One of the biggest position battles for the Hurricanes prior to the start of the 2021 season is going to at weak-side linebacker. As Miami began spring practice, those battling for the starting role was Avery Huff and Waynmon Steed, with Sam Brooks Jr. still recovering from a toe injury and ruled out.
However, with Keontra Smith making the move from striker to weak-side LB, could he possibly swoop in and become the starter? And if so, could he help solve some of Miami’s problems that they’ve had at linebacker?
I love Manny moving Keontra Smith to linebacker. Lot of potential for him there— Marsh (@hurricanesmarsh) April 18, 2021
In 2020, the Hurricanes defense couldn’t find any real consistency at either of the linebacker positions, due to injuries as well as up-and-down play on the field. Brooks was dealing with injuries, Steed has been inconsistent, and Huff has mostly been on special teams so far during his career.
Keontra Smith finding a home at WLB loved it— Brad Tejeda (@TejedaBrad) April 17, 2021
Huff was impressive during practice, but Smith started at weak-side LB in Miami’s spring game, and showcased the speed and instincts the Canes defense has been lacking in that area. You saw Smith have the speed necessary to bring down Jaylan Knighton, perhaps Miami’s fastest player, for just a minimal gain. It wasn’t a flashy play, but it was a good sign to see Hurricanes linebackers with that kind of quickness.
Next edit up for striker Keontra smith. ELITE CLOSING ABILITY!! Brings that wood when he gets to a ball carrier! Tbh one of my fav players on the team. So much tools in his arsenal.. canes fans RUN IT UP! @SmithKeontra pic.twitter.com/8JTFFFjDlx— 365CANESFOOTBALL (@365canesinfo) December 8, 2020
Last season, Smith finished with 22 tackles, 2 TFLs and 1 pass deflection. He was a sound tackler, and showed he can defend against the run quite well. In 2020, the Canes defense finished 74th against the run, giving up nearly 175 yards per game on the ground. If Miami wants to improve in that area, Smith may be the best option looking ahead.
“It’s obvious from a year ago we had to improve our run defense. I think we have done that. You saw Keontra Smith make a really nice play at weakside. He looks natural over there,” head coach Manny Diaz said on Smith. “He’s very comfortable closer to the ball.”
Manny Diaz says Keontra Smith "has looked at home" at Will linebacker. On Amari Carter at striker, he likes having him closer to the ball. He likes the versatility both provide the defense being able to play multiple positions.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) April 15, 2021
If I had to guess, the battle for the starting position will be between Smith and Huff, with both players improving in the spring, and looking to take their next step as players. Again, this all depends on how quickly Brooks can back to being 100% healthy. He’s a guy that I've been very high on since he came to Miami, and hopefully 2021 is the year he can put a full season together without injuries.
While adding to that position through the transfer portal seemed like a high possibility not too long ago, it’s beginning to seem less likely that it’ll happen as the calendar approaches June. For right now, I'm excited to see Smith, Huff, Brooks and Steed compete for playing time, and feel that Miami fans could be pleasantly surprised at the growth of that position as the 2021 season progresses.