The future is now for the University of Miami.
Well, maybe for its defense.
Having lost a number of players either to graduation or attrition, Miami will likely start at least five underclassmen – three freshmen – when the Hurricanes host Florida A&M in its season-opening game Saturday at 6 p.m. in the newly renovated Hard Rock Stadium.
UM released its first depth chart of the season Monday and it was highlighted by three freshmen linebackers all listed as starters.
Zach McCloud was tabbed the No. 1 strong-side (Sam) outside linebacker and Shaq Quarterman the starting middle (Mike) linebacker. Michael Pinckney was listed a co-starter at weak-side (Will) linebacker with redshirt freshman Jamie Gordinier.
The defensive line featured a pair of sophomore starters in R.J. McIntosh (tackle) and Kendrick Norton (nose).
The spotlight on the youth movement has been highlighted since Miami announced the dismissal of senior linebacker Jermaine Grace and redshirt junior defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad following the school’s findings in their own investigation of the pair receiving improper benefits in the use of luxury rental cars.
Also, junior linebacker Juwon Young was suspended indefinitely from the team in June stemming from the same investigation and has since transferred to Marshall University.
But that’s no reason to crank up the excuse machine according to Canes defensive coordinator Manny Diaz.
“It just puts other guys in position to get more snaps than they would before,” Diaz said after Wednesday’s practice. “And again everything is an excuse to not play my best. Right? There are going to be 11 guys out there with U’s on their head and they each have to play their best.”
“No one has to play better than their best, no one has to try and put a cape on, because if everyone just does their job and plays in a violent manner we are going to be pleased with the outcome,” Diaz added.
Quarterman and Pinckney both were impressive throughout the spring and into fall camp. Both received praise from coaches throughout and were considered players that would see plenty of game action this season – perhaps nailing down the starting job before season’s end.
McCloud emergence as the team’s starting Sam linebacker was facilitated by Grace’s dismissal. Grace led the team in tackles in 2015 and was poised for a breakout senior season in Diaz’s 4-3 scheme.
But no matter who’s out there or what year they’re in, Diaz just wants his unit to play with “unwavering violence”.
“If I am the ‘Will linebacker’ then my job is to play ‘Will linebacker’ regardless of who the ‘Sam linebacker’ is, Diaz said. “If I’m the right corner then I have to play right corner regardless of who is on the defensive line. Everyone just plays, and plays fast and play violently and we will like the outcome.”
Miami’s secondary is the most experienced group – starting four seniors, including University of Texas transfer Adrian Colbert at right cornerback.
Still, there is another five underclassmen (freshmen or sophomores) that will more than likely see action Saturday and moving forward as well.
“We are going to play young guys,” Diaz said. “We have trust in our young guys and everyone we put on the field. And we are going to continue to recruit players that we think can play championship caliber defense.”
Harris, Moten Hurt; Status Uncertain
Miami’s defense could be without the services of defensive end Trent Harris and defensive tackle Anthony Moten Saturday as it was reported that they are dealing with hand and shoulder injuries respectively.
Reports came out that Harris broke one of his hands Tuesday during practice on Tuesday. While Moten has been dealing with a dislocated right shoulder prior to this week.
Harris was named a starter on the defense on Monday’s depth chart release – listed as the No. 1 at the “Viper” position. “Viper” is UM nomenclature for one of the defensive ends in Diaz’s 4-3 defensive scheme.
Moten is on the depth chart as the No. 2 defensive tackle behind McIntosh.
Coach Richt thinks at least one of them could be available to play Saturday.
“There’s a chance for both. One is more likely than the other. There’s a chance of neither, but I think at least one will play,” Richt said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m not sure. How sore is a guy? How much is it bothering him? If it’s bothering him to a point where he can’t function well, he won’t go…I’ll be honest with you – if one of them felt good Saturday morning, I’d probably have them at least dressed and ready to play.”
Either way, the door will be open for freshmen defensive ends Joe Jackson and Pat Bethel to see a good amount of action against the Rattlers.
Jackson was listed as Harris’ backup at “Viper”. Miami could also elect to slide redshirt sophomore Demetrius Jackson over from the other defensive end position and play opposite Chad Thomas.
While Grace and Muhammad’s careers at Miami are over, senior receiver Stacy Coley has – according to reports – been given the “all clear” and won’t face any disciplinary action stemming from the school’s investigation.
According to The Palm Beach Post, Coley will remain in the clear as long as no new information regarding the luxury rental car situation comes to the surface.
Coley’s name was not included in the school’s statement regarding Muhammad’s and Grace’s dismissal and the statement also called the matter “closed”.
Better yet, when the team released its official depth chart for week one, Coley’s name appeared as the starting “Y-receiver”. Naturally, Muhammad and Grace were not.
Coley’s clearance should allow fans to breathe a sigh of relief as wide receiver was already one of the thinner positions on the Canes’ roster and losing a player of his caliber would be a crippling blow to the entire offense.
Electing to forgo declaring for the NFL Draft and return for his senior season, Coley was UM’s second-leading receiver in 2015 – totaling 47 receptions for 689 yards and four touchdowns.
If healthy, the speedy Coley should be Miami’s top target this season. Braxton Berrios, the starting “Z receiver”, looked solid during the spring and could see his production spike this year.
Fans are anxious to see true freshmen Sam Bruce (St. Thomas Aquinas) and Dionte Mullins (Miami Gulliver Prep) in action, but neither was included on the initial depth chart. However, freshman Ahmmon Richards, who’s battled turf toe during fall camp, was listed as a co-starter at the “X receiver” position with redshirt sophomore Dayall Harris and Darrell Langham.