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All-22 Review: the curious case of the inside linebackers, part 2

Sam Brooks looked promising before his injury, while Huff has yet to make an impact.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 30 Virginia at Miami Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Miami Hurricanes are in desperate need of linebackers to stand out this spring and summer heading into the 2022 season. The ‘Canes are in need of a talent infusion at a few positions (offensive line, defensive line, cornerback) and inside linebacker is another spot that needs a shot in the arm.

You can access film and conversation about a half dozen inside linebackers at the link above. This will lean more towards a conversation, with some film, too.

The Miami Herald

The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson published an article on April 8th, 2020, that had a bit of information about the linebackers. The piece titled, “Feedback on where Miami Hurricanes stand in battles at four key positions,” had some good, bad, and perplexing quotes.

Jackson says that Corey Flagg Jr., Waymon Steed, and Keontra Smith are all Power 5 linebackers. I believe that in Flagg and Smith but Steed looks far too lost re Football IQ and too poor at tackling to stick it out for another year in Coral Gables. LB coach Charlie Strong and DC Kevin Steele aren’t going to settle for he looks good off the bus.

In Jackson’s piece, he has this quote from Flagg, Jr.:

As far as my game, I feel my vision has improved.

In my piece, “What college coaches look for in a linebacker prospect,” the first quality my G5 recruiting source gave me was “read and react.” My P5 source put instincts and eyes at 12 on his list of skills. What is interesting is the G5 puts out much better defenses and linebackers than the P5 does.

Later in Jackson’s piece, Flagg details a new set of responsibilities. Jackson’s quote from Flagg is below:

“You have a lot of jobs, you’re not just spiking the gap... “Play a lot of two gap, you have to read, mirror the back. That’s the biggest difference. More of a two-gap system.

Via Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen

In a 4-3 Defense, typically you won’t see a lot of two-gap linebackers. The 4-3 “Miami” front, which is the over front above, was perfected by Jimmy Johnson in the 80’s and 90’s.

Above- you can see the 3-4 under front from Matt Bowen of Bleacher Report. In the 3-4, the DL are more likely to be 2-gap players, thus the LB have to read off the DL and make the DL right. That’s where you’ll hear more about 2-gap LB’s.

Above- You can see a screenshot of Steel’s defense at Auburn. Two ILB’s are on the field with an edge rush player in no. 1, and a more coverage linebacker or “buck” in no. 29. No. 9 might be 2-gapping off of the DL in the 4’ish technique over the tackle to the TE’s side.

Gaps: Here it’s a 1-gap look. To 0’s side, the A gap is open to the weak side. On 9’s side, the B-gap is open to the TE side.

Above- Now in an even front, no. 25 is standing up over the TE, while there are two tackles in 2-tech’s (head up on the guards) and the edge is in a 5-tech outside of the OT’s shoulder AND with his hand down this time. No. 23, a safety, walks into the box while no. 0 and no. 9 are the ILB’s.

Gaps: With both DT’s in 2-tech’s, the ILB’s are stuck 2-gapping pre-snap. If it’s a pre-set call where to slant for the DT’s, it’s a 1-gap. If those DT’s are ‘ride and read’ it’s a 2-gap.

Above- Again, expect some interesting personnel groups from Steele, and because of the personnel he has to work with right now. No. 1 is up in a 5-tech at the edge with 25 over the inside threat. 29 is playing outside of the 2nd “TE” and two tackles are in the middle with two ILB’s.

Gaps: Clearly to 0’s side, the B-Gap is open, and to 9’s side the A-Gap.

The Doppler

Avery Huff and Tirek Austin-Cave both played limited duty since arriving in Coral Gables. Austin-Cave has actually entered the transfer portal, and many expect Huff to follow shortly.

Sam Brooks is a six-foot-two, 220 pound linebacker from Miami-Northwestern High School. Against Virginia Tech in ‘20, Brooks logged seven tackles including a TFL and a sack.

Bissainthe’s recruiting tapes are a rough watch between the “Dude Alert” graphics and him stopping play to highlight himself (but most of the time, the arrow on the “Keep Grinding” graphic wasn’t even near someone??).

