2019 Spring Preview: LB

2019 Spring Preview: LB

Stefan Adams
Additions: Gilbert Frierson (Moved from corner)

Departures: Mike Smith (Graduation), Derrick Smith (Moved to safety)

For the third straight spring, the Canes don’t have many questions at linebacker. Miami returns all four senior starters at the LB positions going into the 2019 season, with the duo of Shaquille Quarterman at MIKE and Michael Pinckney at WILL, along with the platoon of Zach McCloud and Romeo Finley at striker.

In his third season manning the middle of Miami’s defense, Quarterman had a career year, ending his 2018 campaign with a First Team All-ACC nod. A main criticism of Quarterman during his first two seasons at UM had been his lack of explosive plays; all he did was go out in 2018 and record career-highs of 14 TFL, 5 sacks, and his first career interception. He’s a true leader in the middle for the Canes that the team looks to in times of strife and Miami is lucky to have him back for one more ride.

He’s not perfect, but Pinckney got the job done more often than not last season. While he sometimes lacks discipline in his run fits, Pinckney had a career-high 74 total tackles in 2018 and makes enough momentum plays to justify his starting spot in the lineup. Both Quaterman and Pinckney were integral parts of the nation’s #18 scoring defense and will use spring to continue expanding their leadership roles and working to improve their draft stock.

However, it was the addition of the striker linebacker position in 2018 that really made the biggest impact on Miami’s defense and allowed them to take the next step, solving some of the coverages issues the LB’s faced in 2017. More speed on the field allowed UM to go from nearly last in third down defense in 2017 to first in the country in 2018 with a 25.3% conversion rate for opposing offenses.

Finley went from a guy many wrote off as a transfer candidate to a key piece of UM’s defense, totaling 28 tackles, 5 TFL, 2 interceptions, and 4 PBU’s. Finley is clearly more comfortable in the hybrid striker role than at traditional safety and the game is slowing down for him a bit. Finley can just do so much more than McCloud in being able to stick with TE’s and RB’s, and that changes how Miami can defend across the board, making them more multiple. Having Finley be the guy in more passing-obvious situations took a lot of pressure off McCloud last season. He was able to focus more on stopping the run instead of having to play too much in space, and he certainly cut down on the amount of mistakes he made in 2018. This spring will be about continuing to solidify their roles and building on the success of last season.

I’m told Miami is planning on using their hybrid guys even more often in 2019, and that’s where redshirt freshman Gilbert Frierson comes in. Frierson moves to striker from corner and is expected to soak up the minutes that Derrick Smith provided in a third string role. Frierson was known as a physical corner matching up against receivers, but being physical closer to the line against linemen and tight ends is a different story, and how well he can play the run will determine how large his role becomes. Frierson’s transition will be one of the more intriguing stories of spring, and while he needs to continue to add more weight to hold up (currently 6’1” 192), he has the potential to be a Jabrill Peppers-lite considering his pedigree.

Overall, the biggest question mark within the unit this spring is, who will emerge to replace the graduated Mike Smith? Smith had 41 tackles and 7.5 TFL as a super-sub for Manny Diaz’s defense last season and was an unsung hero off the bench in many games. Sophomore BJ Jennings profiles best as the backup at MIKE and sophomore Waynmon Steed fits best as the backup at WILL, but don’t be surprised if Diaz just picks one to soak up the majority of both the backup inside backer minutes like Smith did last year. This spring will be both Jennings and Steed’s chance to win favor with the staff and become that guy. Sophomore De’Andre Wilder is recovering from a neck injury, and just how much he can contribute to the team now or in the future is unclear.

The team signed two LB’s in the 2019 class, but neither will participate in spring ball. Both Avery Huff and Samuel Brooks will arrive in the summer and add depth.

Bottom Line

UM has one of the best LB units in the ACC, complete with returning experience as well as youthful and athletic depth. The major roles are essentially already locked up, but the battle between Steed and Jennings at backup inside linebacker this spring could prove key down the road. Also, pay attention to how reps are doled out at striker, as UM is likely to start relying on their hybrid guys even more than last season, and that would mean less minutes for McCloud.

Comments (42)

So basically gil is about to be a nickel/dime package DB...all in all we will see the same faces at LB. interested the jump a kid like Nigel bethel makes.

That’s Bandy, Ivey, Williams, bethel, and blades
Didn't realize Derrick Smith was back at safety. He was good in limited snaps as a frosh, but wasn't on the field much at all last year.
Did Frierson eat his way into a striker, or was he moved there because he truly belongs there? I remember a poster saying he didn't take his RS year seriously and partied a lot, gaining weight in the process.
Did Frierson eat his way into a striker, or was he moved there because he truly belongs there? I remember a poster saying he didn't take his RS year seriously and partied a lot, gaining weight in the process.

The article reported he needs to gain weight to really man up for the striker position. It also said he's currently 6'1" 192...

I don't think he's eaten his way into the striker position.
The article reported he needs to gain weight to really man up for the striker position. It also said he's currently 6'1" 192...

I don't think he's eaten his way into the striker position.

The thread below is where i heard about it. Also 192lb is his listed weight on the UM official roster. That information is rarely updated/correct. It just struck me as odd he went from looking better than Ivey and Blades in spring to completely disappearing from the picture and returning as a striker.

Yeah, I think the 192 lbs is a very old weight.
Amari Carter played a lot of striker with Red and Quan ahead of him, he was the db that could cover, tackle and blitz, Carter would line up at nickel dime and LB, he lined up at nose and blitzed off a tackle end stunt, now that will be Frierson's role with Carter playing more safety with Gurvan 🙌
Manny looking to maximize his talent and minimize his gaps. All the moves make sense. Despite having graduated a lot of NFL talent, we're running pretty deep now across the board, assuming all the GTs arrive as expected.
WLB - Michael Pinckney/ Waynmon Steed/ Sam Brooks

MLB - Shaquille Quarterman/ BJ Jennings

SLB - Zach McCloud/ Patrick Joyner/ Avery Huff

Striker - Romeo Finley/ Gilbert Frierson

DeAndre Wilder can play both Sam backer & Striker if he ever comes back healthy.

I'm also curious to see if Diaz/Baker like Joyner at Mike or Strong side.
I luv how we making up positions. Manny needs to go viral with this. All kidding aside would love to Amari on the feild more this year in that “star” role. Free to blitz and just roam the same way bama used mink and FSU used Jaylen his fresh and soph years. If we can consistently cause havoc/stop the run with out front 7 and have to bring the striker in the box(3rd safety) this D would be scary
Loving the mix we have here at LB. I too would like to see McCloud backup Shaq and/or Pinckney at their respective positions. I think it could “save” his career and allow him more freedom to play more instead of thinking so much. Frierson behind Finley adds depth at the Striker position. If the back end can hold up, and play to their potential, this could be the top rated defense in the ACC and Top 10 in the nation again. Slowly but surely we’re making the turn towards much needed depth across the defensive positions, while also adding more and more play makers.
I could be wrong wouldn't be the first time, but I don't see Gil in that stricker Role more of a FS. I think Derrick Smith would be the best at Striker. But we shall see.
Mike Smith is going to have a big showing at pro day March 25th

I feel his career goes way different if he doesn’t get that injury his senior year of HS. That man was a monster off the edge