of the year in 2016 as a sophomore and features wide receiver 40 and shuttle numbers. Huff played 4 positions at St. Thomas Aquinas and looks to be even more athletic than Brooks. The pair is easily our most athletic since the 2000’s, but the lack of experience leaves pause for proof.

Behind that are an intriguing trio of Brandon Jennings, Waynmon Steed and Patrick Joyner. All three are fighters more than anything, as they all have had multiple injuries to fight back from. And when healthy have had to stare into the backs of 55, 56 and new leader 53. But even as the new hotness gets the headlines the trio should not be overlooked. Jennings and Steed are tackling machines that display great range and instincts. Joyner is a converted DE and the thumper of the group. Joyner looks the part of a Shaq Quarterman, though his ability to read an offense is yet to be seen.

Striker holds strong with Gil Frierson and Keontra Smith. Frierson, a converted CB/SS has a great eye for the ball and great coverage skills for the striker position, but leaves some work to do tackling. Smith is essentially Trajan Bandy at LB, a bit undersized but plays aggressive, can play the ball and, a skill his own, can lay the wood.

Rounding out the group are Tirek Austin-Cave and Corey Flagg. Both finished their high school careers with back to back triple digit tackle seasons, the latter eclipsing THIRTY Tackles for loss in 2018. Superlatives are many for the duo as Austin-Cave is a an above average athlete and Flagg was the leader of championship defense for North Shore (TX).

Greentree Favors...

The linebackers.

Looking at both groups, its splitting hairs to say which group has more of what. Both have one truly experienced player. Both feature excellent potential in players such as Knighton, Chaney, Huff and Brooks. Even injuries are an issue in each room, with Chaney missing spring, Burns history and the Linebacker trio that can’t catch a break.

Though running back may be one of the easier positions to transition into from high school, experience IN THE PROGRAM, can not be discounted. With the exception of Flagg and Austin-Cave, all of the linebackers are entering at least their second year in the same system with the same coaches. I can here readers now, “but they had their chance” or “the running backs coming in are freaks!”. To some extent you are correct, but as someone once told me, those who can’t do, teach. The linebacker room is laced with vets who know the playbook in and out, what coach Diaz wants, when he wants it and how he wants it. The vets that have to take a back seat can help keep the young accountable and on their toes when McCloud and coaches can’t. The LB room has a better ability to support itself.

Even though the running back room may have more talent by percentage, half of that room is still on a steep learning curve as they adjust to Lashlee and college. The entire room is in the process of installing a new offense. Plus with Chaney starting injured he is a risk to redshirt, leaving only three viable options at running back.

I know it may not be a popular opinion,but it is one that will be settled on Greentree.


Which Group are you more anxious to see?

This poll is closed

  • 46%
    (87 votes)
  • 53%
    Running Backs
    (99 votes)
186 votes total Vote Now


Which Group has better Depth, LB or RB?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    (90 votes)
  • 33%
    Running Back
    (58 votes)
  • 13%
    Toss Up
    (24 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now