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2021 Spring Preview: LB/STRK

2021 Spring Preview: LB/STRK

Stefan Adams
Offseason Additions: Deshawn Troutman (2021 signee)

Offseason Departures: Zach McCloud (Moved to DE)



In 2020, Miami’s linebackers were probably the least productive unit on the team. Veterans Zach McCloud (27 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks) and Bradley Jennings (39 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3 sacks) served the majority of the season as the starters at WILL and MLB, respectively, and the hope was that they would provide a steady hand at the second level of the defense operating as UM’s most experienced linebackers. However, whether it was being too slow to the ball or missing assignments, these two had a host of problems all season long in run defense, their coverage skills were lacking to put it mildly, and there was a near-total absence of impact plays. It was concerning then that while younger talents like sophomore Sam Brooks (37 tackles) and freshman Corey Flagg (15 tackles) showed flashes at various points of the season, neither showed the consistency required to gain the coaches’ trust and supplant Jennings or McCloud in the lineup.

Looking towards this spring, while McCloud has been relegated to DE, Jennings returns to the group, although it almost feels like a prerequisite that somebody must beat him out for this defense to return to their former glory in 2021. The closest to unseating Jennings at MLB heading into camp is Flagg, who at times demonstrated compelling instincts for the position last season. This camp will be about convincing the coaches his understanding of the defense has improved and that he will be in the right position more often than not, because Flagg inspires when he’s on his game and crashing to the ballcarrier hard in run support.

The most likely successor to McCloud at WILL is Brooks, who brings impressive speed and range to the position. Brooks has the ability to provide the game-changing plays at LB Miami had too little of last season, as shown by his late 4th quarter sack in the one-point road win over Virginia Tech in 2020. Like Flagg, though, the challenge for Brooks will be to prove he is more reliable than in the past, when he would too often get washed out of plays. Competition here will be supplied by Waynmon Steed, another uninspiring veteran best suited for a backup role, as well as Tirek Austin-Cave, who had his freshman year set back by injuries and COVID, and Avery Huff, who many around the program feel might have the most upside of all the linebackers but needs to show progression mentally this spring to see the field.

An intriguing piece to the linebacker puzzle is true freshman Deshawn Troutman, who many feel was an underrated pickup in Miami’s 2021 class. Troutman has enrolled early and will participate for spring ball, and he brings an exciting combination of sideline-to-sideline prowess and violent hitting to the group. With no real proven options in front of him, Troutman has an incredible opportunity this spring to win a job and never look back, but he will have to show an advanced understanding of the position and add weight to his frame in order to pull it off.

Things look rosier when turning the attention to striker, where Gilbert Frierson (53 tackles, 9 TFL, 2 sacks) had an overall strong first season in the starting role. Although he too battled consistency issues at times, there’s no doubt that Frierson was the most reliable among UM’s starters at the second level, and he also proved he could bring big-time performances to the table, as shown by his games against Clemson (3 TFL, FR) and VT (2 sacks). Frierson gives Miami exactly what they are looking for out of the position, as he was able to become more physical in run support in 2020 while the former corner was still an asset in covering TE’s and RB’s. Backup Keontra Smith (22 tackles) gave the Hurricanes some great snaps off the bench throughout the season, while true freshman Chase Smith has enrolled early this spring to get a jump on learning the position.


Bottom Line

Linebacker is one of the key position groups Canes fans should be paying attention to this spring, as it is imperative that UM goes into the 2021 season with a better plan for the spot. Older players like Jennings and Steed have proven they are best suited for backup roles, so this spring will be about developing a few younger talents to take more of their snaps going forward. Ideally, Flagg and Brooks will prove they are ready to be every down ‘backers on Miami’s first unit, and a third younger player will demonstrate he is worthy of a part-time role as well; all of that is far from a guarantee, though. At the end of the day, linebacker will be fun to follow this spring to see if someone is standing out in this group, as the position is just so wide-open right now and it could be anyone. At striker, this camp and subsequent season will be about if Frierson can make the jump from good to great.
 

Comments (16)

#44 should prove himself on kick and punt coverage. Can someone coach up #9 so we can get his athleticism on the field?
 