UCLA’s Caleb Johnson (per Gaby from 247) is in the transfer portal and is a potential ILB for Miami moving forward. Coach Cristobal seems to be looking at teams that play 3-4 defenses for linebackers which fits what Coach Steele has ran most of his career, in one way shape or form.

In ‘21, Johnson logged 45 tackles with three PBU’s and an interception. In ‘20, Johnson had 44 stops in a COVID shortened season. Johnson also had seven TFL’s and 5.5 sacks with an INT in ‘20.

Sam Brooks (no. 6)

Again, the Brooks tape because of his injury will flashback to the 2020 season and the Va Tech game. Brooks and Gil Frierson were all over the field against the Hokies in ‘20. Brooks played nearly every defensive snap vs. Va Tech and showed his versatility while healthy. Brooks lined up inside, outside, in the MUG and was asked to blitz, cover, fill and scrape.

This cut-up will have 12 end zone All-22 shots from Brooks vs. Va Tech. I’ll walk you through a few more specifically below:

Above- I would prefer Brooks use his inside shoulder to fill the blocker, and keep his outside arm free. Not sure what they were taught, looks like a typical ‘box’ call on defense with how DJ Ivey is playing.

Above- This is why I harp on slow playing runs more. Diaz’s linebackers were very hot to ‘turn and run.’ As the front side LB, it opens you up to cutbacks when you get out ahead. As the back side LB, you’re the cutback guy. If you’re even with the FSLB it’s going for a TD.

Above- Hip track game I use with clients to improve their Visual-Cognitive-Motor Skills.

LB’s have three (all defenders, really) techniques.

1- Scallup: It’s a fast scrape, used for more space and against someone moving quickly to a spot. Can be cutback on but with extra space / time more unlikely. Typically 6+ yards of space.

2- Scrape: Closer space, it’s a slow, more controlled scrape. Good to prevent cutbacks. Typically inside 5y.

3- Buzz: This is when you’re within 2-3 steps of the ball carrier. It gets you closer to the contact point and it’s harder to cutback / juke you.

Above- 6 gets under the block. He probably could’ve slow played this and stayed square more using his scrape technique. He runs and overruns but uses his plus-athleticism to make a play.

Above- Here are a dozen All-22 end zone clips from Brooks against VT in 2020. Some are good, some are bad, some aren’t his fault (bad play from teammates). Enjoy!

Wesley Bissainthe (no. 31)

Wesley Bissainthe is an early enrollee true freshman looking to get a head start on the ‘22 season. He’s a four-star and has the physical tools to be great, including speed and size at six-foot-one, 205 pounds. The freshman from Miami Central High School was the 189th ranked player in the country per ESPN300.

Above- Bissainthe is quick, fast, and has legit P5 reaction time. Also, young OL, don’t turn your shoulders to a defender on a zone run. You’re just opening a massive door for some stud LB to right through and kill your RB.

Above- Bissainthe does a solid job of scraping and not turning and running. He’s patient, understands the slow play, but can dip, rip, and accelerate when needed. Unreal closing step and power in his grapple.

Above- Again, dude understands buzzing in close quarters before unloading on a ball carrier. He stays low, square, and moves with choppy quickness.

Above- Film courtesy of Inside The U. The first clip probably says enough. Opens with a banger. Some other clips are useful for subtleties. Excited to see him in the spring game against college competition.

The wrap

It was really hard to find clips of Huff playing linebacker that were worth while. I’m not going to cherry pick a couple of clips against a D2 team. It’s too hard to tell what’s going on when the other team is bad and whooped at an athletic position like LB.

Sam Brooks is a guy that Miami needs healthy. His ability to play both inside and outside, and to cover as well as blitz and fill will be vital. I know Mario Cristobal is going to look at add a linebacker in the portal, but having someone like Brooks healthy isn’t a bad thing.

Brooks has the size, speed, and power to be a great player. Brooks was ahead of Keontra Smith but has been out now for most of the fall and now spring, too. Will Coach Cristobal bring in Justin Flowe? Caleb Johnson? Ride with Flagg, Brooks and K. Smith?

PS. If Caleb Johnson does sign with Miami, I will bring you some All-22 review of his game against the Oregon Ducks from the 2020 season.