Hurricane Elite: OLB

OK, so how long is Penn St. going to keep proclaiming itself 'Linebacker U'? At one time - long ago - they were worthy of that moniker, but everyone else outside of Happy Valley has long since conceded that now the most prolific linebacker pipeline flows from South Florida.

Beginning with early stalwarts like Scott Nicolas and Jay Brophy, Miami has sent a wave of sideline-to-sideline defenders to the next level for the past two-plus decades.

Whether they were stout run stuffers on the inside, or athletic guys outside that could play in space, Miami 'backers have set the standard for the rest of college football to emulate.

UM is now 'Linebacker U.'

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS

10 - Bruce Fleming (82-85): Fleming was an intense player who led the 1984 team in total tackles with 111 and three sacks, which tied for the team lead.

As Jimmy Johnson went to his preferred 4-3 one-gap defense in 1985, Fleming kept up his productivity, but was limited to 60 tackles and two sacks, as he sat out three games with injuries. He had one of his best games that year in making nine tackles against top-ranked Oklahoma, in Miami's 27-14 thrashing of the Sooners in Norman.

9 - Michael Smith (96-99): Just as it seemed that Smith was really beginning to put his considerable skills together, Smith would suffer a horrific injury against Penn St. in the third game of his senior campaign, in effect ending his career.

At 6'3", 240 pounds, Smith had the ideal size for a linebacker and being a Hurricane linebacker meant that he could run and cover ground. Perhaps his best game came in an offensive shootout when he had 17 stops against UCLA in Miami's historic 49-45 upset over the top-rated Bruins to conclude the 1998 regular season.

Smith would finish out his UM career with 262 tackles.

8 - Corwin Francis (91-94): Francis, like his predecessor Jesse Armstead, was from the Lone Star State, and while he wasn't as highly-touted or as spectacular as Armstead, he was a steady and reliable player in his two season as a starter in 1993 and 1994.

At 6'0", 220 pounds, he was your classic undersized UM linebacker. While he didn't have prototypical size, he was a player who relied on quickness, speed and diagnosing plays on the fly.

He ended his career with 199 total tackles.

7 - Chris Campbell (98-01): Unfortunately we never got to see Campbell play in the NFL as he would die tragically in an automobile accident shortly after his senior year.

Campbell, was part of the Butch Davis recruiting hauls in the late 90's that put this program back among the nation's elite. Playing near the very end of the probation era, Campbell played as a true freshman in 1998, one of only four to do so that year.

He was a tall and wiry player with great range and the ability to uncoil as he hit ball carriers. He was a key member of the 2001 defense that was as opportunistic as any in this program's history. He tallied 221 career tackles at UM.

6 - Jesse Armstead(89-92): Who knows what heights 'Superman' would have reached if he never tears up his knee against FSU in 1990? Coming in as the top-rated recruit in 1989, Armstead flashed his potential as a true freshman on a special teams unit that gave up a total - not an average - of two punt return yards for the whole season.

In '91 and '92, Armstead was part of the fabled 'Bermuda Triangle' trio of 'backers that made up one of the all-time great units in college football history with Michael Barrow and Darrin Smith. Armstead, who is forever immortalized as the championship-saving hero for Dallas Carter High in the best-selling book 'Friday Night Lights', was a high-energy player who was never, ever afraid to throw his body around without fear or thought of his own personal safety.

Armstead, who didn't really regain his full burst and explosiveness until he hit the Big Apple as a New York Giant, was a revolutionary linebacker. Think about it, in his day just how many times did UM ever go into a nickel or dime package? With linebackers like Armstead, you never had to, as he could line up in the slot and cover receivers with ease.

He would total 268 tackles, 10 sacks, 11 tackles for losses and 16 pass breakups during his playing days in Coral Gables.

5 - Randy Shannon (85-88): Didn't it always seem like Shannon was like a coach on the field when he played? The fact that he is now the defensive coordinator at his alma mater is no surprise, nor is the fact that he won the Frank Broyles Award, as the top assistant coach in college football in 2001.

Shannon could be best described as a smart and heady player who rarely made mental errors. Taking over for Winston Moss in 1987, he started his junior year off with a bang in the season opener by picking off a Kerwin Bell toss and taking it back all the way to the west end zone in Miami's 31-4 thrashing of the Gators.

4 – D.J. Williams (00-03): Has there been a more heavily- hyped recruit than Williams? He was so prolific in high school, playing for powerhouse De La Salle in Concord, California, that John Madden made statements that Williams could have gone directly from high school to the NFL.

While that was a bit of hyperbole, after returning to linebacker after spending his freshman year at fullback, Williams improved year by year as a defender. Williams was built like a rock at 6'2", 245 pounds and he could lay the wood. His lower body was like an oak tree and he played with superior leverage and was strong at the point of attack. Late in his senior year in 2003, he would prove to be an effective blitzer.

In his senior year he would be named second team All-American by the Sporting News and third team by the Associated Press, as well as being named first team All Big East. For his career he totaled 245 tackles, 28 tackles for losses, 10 sacks and eight passes broken up.

3 - Winston Moss (83-86): Moss was an immediate contributor as Miami made its move to become the preeminent dynasty in college football. As a true freshman, Moss would contribute on Miami's first national title team in 1983.

And the winning ways continued. In all four years at UM, Moss was a part of teams that would play in New Year's Day bowl games. After settling in as a linebacker he would begin to flourish in 1985 with 75 tackles, good for third on the team. He would come back in 1986 by racking up 87 tackles. Moss was a rangy player who could cover ground like a defensive back.

2 - Maurice Crum (87-90): If there was ever a poster child for the smaller, quick linebackers that changed defensive philosophies of the 1990's, it's Crum. At about 5'11", 210 pounds, Crum was the size of a strong safety.

But Crum played like a giant. Using his superior football sense and quickness, Crum would routinely run around much larger backers to disrupt plays time and time again. In many respects, Crum changed the way this position was recruited across the country.

Crum was the leading tackler on Miami's dominant defense of 1989 that spearheaded the program's third national title. His best game that year was his 17-tackle performance against top ranked Notre Dame. He was part of a unit that limited a prolific Irish running game to 10 points, in a 27-10 Cane victory. He would lead the Hurricanes defense in tackles in '88,'89 and '90.

In his senior year he was a consensus All-American and a Butkus Award finalist. He totaled 354 stops, 24 tackles for losses and eight sacks throughout his career at UM.

Crum, was Mo' better.

1 - Darrin Smith (89-92): While Michael Barrow may have made more eye-opening plays (especially in 1992) and Armstead came in with more hype, it says here that 'The Flash' may have been the best player of this titanic trio which was dubbed the 'Bermuda Triangle.'

Smith was an outside linebacker who could hit like a Mack truck but could also run stride for stride with receivers downfield. Smith was a technically sound player who could be counted on every single Saturday to deliver stellar play. There was a reason you couldn't run outside on Miami, and it was players like him.

Smith was a consensus All-American in both 1991 and 1992, being named the co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 1991 - the year in which Miami would win its fourth ring.

His 401 career tackles ranks fifth all-time in Miami history.

HONORABLE MENTION

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