Part three of a five-part series with the Canes' view of every player on defense:
Some insight from outside linebackers coach Jonathan Patke on where UM stands at linebacker a month from the start of fall camp:
▪ UM would love to see Shaquille Quarterman and Mike Pinckney play more on third down this season.
Here’s how Patke assesses both:
On Quarterman: “He is such a competitor and brings an energy at practice. He doesn’t want the offense to get anything in practice. Where we want him to excel a little more this year is on third down. He hasn’t played a lot of third down for us. That’s Pinckney as well. With [Quarterman] so instinctual on first and second down, we would love to keep him on the field on third down.”
So what does Shaq do at an elite level now?
“He stops the run and his physicality is second to none," Patke said. "Once he puts what we call a Shaq shoulder on people, they stop. He is an old school MIKE backer and likes to thump and his instincts seeing the run game are very high. He needs to be better in pass coverage.”
As for Pinckney, “he diagnoses the quickest out of any linebacker we have. You see that on film. It looks like we’re sending him on a blitz and it’s not a blitz. He just has a feel for it. He knows what play is coming, he sees it and believes it and pulls the trigger. That’s why he has so many [tackles for loss]. The offense, in practice, thinks he knows the plays. He doesn’t. He just can [anticipate]. He might be the smartest linebacker we have. He needs to play third down this year; you don’t want to take that guy off on third down.”
▪ Zach McCloud’s spring wrist injury is healing and he’s expected to be back for camp in August, Patke said. And his position has changed from outside linebacker to UM’s new “striker” role, though the responsibilities are similar.
McCloud, Derrick Smith Jr., Romeo Finley, Charles Perry and De’Andre Wilder are all playing that striker role, which is a hybrid linebacker/safety position.
“I’m excited to get him back,” Patke said of McCloud. “He was banged up toward the end of the season after the Pitt game. The physicality he brings is exciting.”
▪ With McCloud out this spring, Patke said Finley ended the spring ahead of Smith at that new striker position.
“They went back and forth; both ran with the ones," Patke said. "Romeo had a better spring than Derrick. We are going to play the most physical players first and Romeo really showed up in the run game and throwing his body around, which we were pleased with. He did really nice things in the run game. Derrick did nice things in coverage, showed up more in coverage. Right now, it will be good competition. You have CJ coming back and getting healthy and Wilder as well.”
▪ As for Wilder, “he has got to grow and learn,” Patke said. “He’s got to be more comfortable in the defense. He has to compete with those other guys — he has to be able to beat Derrick out. Can he compete at that level? Athletically, he’s not where Derrick is but a little bigger and has more of a linebacker body.”
▪ UM coaches believe Perry can help. He’s still working his way back from his late-season Achilles’ injury but should be ready for August camp, Patke said.
“He has been doing cutting drills,” Patke said. “I told him he’s a leader in the room based off his age. He does everything I ask him to do. He came up in the UNC game and made a big interception we needed and finally started making some plays you know he can.”
▪ Mike Smith has emerged as the top backup at MIKE and WILL linebacker.
“He will be swing guy between the MIKE and WILL,” Patke said. “He’s our third best linebacker [with McCloud now dubbed a striker]. He even played some SAM last year. Once Zach comes back, we will tell Mike Smith to concentrate on MIKE and will.
“You see him being a physical linebacker that likes to hit and tackle inside the box. That’s what he does well. At times, he was a little slow diagnosing things but he came around this spring. He really had a good spring.”
▪ Waymon Steed, back after missing last season in the wake of a serious high-school knee injury, was voted UM’s most improved linebacker in the spring, and this staff has high hopes. He is working at WILL behind Pinckney.
"In the fall, he had to get in shape; he got out of shape real bad," Patke said. "The progress he made changing his body was phenomenal. He's now confident in his knee. He can really run. He really showed up in the spring."
▪ Bradley Jennings, who’s getting work at MIKE linebacker behind Quarterman and Smith, “needs to improve on being consistent. Bradley, if he’s not locked in, is not a great player. But when he is locked in, he’s a really good player. He’s right in the mix. We feel comfortable him going in MIKE if Mike Smith has to go to WILL. It will be new to him and big games you are little worried about [with young players]. You try to ease those guys into it.”
▪ The one freshman linebacker, Patrick Joyner Jr., is on campus after a 16-sack season at South Dade High. Though UM believes he has the ability to play defensive end in time if they choose, they want him to begin his career at linebacker. He could stay there longterm if he thrives.
“We will start him as a linebacker; he has to put on weight, [but] he’s long and can run,” Patke said. “Being the sack leader in Dade County, you would like to see him rush the passer. Maybe down the road, he would be dynamic enough to put his hand on the ground” as a defensive end.