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Miami Hurricanes 2021 Player Preview: DE Zach McCloud

McCloud enters his sixth year with the program but his first playing defensive end

NCAA Football: Miami at Louisiana State
Zach McCloud (53) leads the Miami Hurricanes onto the field before their game against LSU in September 2018. McCloud will play his first season at defensive end for the Hurricanes in 2021.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The journey of sixth-year Miami Hurricanes defensive end Zach McCloud has been full of ups, downs, twists and turns.

The lone member of Miami’s 2016 recruiting class still left on the team, McCloud has been involved in a myriad of things many college football players never experience in their careers. These include:

  • Being involved with three head coaches in the same program. McCloud originally signed grant-in-aid paperwork in the summer of 2015 with Miami when Al Golden was the coach. He eventually signed a national letter of intent and played three seasons for Mark Richt before playing the last two for Manny Diaz.
  • Redshirting as a senior. Rather than play less snaps behind Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney in 2019, McCloud opted to take advantage of the 4-game redshirt rule and redshirt during his senior season. That wound up earning him two extra years in Coral Gables (2020 and this upcoming season) thanks to the NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility because of COVID-19.
  • Changing positions as fifth-year senior. McCloud made the change from linebacker to defensive end this spring. Most players across the country don’t get the opportunity to play a sixth season at the same school, let alone have their sixth season be the first at a completely different position.

His decision to redshirt his senior year completely changed his Hurricane career. McCloud was expected to lead the Hurricane linebacker room in 2020 but had a disappointing season in which he made just 27 tackles, the lowest number of any season in his Hurricane career other than his redshirt year.

His lack of production drew all sorts of emotional (mostly angry) reactions from fans who expected more from a fifth-year senior and the entire linebacker room as a whole.

McCloud filled in for Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche at defensive end serviceably in Miami’s Cheez-It Bowl loss to Oklahoma State despite never playing defensive end before. That helped birth the idea that McCloud could contribute a different way to the 2021 Hurricanes.

McCloud spent the entire spring learning the intricacies of the defensive end position and will play there in 2021.

“Zach, to be quite honest, has exceeded my expectations,” Miami head coach Manny Diaz told the media in April regarding McCloud’s move to defensive end. “Not that I didn’t think he would do well there. I didn’t think he would look so natural so soon.”

Diaz also compared McCloud to Trent Harris, who finished his Hurricane career with 15 sacks.

How many snaps McCloud will get at defensive end in 2021 remains to be seen. He is competing with Jahfari Harvey, Cameron Williams, Chantz Williams, and Tennessee transfer DeAndre Johnson for playing time.

It would not be surprising at all to see McCloud get significant snaps. Diaz and his defensive coaches have shown a tendency to trust older players in the past and only Johnson and McCloud on the above list are not redshirt or true freshmen.

Miami lost both starting defensive ends in Roche and Phillips and Harvey, Cameron Williams, and Chantz Williams combined for just 27 tackles and one sack in minimal snaps last season. Johnson had 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks in eight games for Tennessee in 2020.


Will Zach McCloud see significant snaps at defensive end in 2021?

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