Diaz: Our team isn’t far from competing for championships
UM was very fortunate that junior linebackers Shaquille Quarterman, Mike Pinckney and Zach McCloud all decided to return for their senior seasons, not only because they’re quality players, but also because it gives the staff another year to sort out replacements.
So when spring ball begins March 19, expect plenty of reps for last year’s young backups – Bradley Jennings, Waynmon Steed and De’Andre Wilder – who all have to lot to prove.
Jennings appeared in only four games (eight tackles), Steed appeared in five games (three tackles) and Wilder didn’t play last season because of a training camp neck injury.
Manny Diaz said late last season that he was “encouraged by” the play of Jennings and Steed in limited opportunity. But there remains a degree of mystery with each of the three, with uncertainty about whether any are ACC-caliber starters or merely depth players.
Come summertime, they’ll be pushed by freshmen Avery Huff and Sam Brooks.
Huff and Brooks, two three-star prospects from South Florida, have both signed with UM but aren’t yet enrolled.
UM coaches like the two new additions.
Co-defensive coordinator Ephraim Banda said of Huff: “Another kid people don’t realize how good they are. You have to show me a more talented linebacker in the country - I doubt you can.”
Jonathan Patke, the inside linebackers coach, said Huff “is a big, long physical guy with great upside. His potential is out of this world in my opinion. He can jump out of the gym. He’s going to grow into a huge frame and really, really excited about him.
“Has played safety, he’s played linebacker, on the line of scrimmage, A gap, B gap, man to man. he’s been asked to do a lot in high school. Excited with what he brings where I can get him in one spot and let him learn that spot and let his talent take over.”
Of Brooks, Banda said: “This kid is going to be a monster. He’s huge, 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.”
Patke’s take on Brooks: “He is a such a long, wide frame. I’m excited to get him here, let him start lifting, let him get into a nutrition program. He’s going to be a big person. They have more length than what we have right now, other than Zach McCloud with what we have right now.”
UM has only three natural linebackers on the field part of the time because of Manny Diaz’s creation of the striker position last season.
Romeo Finley and Derrick Smith, who both return, handled that position, with Finley perhaps UM’s most improved player. And cornerback Gilbert Frierson has been moved to the striker position as well.
Before his dismissal as UM’s player personnel director, Matt Doherty said one reason the Canes didn’t add more than two linebackers in this class was because it would leave other positions at a deficit, but also because of faith in Jennings and Steed and because the striker position allows UM to take fewer natural linebackers than it might have in the past.
But UM remains open to adding a transfer at linebacker, with former UCLA five-star recruit Jaelan Phillips and UCLA’s Rahyme Johnson among linebackers who were followed by Diaz on Twitter. A UM official said recently that Phillips remains someone of interest to the Canes; Phillips declined to comment.
And linebacker will be a priority for the 2020 recruiting class. Miami is pursuing several, but doesn’t have any so far among nine nonbinding commitments. Among the Canes’ top 2020 targets: four-star Georgia-based outside linebacker Phillip Webb, Texas-based three-star inside linebacker Josh White and Charlotte-based three-star outside linebacker Trenton Simpson.
UM also has been trying to flip four-star St. Thomas Aquinas inside linebacker Derek Wingo, who’s a nonbinding Penn State commitment.
UM obviously knows what it’s getting with Quarterman, Pinckney, McCloud and Finley. The key thing to determine this spring is what exactly the Canes have with the underclassmen at the position.