At 3:05 p.m. Thursday, the Miami Hurricanes run onto Greentree Field to start fall camp. That’s when first-year defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Manny Diaz will begin to see exactly how much his players have progressed over the summer.
During a recent interview with the Miami Herald, Diaz shed light on some of his players.
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▪ First-team strong-side linebacker Jermaine Grace, a 6-1, 210-pound senior out of Miramar High with a team-best 79 tackles in 2015:
“Jermaine, he’s valuable to us because he’s really the only guy in the linebacker room that has game experience and you can tell that just going through spring practice. He had that sort of veteran sense about him. As a senior we need him to play with that sense of urgency. This is his last go-around and he’s a guy I can talk to and help keep a pulse of what’s going on defensively. We think because of his skill-set and athleticism that he can be a guy that can move out to the wide side of the field and be that guy that is so important in this day and age of college football, who is fast and can cover guys out in space but also physical enough to play the run and tackle – the quick screens out there.”
▪ First-team weak-side linebacker Michael Pinckney, a 6-1, 220-pound freshman early enrollee out of Jacksonville Raines, with 85 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, eight sacks and one interception last season:
“We really like what Pinckney did this spring. He’s a guy that embraces the mentality of playing downhill and [of] fast, aggressive linebackers. Will (weak-side) linebacker is an important spot in our defense so we’ll let Darrion Owens and Pinckney battle it out during fall camp.” (Note that the 6-3, 245-pound Owens, a redshirt sophomore out of Orange Park Oakleaf High, sustained a season-ending knee injury the second week of the 2015 season.)
▪ Third team/second team strong-side linebacker Zach McCloud, a 6-2, 230-pound freshman early enrollee out of Lantana Santaluces, with finalists that included Auburn, Alabama, Florida and Florida State:
“[A should injury] kind of pushed him a few weeks back behind everybody else in spring practice, but when Zach got going… Zach’s got a great future because he’s long and rangy, can really run and absolutely wants to knock the taste out of your mouth. So the more at-bats that Zach gets, to me I think he will be someone that people will notice this year.”
▪ First-team middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman, a 6-1, 240-pound freshman early enrollee and consensus four-star recruit out of Orange Park Oakleaf High, with 412 tackles in four years:
“Shaq is just an alpha. Very mature. He’s an old soul. He’s a guy the players instantly want to follow and not just because of his personality. The fact is that he’s got good linebacker instincts and is tough and physical and all that grown-man size helps. But his personality is exactly what you want your linebacker to be.”
▪ First team defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, a 6-4, 250-pound redshirt junior out of Irvington, N.J. and Don Bosco Prep, with 54 tackles and a team-leading 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2015:
“In the spring he impressed us with his work ethic. I think the question with him is, how good do you really want to be? What [defensive line] coach [Craig] Kuligowski is doing a great job of with him is really trying to push him to take his game to another level, where it’s the down after down consistency and doing it on the biggest stage where you’re not a guy that can flash glimpses, which gets you noticed. But can you take over a game? That’s a high standard, but if your aspirations are to really be that guy than that’s what you really have to do.”
▪ First team defensive end Chad Thomas, a 6-6, 245-pound junior from Miami Booker T. Washington, with 18 tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery and a team-high four quarterback hurries:
“Chad is the same way as Quan [Muhammad]. Sometimes the recruiting hype and all that adds a different type of pressure. But yes, we’re looking for a guy like Chad, who we’d say, ‘Do you want to put the light on all the time to the point where you can take over a game?’ To me, Quan and Chad are very much in the same boat. To whom much is given much is expected. They certainly both have talent, but I think that’s a little bit of what we’ve been fighting, is good to great.”
▪ Reserve defensive tackle Gerald Willis, a 6-4, 285-pound redshirt sophomore who sat out last season after transferring from Florida, where he played in eight games as a nationally heralded true freshman and had 14 tackles, a forced fumble and fumble recovery:
“He’s a guy that has talent. He’s a guy that can make a play. But again, I think the thing with him is that danger because of all the hype from the background. He’s got to get into games and become a functional college defensive lineman before everyone expects him to take over.’’
▪ Reserve cornerback Adrian Colbert, a 6-2, 205-pound redshirt senior who transferred as a safety graduate from Texas, where Diaz formerly coached, and is allowed to play this year because of NCAA graduate transfer rules:
“There was always a thought corner might be his best position because of his skill-set and some of the things he can do. We needed his maturity. Certainly, it’s valuable that he’s been in this scheme, but we really needed someone who could come in with a ‘This is my last go-around’ attitude.’ I think he’ll have a positive effect on the other guys in our secondary.”