Miami football return of Zach McCloud adds depth on defensive front seven

Nov 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 24, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The return of Zach McCloud to the Miami football program for the 2021 season gives the Hurricanes needed depth on their front seven. A four-year starter at linebacker from 2016-18 and 2020 McCloud was moved to defensive end for Cheez-it Bowl loss to Oklahoma State last month.

McCloud played 47 games at LB during parts of his first five seasons. His return to the Miami football program gives the Hurricanes a proven performer at LB with the potential of playing him at DE also. McCloud is returning by taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility granted to all 2020 fall sports athletes.

In parts of five seasons, McCloud has 164 tackles, 15.0 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. In nine games in 2020, with eight starts all at LB, McCloud had 27 tackles, two TFLs and tied a career-high with two sacks. Miami is inexperienced at both DE and LB entering the 2021 season. McCloud is their most experienced player.

Entering the 2021 season, McCloud and quarterback D’Eriq King are both returning for six seasons. That gives Miami a seasoned leader on both sides on offense and defense. McCloud teamed at LB with Bradley Jennings Jr. who started all 11 games for Miami this season. McCloud announced his return on Instagram.

Behind Jennings and potentially McCloud at LB, are freshmen Tirek Austin-Cave and Corey Flagg Jr., sophomore Sam Brooks Jr., redshirt freshman Avery Huff, redshirt sophomore and former walk-on, Ryan Ragone and junior Waynmon Steed. Jennings finished seventh on Miami with 39 tackles and added 7.5 TFLs and three sacks.

Brooks who has a bright future had 37 tackles, 1.5 TFLs, one sack and two pass breakups. Flagg was promising and showed instincts in his first collegiate season. The Houston product should challenge McCloud, Jennings and Brooks for playing time in 2021. Miami needs better play from its LB corps in 2021.

If McCloud switches to DE, he will join an inexperienced group there. Miami added Tennessee transfer, DeAndre Johnson, last weekend at DE. Johnson is projected to start with redshirt freshman Jahfari Harvey. Miami also has redshirt freshman Cameron Williams, true freshman Chantz Williams and Quentin Williams at DE.

Next. Zach McCloud move signals return for 2021. dark

The return by McCloud gives Miami the leadership they need, particularly on defense. Whether he plays DE or LB will be determined this spring and into training camp this summer. McCloud will be the last player connected to the first season under Mark Richt in 2016 and when Manny Diaz returned home to become defensive coordinator.