Really hope we go get Quavaris Crouch for Summer/Fall.

We definitely could use a Portal LB.
Any reciprocal interest on that front? Sort of thought he'd either be UNC or Clemson bound as I believe Clemson finished 2nd in his recruitment out of HS. And of course he's from the Charlotte area so UNC close...then if he wanted to stay in the SEC but still be driving distance from home Columbia SC is only 90min so the Gamecocks could be an option as well. Seems to me that most schools are wanting to wait before taking the last few big names from UT until the "McDs bag" situation is completed.

But all in all, for our LB preview, we desperately needed a shot in the arm in the form of a high 4*/5* caliber player....we did land Chase but STR is his money position and MLB/WLB are our problem areas. I hope Diaz now focusing primarily on DC/LB helps to get a better product on the field at LB this year.
 
I still think Thomas Davis will be a LB not a DE. He has the speed. In fact all the incoming LB's Davis, Troutman and Chase Smith have great speed for the position.

Speed is almost irrelevant if you can’t diagnose/read the play. I’m always skeptical of these converted DEs being able to do that, but maybe Davis is the exception.
 
Speed is almost irrelevant if you can’t diagnose/read the play. I’m always skeptical of these converted DEs being able to do that, but maybe Davis is the exception.
Say it louder so the people in the back can hear!
 
Im praying they get Keontra on the field more. Hopefullly they give him a look at WILL and let Gil and JW lock down the striker position.
Thinking the exact same mate. Put Smith out there with Flagg and Gil. Put one of Balom or Harrell at the backup STK role. Or Troutman or Brook if he can’t take the Will LB role. We need more speed coupled with vicious hitting. A core of Flagg, Keontra, and Gil would easily bring both aspects to the starter roles.
 
Thinking the exact same mate. Put Smith out there with Flagg and Gil. Put one of Balom or Harrell at the backup STK role. Or Troutman or Brook if he can’t take the Will LB role. We need more speed coupled with vicious hitting. A core of Flagg, Keontra, and Gil would easily bring both aspects to the starter roles.


I'd love to see that lineup against Bama:

M - Flagg
W - Keontra
STR - Gil with JW getting some reps
 
Yeah I think it is time to get the best talent on the field even if it means some position switching. Last year we had 2 good/very good strikers in Frierson and Smith. And with Chase smith coming in I don’t think we can afford to have 3 good strikers when we have so little proven talent at linebacker, I recognize the imperfect fit but we need to find a way to have Frierson and Keontra Smith on the field together, meaning one of them need’s to switch positions.
We need the talent on the field at the linebacker position which otherwise lacks talent/consistency/playmaking,
 
Unpopular opinion.... and yall know me to lean towards the side of the "mopes" mainly. Because I'm a realist, TBH..
But I'm opportunistic as well. I think if Patke is as smart as they say he is with the X's and O's, he could be the reason LBS improve. The realist in me severely doubts this.
But I'm opportunistic, too.
Win/win, guys. That's how to think. Win/win.
 
Really hope we go get Quavaris Crouch for Summer/Fall.

We definitely could use a Portal LB.
LCE, Any interest in or comments about Dimitri Moore? He’s a multi year LB starter at Vanderbilt who’s now in the Portal.

Thanks.
 
Unpopular opinion.... and yall know me to lean towards the side of the "mopes" mainly. Because I'm a realist, TBH..
But I'm opportunistic as well. I think if Patke is as smart as they say he is with the X's and O's, he could be the reason LBS improve. The realist in me severely doubts this.
But I'm opportunistic, too.
Win/win, guys. That's how to think. Win/win.
I think if they play Brooks, Flagg, Huff & TAC then maybe add on a Portal LB the Linebacker unit should be much improved...

But if they stick with BJ Jennings & the upperclassmen then it'll be more of the same.

With this coaching staff their success this season will be playing the best 11 on both sides of the ball & not just always deferring to Seniority despite how awful they play week to week.

They simply need to hold themselves & the players accountable & not make excuses for poor play/coaching.
 

2022 Commits

QB
6'4"
205
Valdosta, GA

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