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Do The Canes Have Enough to Contend: Linebacker

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The Canes have more questions than answers with an inexperienced group.

NCAA Football: Miami at Pittsburgh
Nov 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Miami Hurricanes linebacker Zach McCloud (53) waits to take the field against the Pittsburgh Panthers before the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Miami has 1 goal every year, and that is to win a National Championship in football. Yes, there are other small goals along the way, including beating FSU, winning the Coastal, getting to and winning the ACC title, but the goal is to put Championship trophy #6 in the trophy case. Unfortunately, outside of 2005 and 2017, the Canes haven’t been in the discussion past the month of September in most years. The question has always come up, whether it was coaching, QB play, or the overall talent on the field.

This is part 7 of 10, where I ask, Do the Canes have enough to contend for the College Football Playoffs?

Miami has always been known for great LB play, going all the way back to Jay Brophy and Jack Fernandes in the 1983 season. The Canes are replacing 2 long time starters in Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, so their loss will be felt not only in terms of on field production, but locker room leadership as well. The Canes will look for someone to give them the explosive play that Ray Lewis or Denzel Perryman once did when they donned the orange and green. Zach McCloud took a redshirt season in 2019 and his veteran presence and playmaking ability will be much needed if Miami is to be good at LB, but a lot of youth and inexperience leave more questions than answers.

McCloud will for sure be the Miami MLB, moving over from the outside where he played for 4 seasons. With the invent of the striker position a few seasons back, McCloud saw his snap count decrease significantly as he had some struggles in pass defense. At MLB he should be able to play downhill and be a thumper in the run game. If he can give Miami 80 plus tackles, a couple of sacks, and an interception or 2, the Canes will be fine in the middle.

Sam Brooks Jr. finally got a chance to play last season in the Independence Bowl and responded with 12 tackles and generally looked like a kid who is ready to play right now. Right now, is 2020, and the 6’2 206 pounder reminds us a little of Sean Spence, a hair undersized, but can run sideline to sideline to make plays. If nothing else, and Brooks secures a starting spot, Miami will be faster on defense than in years past.

The rest of the linebacking corps is inexperienced to say the least. Walk-on Ryan Ragone has the most experience playing in 3 games and garnering 8 total tackles. Avery Huff took an academic redshirt in 2019 but came to Miami with a lot of accolades. Huff was a consensus 4-star recruit and was rated highly by all the publications. He will get ample opportunity in the fall for playing time. Waynmon Steed and Bradley Jennings Jr are both recovering from injury and sat out the 2019 season. Patrick Joyner Jr played position roulette between DE & LB and could be a great situational blitzer in Blake Bakers attack but lacks game experience.

The Canes brought in a couple of talented freshmen in Corey Flagg Jr and Tirek Austin-Cave. Both come in with tremendous high school film, and if opportunity presents itself, both could be in the mix for early playing time. Flagg is undersized but was All-District in one of the more competitive high school areas in the country. Put in the film and he makes lots of plays. Austin-Cave had 162 tackles as a junior in HS and could be a playmaker in a year or 2.

Verdict:

Not a college football playoff group. Even if we add the strikers to the LB group, Miami is dangerously thin and young at backer. The Canes should be taking a few LBs per recruiting cycle, but injuries have sapped some of the depth that should’ve already developed. In the best-case scenario Brooks becomes a star, and McCloud plays at least the equal of Shaq from 2019. Worst case, this group struggles and Blake Baker must get creative to mask the deficiencies. Even with questions, this group is good enough to contend in the Coastal.