Miami Hurricanes linebackers taking big steps forward this spring

Dec 29, 2020; Orlando, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 29, 2020; Orlando, FL, USA; Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports /

Improved linebacker play will be critical for the Miami Hurricanes defense in 2021. Miami has moved former linebacker Zach McCloud to defensive end and striker Keontra Smith has received playing time at LB this spring as the Hurricanes look for answers. All of the Miami LBs return for the 2021 season.

None of the Miami Hurricanes LBs dominated the stat sheet on Saturday. Sam Brooks who has often shown potential in his two seasons on the Miami roster but has dealt with injuries missed the Spring Game on Saturday with a toe injury. Training camp in August will continue to be a completion to determine the starting LBs.

All of the Miami Hurricanes LBs return in 2020. Bradley Jennings Jr. started all 11 games last season and led the Miami LBs with 39 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Miami needs more production than that from their middle LB in 2021. Shaq Quarterman led Miami with 107 tackles in 2019 as the MLB.

Ahead of the Spring Game, head coach Manny Diaz spoke about the LB play for Miami this spring. The Hurricanes had two previous scrimmages before the spring game on Saturday. Diaz specifically mentioned Smith and redshirt freshman Avery Huff who is continuing to learn the Miami defense.

"“Keontra, at Will, he’s looked at home there. He actually played that position at (Hollywood) Chaminade(-Madonna) quite a lot. He just feels very comfortable, sort of closer to the ball…After Saturday we’re going to watch our spring cutups…Watch all the same type of runs, same type of fronts and see how the defense behaves predicated on who the guys are. I believe our linebackers have taken a big step forward this spring. It’s just what we said we needed. I’ve been saying for a long time Avery Huff just, just needed at-bats.In five weeks of at-bats this spring, Avery, he made as big of an improvement as anybody on our entire defense.”"

Smith signed with Miami as a safety, was moved to striker and could potentially play LB in 2021 with the extreme depth the Hurricanes have at safety. Traditionally, Miami has converted safeties to the striker position that was installed during 2018 spring practice. Gilbert Frierson is the projected 2021 striker.

Frierson was originally a cornerback. Chase Smith, a 2021 signee is slated to be a striker in college and safety Amari Carter have both received playing time at striker this spring. Corey Flagg and Tirek Austin-Cave will likely be in the rotation.

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Flagg has been routinely praised by Diaz. At 5’11, 228 pounds there has been some criticism that Flagg might be undersized. Austin-Cave has outstanding speed and signed with Flagg in 2020. Waynmon Steed returns for Miami to provide the Hurricanes with depth at LB. Miami has to better stop the run in 2021.