University of Miami

UM hopes to ‘roll in’ fresh bodies behind one of nation’s top LB units. Will it happen?

University of Miami linebacker Michael Pinckney (56) talks to fellow starting linebacker Zach McCloud (53) after the first day of fall training camp at the Greentree Practice Fields in Coral Gables on Saturday, August 4, 2018.
University of Miami linebacker Michael Pinckney (56) talks to fellow starting linebacker Zach McCloud (53) after the first day of fall training camp at the Greentree Practice Fields in Coral Gables on Saturday, August 4, 2018. mocner@miamiherald.com

Those warm bodies that back up what could be the best starting linebacker corps in America?

Better believe they’d love to get a few snaps in the LSU opener, but with University of Miami’s all-star linebacker cast of Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Mike Pinckney ahead of you on the depth chart, one learns the true meaning of patience.

“We’ve got a good linebacker crew and I do have upper classmen ahead of me — and they’re pretty good,’’ said sophomore reserve middle linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr., in a whopper of an understatement. “They could leave [after their junior seasons], but I still prepare every day like I could play, because one of them could go down.

“Anything could happen.”

Quarterman, McCloud and Pinckney played in every game last season, combining for 199 tackles, 22 1/2 tackles for loss, eight sacks, two fumble recoveries, seven pass breakups, eight quarterback hurries and an interception.

On Tuesday, Hurricanes outside linebackers coach Jonathan Patke said his goal, if possible, would be to get the backups — they include Bradley, redshirt senior Mike Smith and redshirt freshman Waynmon Steed — playing time in the opener.

University of Miami linebacker Shaquille Quarterman speaks after the team's first practice of 2018 season at Greentree Fields in Coral Gables on Saturday, August 4, 2018. (Picture by Matias J. Ocner / Miami Herald)

“Oh yeah. We want to roll as many as we can without a dropoff,’’ Patke said. “If you’ve got two deep without a dropoff, we want to play them, because fresh bodies are live bodies. They can run around better when they’re fresh. Fresh legs.

“There are enough reps to go around because we did roll the [third-teamers] all camp. So a lot of those guys did get a lot of reps. And you try to limit Shaq and Pinckney later on in camp.’’

Patke’s responsibilities include coaching the new “striker’’ position, a hybrid linebacker/safety.

Among the linebackers, last year Smith, 6-1 and 230 pounds, played in every game, totaling 23 tackles; Jennings, also 6-1 and 230, played mostly on special teams in 12 games, with seven tackles; and Steed, 5-11 and 120, redshirted with an injury.

“I like watching Bradley,’’ the 6-2, 235-pound McCloud said Tuesday after practice. “He’s so powerful. Steed is doing well at the [weak-side] position. Running through gaps is the main thing. You see Pinckney getting all the TFLs [and] Steed is going to be in that same position. So it’s all about just filling out what the need is for that spot and just angling yourself to be better at what those jobs are.”

A teammate's mother drove to Zach McCloud's home after Hurricane Irma to make sure he was OK. McCloud said his Canes are "family."

McCloud, who sometimes plays the striker role, said he remembers “being a freshman and having [former safeties Rayshawn] Jenkins and [Jamal] Carter and all those boys really cracking down on us to make sure we were in the right shape not just physically but right shape mentally to prepare for whatever was going to come our way during the season. It kind of falls outside your position, too. Everybody is talking to everybody.

“...All of them look great.’’

McCloud missed part of the spring with a left-wrist injury but said he’s doing well physically. “I’ve been on the ground. I’m punching people in the chest. I’m working moves. I’m completely comfortable.’’

University of Miami linebacker Michael Pinckney (54) speaks after practice at Greentree Fields in Coral Gables on Sunday, August 5, 2018.

Said Jennings: “Shaq has tutored me since I got here. He helps me all the time when I need help. I sit by him in the meeting room. It’s always good to have him right there by my side.

“....If they leave, they leave. I’ll be ready. If they stay, they stay. I’ll be ready.”

UM reported on Tuesday that “sophomore linebacker De’Andre Wilder is undergoing evaluation from our medical staff.’’ Wilder, a 6-3, 212-pounder out of Miami Carol City high, was seen recently on social media wearing a neck brace. He wasn’t at practice. Wilder played in 12 games last year, with 10 tackles.

Starting sophomore cornerback Trajan Bandy missed practice Tuesday for the second day in a row. UM sent out an update that “Bandy’s status is day-to-day.’’

Starting defensive end Joe Jackson again wore a protective brace over his left arm and elbow Tuesday. UM said the “brace is precautionary.’’

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