Barry Jackson

Here’s why UM is feeling good about its next wave of linebackers

Miami Hurricanes linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr. (44) tackles Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Keith Gavin (89) in the UM-FSU game last October. Jennings is one of three skilled linebackers from last year’s freshman class.
Miami Hurricanes linebacker Bradley Jennings Jr. (44) tackles Florida State Seminoles wide receiver Keith Gavin (89) in the UM-FSU game last October. Jennings is one of three skilled linebackers from last year’s freshman class. adiaz@miamiherald.com

A six-pack of UM notes on a Thursday, with the Canes completing their second practice of the spring:

• UM certainly doesn’t want to think about the possibility of any of its three junior-to-be linebackers turning pro after this season, but it’s critical that the Canes identify what linebackers are ready to assume major roles if any of them do.

And coordinator Manny Diaz likes what he has seen from several of them.

"Waynmon Steed has been impressive," Diaz said Thursday of the freshman who redshirted last season after a significant knee injury in high school.

"He has the instincts to make quick decisions at linebacker, gives us someone dynamic similar to Mike Pinckney which we didn’t really have on our roster [last season],” Diaz added.

"And [sophomore-to-be] Bradley Jennings as well. Those two guys right now, they still make some young, inexperienced mistakes, but in terms of linebacker instinct and linebacker play both those guys are pretty advanced given their overall level of experience."

Though Darrion Owens transferred to Houston and Jamie Gordinier retired from football, the Canes have decent linebacker depth behind Shaq Quarterman, Zach McCloud and Mike Pinckney.

That includes Steed, Jennings, Charles Perry (coming off a season-ending November knee injury), De’Andre Wilder and Mike Smith.

Terry McCray remains on the roster and safeties Derrick Smith and Romeo Finley are working at WILL linebacker in nickel situations.

Also, UM has oral commitments from 2019 three-star linebackers Diamante Howard and Jesiah Pierre and is in the mix for several other well-regarded linebackers.

Diaz has told me he’s not worried about the Canes’ predicament at linebacker because next year’s recruiting pool is so strong at the position. Plus, he likes last year’s freshman troika of Steed, Jennings and Wilder.

Of Wilder, Diaz said: "We’ve got him kicked out playing more in space. Really trying to see what he can do, and he’s challenging wide receivers out there. I’ll be excited to see Saturday when we get to hit."

Diaz said he’s looking for guys like Wilder "to give flexibility in what we can do coverage-wise."

• UM is expecting another jump from sophomore-to-be defensive end Jon Garvin.

"I think what you see in the three years we’ve been here - it’s the idea of a guy who flashed as a freshman understanding the consistency of being a down after down guy," Diaz said.

"Especially a position like defensive line where if you get one sack a game you can get All-Conference or All-American but can still be playing poorly in other ways. Joe Jackson elevated his game from Year 1 to Year 2 - the stats don’t sometimes always show it. It’s understanding being a more consistent guy, being firm at the point of attack."

• Cornerback Michael Jackson might have been a fourth or fifth round draft pick if he had turned pro, but UM is fortunate he returned, considering Malek Young’s career-ending neck injury and Dee Delaney’s graduation.

Jackson had four interceptions last season; some NFL people project him as a safety.

He says entering this season that a focus personally is "to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke."

"Personal expectation and team expectation always go high. The standard is compete every day, run hard to the ball as a defense, tackle and have fun."

He said Sheldrick Redwine implored him to return this season.

• The development of defensive tackle Jon Ford is as important as anything defensively, considering the lack of proven depth there.

"Jon Ford, once he learns everything, how to stay in his gaps we’re going to be very dominant on the inside," defensive end Joe Jackson said.

• UM is braced for guard Bruce Brown’s expected departure, though he said today he will not hire an agent, thus preserving his ability to change his mind about going pro.

Players who don’t hire an agent have until June 11 to withdraw from draft consideration. The draft is June 21.

Brown averaged 11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game during his sophomore season, which was curtailed after 19 games because of a left-foot injury. He underwent surgery on Feb. 1. 

ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givnoy has him going 29th in the first round in his latest mock draft (to Golden State).

"Although he had a disappointing season that ended with an injury, Brown is a willing passer, lockdown defender and gritty rebounder, and he has shown enough promise with his jump shot at times to lead you to believe he will become adequate here eventually," Givnoy said. "There's a significant market for players in his mold, provided he has a strong pre-draft process."

• UM announced that its 50th Hall of Fame banquet will be held April 19 at Jungle Island. The inductees:

Yonder Alonso

Britney Butcher

Chanivia Broussard

Coach Larry Coker

Dominique Darden

Frank Gore (who agreed to a deal with the Dolphins on Thursday)

Devin Hester

Tina Miller Lloyd

and John Salmons

Go to http://www.umsportshalloffame.com/induction-banquet.html for information and to buy tickets.

Here’s my Thursday media column with some NFL news, a look at the new TV voice of the Marlins, and whatever happened to Bob Costas.

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