This year's linebackers have gotten noticeably bigger with the average weight of the unit seven pounds heavier than last year's at 229 pounds. The success of the unit rests with the learning curve of many of the young players and the competition that is created by such a deep unit.
At strongside linebacker Tavares Gooden physically and athletically fits the mold of what the coaches want. However, Romeo Davis, while not being as physically gifted as Gooden, may win the starting job because he has better instincts at the position.
The same can be said for the battle at middle linebacker between Glenn Cook and Darryl Sharpton. Cook has some of the best instincts on the team, but is not physically imposing. Sharpton is a young player that plays with a great deal of energy and is more of a physical presence than Cook.
It will be interesting to see during the 2006 season which players will make the greatest strides. Can the physically gifted players learn to play within the defense? Or did the players with great instincts improve their bodies enough over the summer to become a presence on defense?
SLB 51 Romeo Davis (6-3, 229, Jr.)
SLB 52 Tavares Gooden (6-2, 238, Jr.)
SLB 59 Eric Houston (6-2, 228, Soph.)
MLB 55 Glenn Cook (6-0, 215, Jr.) or 50 Darryl Sharpton (5-11, 227, R-Fr.)
MLB 45 James Bryant (6-3, 250, Jr.)
WLB 2 Jon Beason (6-0, 236, Jr.)
WLB 48 Spencer Adkins (5-11, 233, Soph.)
or 17 Willie Williams (6-3, 232, Soph.)
58 Demetri Stewart (6-3, 210, R-Fr.)
Sharpton is a very aggressive middle linebacker. Sharpton will battle with Glenn Cook for the starting role. Sharpton is the more physically gifted of the two middle linebackers and will most likely get the first chance to win the job.
Coker on Sharpton: "I am real excited about him. We want to see what Darryl Sharpton can do at middle linebacker. I think he is a special guy."
Whenever a player or coach was asked "who was the most athletic linebacker", the response almost always came back "Spencer Adkins." Physically, Adkins looks like he could play in the NFL right now. Pound-for-pound Adkins is the strongest player on the roster. As soon as Adkins learns his defensive assignments, it will be hard to keep him off the field. Adkins contributed on special teams in 2005 and will most likely start the season playing special teams in 2006.
Coker on Adkins: "I haven't seen a player like him that can close like Spencer in a long time. He can go to point A to point B very quickly."
Gooden started the first game of 2005 against Florida State, but his season was cut short by a shoulder injury. While sitting out because of the injury, Gooden gained about 20 pounds of muscle. Gooden is the most athletic linebacker on the team, who can fly around the field from sideline-to-sideline. Remember, Gooden started nine games for UM in 2004, finishing with 83 total tackles for the season. Gooden appears to be the leading candidate to be the starting strong-side linebacker, but he needs to stay healthy.
"Any one of the linebackers could start and can play anywhere. The fact of the matter is that everybody is going to get there time to play. It is just about preparing yourself in practice for when that day comes that you will play."
After requesting a transfer during the summer of 2006, it appears Williams will never start a single game at linebacker for the ‘Canes. Nobody denies the Williams is a physical and athletic freak, but his work ethic to reach his potential has come into question. Williams has yet to find a transfer destination. It can be assumed, however, if Williams does return to UM he will be an outcast among his teammates and will have to put in serious work to move up the depth chart.
On linebacker coach Randy Shannon: "I see differences in the steps, technique, and schemes. There is nothing better than having your coordinator as your position coach. There is a big difference and I feel we all are getting better at everything."
Beason enters the 2006 season as the unquestioned leader of the linebacking unit. Beason is the leading returning tackler from 2005 with 66 tackles. The junior is also the most experienced linebacker returning with 10 starts last season. Beason is one of the hardest working ‘Canes on the practice field, in the weight room, and in the film room. Coker openly expressed during the spring that he expects Beason to be a star this season and with a full year of experience under his belt, Beason be Miami's next great linebacker.
"We are doing real well as far as communication and learning the scheme. We are changing a few things, but not too much. We kind of feel like a veteran defense. The offense is coming along and everyone is excited to be here."
Cook has the awareness and understanding of the defense to play any of the three linebacking positions, but his weakness has always been his strength and weight. Cook is always in the right position to make plays, but he needs to learn to become a difference-maker and capitalize on his opportunities. Cook's target weight for 2006 is 230 pounds after weighing 215 pound in the spring.
"Last year was a big learning experience for me," Cook said. "That was the most playing I have got since I've been here and I really took that to catapult me into this upcoming season. Game experience is the best experience you can get. I felt I did all right, but you always feel like you can do better."
Houston worked out at strong-side linebacker during the spring. The sophomore weighed 230 pounds last spring and wanted to be at 235-240 pounds for the season. Houston will most likely be a special teams player. In order to see significant playing time, Houston needs to learn to play within the scheme better and not over think his assignment and react to the offense.
"I was disappointed at first when I got hurt right before camp was about to start (last season). But then I healed up quickly. I was supposed to redshirt, but they asked me if I wanted to play some special teams and I was happy with that. The season was good for me and I had a couple of tackles."
Bryant is thrilled to be back on defense after spending the 2005 season at fullback. At 6-foot-3, 250 pounds Bryant is physically the most imposing linebacker for UM and has the passion and work ethic to want to become a great linebacker. During the mid-spring practice scrimmage, Bryant finished with 12 tackles and one sack. However, Bryant can tend to make the wrong reads on defense and find himself out of position. To see the field Bryant needs to play within the defense.
"I think I made a sacrifice with my family by coming down here and they really couldn't come here to watch my games. I wasn't around my family and I am very family oriented. So I think I made a sacrifice by coming down here to play on this defense. Last year I got away from what I really came down here to do by going to the offensive side of the ball and helping out the team. Now I am back where I came down here for."
Davis is the second most experienced linebacker heading into 2006 with 11 total starts in his career. Davis has always impressed Coach Shannon with his strong understanding of the defense and its schemes. Last season at 6-foot-3, 221 pounds, Davis lacked a physical presence and elite speed. To be an impact linebacker, Davis needs to get stronger. Davis will be competing with Tavares Gooden for the starting strong side linebacker position.
"Having competition pushes you because the person behind you is equal to you or can come in and take your spot at any time," said Davis. "So you have to step it up every day."
Stewart is still a year away from seeing significant time on defense. Stewart arrived at UM weighing 195 pounds and in the spring he weighed 215 pounds. Already one of the fastest linebackers, Stewart needs to get stronger in his upper body. Stewart will most likely be a key player on special teams.
"When I first came in here last spring, I was thinking too much and not reacting like I should have been. Now I am concentrating more on just playing football, running downhill and making plays."
Colin McCarthy is the only freshman on the unit for 2006. He reported to UM weighing in at 220 pounds on a 6-foot-3 frame. McCarthy is regarded as a player with strong work ethic who could see time on special teams if the coaches ask him.
David Lake can be reached at email@example.com
2006 Fall Preview: Linebackers
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