University of Miami

‘Big Dogs’ from Miami form one of nation’s top LB corps, but a related problem is brewing

UM unveils first turnover chain of 2019

UM LB Michael Pinckney picks off coach Manny Diaz’s first pitch for Canes-FSU baseball game to earn first turnover chain of 2019.
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UM LB Michael Pinckney picks off coach Manny Diaz’s first pitch for Canes-FSU baseball game to earn first turnover chain of 2019.

The last and only man to win the Butkus Award for the University of Miami was Dan Morgan, who in 2000 became the first player in college history to win the Butkus (top linebacker), Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year) and Bednarik Award (top defensive player) in the same season.

On Monday, not just one, but two exceptionally talented Hurricanes were nominated for the Butkus, as middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and weak-side backer Michael Pinckney made UM one of only nine schools with multiple players on the watch list.

“We’re the big dogs,’’ Quarterman told reporters last week. “We’re the vets in the locker room.’’

Now, with fall camp opening Friday and the Florida Gators looming as the Canes’ first opponent Aug. 24, the worrisome factor: Nearly every remaining UM linebacker on scholarship is either injured, recovering from surgery or has not arrived on campus.

Hurricanes fans need to cross their fingers, bring out their good-luck charms and flat-out pray that Quarterman, Pinckney and fellow senior strong-side backer/striker Zach McCloud — who unquestionably form one of the finest trios in the nation — stay healthy.

Coach Manny Diaz updated the South Florida media in a separate interview last Thursday at the ACC Football Kickoff that when camp begins Friday, redshirt sophomores Waynmon Steed and Bradley Jennings have “long-term injuries’’ and will not be participating — and that redshirt freshman Patrick Joyner “suffered a lower-leg injury’’ and will be limited.

UM announced on April 6 that Steed, who played five games last season, had “sustained a left knee injury’’ and would undergo surgery.

Jennings was hurt in UM’s second spring scrimmage at Traz Powell Stadium. Diaz said immediately after the scrimmage he thought it was a “little bit of a groin deal,’’ but has not elaborated since. When Jennings left the field that day, he could barely put pressure on his left leg.

De’Andre Wilder, another redshirt sophomore, is not in the new media guide. He was on the online UM roster as of late Monday afternoon. However, he did not play at all in 2018 because of a neck-related injury and was not expected to be a factor.

That left Joyner, a 6-2, 232-pound former defensive end who was converted to linebacker in the spring, to compensate for the lack of depth. He impressed coaches during the spring, but alas, Diaz said Thursday, that Joyner’s lower-leg injury was caused by “just running in camp.’’ Diaz said he was not sure if Joyner would be ruled out of the opener against Florida.

“You may not see him running through individual drills,’’ Diaz said of Joyner.

Diaz said that Avery Huff, the dominant 6-3, 200-pound incoming freshman out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, had not yet enrolled, and is “a doubt to be there’’ on Friday. “All his work is done. This is just sort of waiting on the final approval.”

Sam Brooks, the 6-2, 210-pound linebacker out of Miami Northwestern, enrolled in May and “is picking things up really easily,’’ Diaz said. “We think he has ability.’’

Co-defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda said of Brooks after he signed in December that, “This kid is going to be a monster.’’

“He’s huge,’’ Banda said, “broad shoulders, physical, can run, can tackle, comes from a great program. When this kid gets in our weight program, which we’ve proven what we can do, when he hits those weights, gets healthy and really strong he’s going to be a really good player for us.”

When asked if any other Canes could move to linebacker, Diaz replied, “There’s no doubt.’’

Strikers such as 6-1, 218-pound senior Romeo Finley and 6-1, 200-pound redshirt freshman Gilbert Frierson appear to be logical candidates.

In the meantime, the three standouts — first-team All-ACC middle man Quarterman (82 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, six sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery), Pinckney (74 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, 3 1/2 sacks) and McCloud (44 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss) — form the strength of the defense.

“It’s not just about us dominating,’’ Quarterman said. It’s about making sure that everybody on our team dominates, that everybody knows they can do it. Sometimes, that’s all it takes, just one person or an older head to take ayoung guy and say, ‘Listen, You’re a special player and we need you.’

“You never know how far that can go with a guy.’’

Junior cornerback Trajan Bandy was named to the 2019 Jim Thorpe Award Preseason Watch List on Monday. Bandy started all 13 games last season and had 36 tackles, 4 1/2 tackles for loss, eight passes defended and a team-high-tying three interceptions and two fumble recoveries.

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Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.