Not long ago, three freshman linebackers skipped the end of their high school life to enroll early in college. That decision to accelerate their familiarity to college football has paid off greatly. Michael Pinckney, Zach McCloud and Shaq Quarterman entered Miami as freshman with Manny Diaz as their defensive coordinator. Now, as Miami’s senior linebackers they’ll leave with Diaz as their head coach.
The trio has seen Miami ranked as high as the number two team in the nation, and also has seen the Hurricanes lose to Duke. Their experience moving forward will be vital for a team that only returned seven seniors before adding transfers.
Miami’s Senior Linebackers Expected To Dominate
The three linebackers combined have played in 113 games. In terms of production, the trio has combined for 581 tackles, 73 tackles for loss, and 24 sacks. Quarterman has been a leader from his first day on campus. The first team All-ACC linebacker has a chance to be a finalist for the Butkus award this season.
Pinckney is the most instinctive linebacker on the team. Having started next to Quarterman as a freshman, the two decided to finish their career together. His ability to make plays sideline-to-sideline and cover running backs makes him tough to keep off the field. Against Florida State, he changed the course of the game, sniffing out a tight end screen and intercepting the pass.
Miami Fl LB Michael Pinckney @CanesFootball
69 tkls 11 tfl 2.5 sks 1 INT pic.twitter.com/nHqyzXVLZe
— College Football Rankings ™ (@CFBRanking) March 2, 2019
McCloud is the most athletic linebacker on Miami’s roster. At 6-2, and 235 pounds he has an argument for being the hardest hitter on the team. However, since his freshman season, McCloud has never been quite 100 percent healthy. Although he rarely misses games, he’s played the majority of his career with a brace either on his wrist or elbow.
The three linebackers as freshman depended on the veterans of the defense to help guide them. The roles have now reversed and they’re the veterans. Miami’s defense has to replace some highly productive starters on the defensive line and the secondary and the linebackers will ease that process.
Under new defensive coordinator, Blake Baker, the defense will look similar to Diaz’s defense. One of the big transitions last year was McCloud splitting time with Romeo Finley at the striker role. Miami has suffered some injuries that may move McCloud inside to where he may be the backup behind Quarterman and Pinckney. The move inside will help McCloud’s productivity. As Miami’s top backup linebacker last season, Mike Smith, finished just three tackles behind McCloud. Even with that, Smith finished with seven and a half tackles for loss which was three more than McCloud.
Miami is very lucky to have linebackers that have played as much football as this trio. Not only will it help the defense but also Manny Diaz in his first season as the head coach. Having them for another year also allows the younger linebacker to contribute on special teams or redshirt a season. There are still high expectations even coming off of a seven win season and this group can help Miami get back to the ACC Championship.