2017 Miami Hurricanes spring football preview: LBs aim to achieve greatness

Shaq Quarterman (left) and Zach McCloud (right), along with fellow linebacker Michael Pinckney (not shown), found plenty to celebrate in 2016. (Getty Images)

Shaq Quarterman (left), Zach McCloud (right) and fellow linebacker Michael Pinckney (not shown) had plenty to celebrate in 2016. (Getty Images)

Seventh in a series of position-by-position looks at the Hurricanes heading into spring practice, which begins March 21.

Previously: QB | RB | WR | TE | OL | DL

They made mistakes. Miami didn’t expect to start three true freshmen at linebacker, and when coaches realized Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud were the best of what they had, they expected some growing pains.

Those three weren’t perfect, but they were quite good, and in 2017, they should be much better.

After their freshmen All-American seasons, Quarterman and Pinckney are chasing greatness, and McCloud, some inside the program feel, is physically superior to both.

Because we wrote extensively about the trio in a story last month, here’s a key passage:

Stats aren’t always a measure of a linebacker’s effectiveness, but Quarterman was third among ACC freshmen in tackles (84) and had more tackles for loss (10.0) than any first-year ACC linebacker since Boston College’s Luke Kuechly (13.0) in 2009. He also had a team-high eight quarterback hurries and three sacks. Pinckney (61 tackles, 7.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks) and McCloud (37 tackles, 3.5 for loss, blocked punt) made their share of highlight-reel plays.

With those newcomers logging heavy time, Miami rose from 106th in tackles for loss to fifth, 115th in yards per play allowed to 17th, 86th in yards per play allowed to ninth and 77th in points allowed to 12th.

Not bad.

Now, what — and who — is next for this position group?

Projected depth chart (with fall class year listed)

Weak-side linebacker
Michael Pinckney, Soph.
Darrion Owens, R-Jr.
Jamie Gordinier, R-Soph.
Terry McCray, R-Jr.

Middle linebacker
Shaq Quarterman, Soph.
Mike Smith, R-Jr.
Bradley Jennings, Fr.

Strong-side linebacker
Zach McCloud, Soph.
Charles Perry, Jr.
Waynmon Steed, Fr.

Major storyline: Are these guys ready to lead? Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said many of his linebackers’ mistakes didn’t seem glaring because of the steady play of his defensive backs, especially safeties Rayshawn Jenkins and Jamal Carter. The secondary will be almost entirely new faces next season, with four seniors graduated. The linebacker trio must show they’re the heart of what should be an outstanding defense — especially since they’ll all be together for at least one more year. Behind the starters, Owens and Gordinier are the best two, and Diaz said he expects both will contribute more after last year’s injuries (Gordinier tore his ACL in Week 1, and Owens wasn’t right after tearing multiple ligaments in his knee in Sept. 2015). He should hope so, since the second-string was badly exposed when it was on the field last year. Jennings and Steed, along with speedy summer arrival De’Andre Wilder, represent the future.

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