2016 Miami Hurricanes Position Review: Linebackers
Last spring when Mark Richt took the reigns of the Miami Hurricanes football program, he vowed to return the defense back to the way that the program was known for. He would receive big help from three highly touted recruits, all from the state of Florida, that made the decision to enroll early into Coral Gables. Shaq Quarterman would become the starting middle linebacker from the first day, as well as Michael Pinckney as the weakside linebacker. Zach McCloud would come in as the backup to leading tackler Jermaine Grace.
When training camp rolled around, the defense would receive a huge blow when Grace would be dismissed for NCAA violations. This would essentially open the doors for three starting linebackers as true freshmen, which is unusual for any program, let alone Miami. Many fans have compared the trio to the “Bermuda Triangle“, a group of linebackers that came in during the late 80’s and was able to help contribute to two national championships during their tenure at Miami.
The three would take the field along side one another and make history as the first group of true freshmen to start in school history. Any doubt whether or not they could actually play or whether or not they would be nervous was quickly answered. Quarterman was able to anchor the middle of the defense and finish one tackle short of tying the team lead. What Quarterman brought in leadership, Pinckney had in brovado. He was the personality of the defense and often times was the one who would spark plug big plays such as his game clinching interception against Georgia Tech. Often forgotten amongst the trio is McCloud, but he possesses the most potential amongst the three. McCloud blocked a punt against Notre Dame that sparked a comeback after being down 21 points.
Pinckney and Quarterman would garner Freshmen All-American honors nationally, and all three would receive the honor within the conference. Being just freshmen the three have revived Miami’s defense with the swagger of old and foundation for the future. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is hopeful that all three will continue to grow and use the early success in their first year to become better players. “They’re finding out greatness comes from being consistently good,” Diaz said. “It’s not just the spectacular. It’s being where you’re supposed to be down after down.”
As a group, the three have learned about the rigors of college football, but mentally they have been able to fight through the adversity. The toughness is apparent when you watch any Hurricanes game, and you see all three with some type of injury yet continue to battle. Pinckney since enrolling has battled problems with his hamstring as well as a broken hand which he played through. The same applies to McCloud and Quarterman, who both have injuries to their shoulder’s but have yet to miss a game.
Outlook into Next Season
With spring ball getting ready to be underway soon, what can’t happen is any regression from a position group that is expected to have stability for over the next couple of seasons. Miami coaches aren’t allowing that to happen either as they have signed three more linebackers in order to provide more competition at the position.
Quarterman made the case that he could have been All-ACC within his freshmen season largely because he had better production than some on the list. Expectation is that he will continue that progress, likewise for Pinckney, who will begin the 2017 season missing the first half of the opening game because of a targeting call in the Russell Athletic bowl game. McCloud progressed immensely throughout the season and his performance during the bowl game showed that he is going to be a major factor not only for next season but for years to come.
Having a year under their belts, it is well expected that these linebackers lead the Miami defense to even greater heights than before. With a front seven that returns every major contributor from the year before there is a lot of buzz around the ‘Canes and many are asking the question how good can they be in 2017?