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Miami linebackers try to reclaim a lost legacy

Justin Berl/Icon Sportswire

The Miami football team clearly isn’t the powerhouse it used to be. The Hurricanes haven’t won a bowl game since 2006, and they haven’t won at least 10 games in a season since 2003.

That’s not even the most surprising thing about Miami’s downward turn the last decade… at least not according to one ACC coach.

Every year before the season, the ACC coaches speak anonymously about each other’s teams in an effort to get some more substantial quotes instead of the usual coach-speak. When asked about Miami, lots of coaches referenced UM’s inconsistencies. Last season, the Canes beat a tough Virginia Tech team by 10; the following week, they were absolutely crushed, 58-0, by Clemson.

One coach dug a little deeper into what really is alarming about present-day Miami football:

“I think the biggest shock when we played them was at linebacker and how below-average they were at that position,” an ACC coach anonymously said according to Athlon Sports. “When you think of Miami, you’re thinking about guys like Ray Lewis and Dan Morgan, Jonathan Vilma and Denzel Perryman.”

Yes, the great linebacker tradition at Miami seems to have ended — just look at the cover photo for this story. An opposing running back motors through the teeth of The U’s defense for a 35-yard touchdown.

In 2016, the Hurricanes will count on a new coach and a few freshmen to bring pride and prestige back to the linebacker position in Miami.

Mark Richt picked Manny Diaz to run the defense and linebackers. Diaz has bounced around over the last few years: He’s held a defensive coordinator position at four different schools, twice at Mississippi State, where he coached last season. Diaz had expressed a desire to stay in Starkville for the rest of his career, but when Miami — his hometown team — offered him a job, he couldn’t pass it up.

With Diaz last season, Mississippi State’s defense finished middle of the pack nationally, but just 10th in the SEC in total defense. Although they put more pressure on the quarterback as a team, finishing fifth in the SEC with 30 sacks, the Bulldogs also finished last in the conference with 14 takeaways. Nobody in the SEC that made a bowl game had fewer than 18.

Miami’s defense was even worse than Mississippi State’s. It ranked 11th with 404.8 yards allowed per game, 12th with 28.2 points allowed per game. The Bulldogs also averaged just 2 sacks per game. The good news, though: The Hurricanes forced 25 turnovers, third-most in the conference.

That’s something to build upon, but Miami needs to allow fewer big plays and improve its pass rush. In order to do that, Diaz will turn to his young linebackers.

If anyone on the Hurricanes’ roster is going to follow in the footsteps of the great linebackers of the past, it will be middle linebacker Shaquille Quarterman. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound freshman was a four-star recruit out of Orange Park, Florida. During his four years of high school, he recorded a whopping 412 tackles.

Diaz called him tough, physical and very mature for his age. He’s the alpha dog who will run this defense very soon.

Fellow freshman and three-star prospect Michael Pinckney will play weakside linebacker. Out of Jacksonville Raines, he posted 85 tackles, including 10 for a loss, eight sacks, and one interception in his senior year of high school.

Pinckney, though, is not guaranteed to start. He will battle for the starting job with redshirt sophomore Darrion Owens, who played just two games last year due to a knee injury sustained in Week 2.

On the other side, there’s senior Jermaine Grace. He had a team-high 79 tackles last season. Grace will at least be a veteran voice for the linebacker corps.

Miami may be on the right track again, especially with Mark Richt calling plays on offense, but for the Hurricanes to recapture the successes of yesteryear, a return to the program’s roots — elite linebacker play — is non-negotiable.

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