Spring Preview: Linebackers

For the first time in several years, all three linebacker positions at Miami will be up for grabs.

Several players will be fighting for three spots in the spring, some of which have a great deal of experience, and others who are young and impressive.

Miami will be breaking in a familiar face at linebacker coach, former Hurricane great Micheal Barrow. Barrow, who was previously defensive coordinator at Homestead High School, will have probably the toughest job on his hands, simply because Miami shuffled so many players at different positions last season. The only consistent starter at one position, WLB Jon Beason, left early for the pros.

Despite that, several veterans are in line for starting jobs, many of whom actually held starting jobs at some point last year. Romeo Davis, Glenn Cook, Tavares Gooden, and Darryl Sharpton all started several games. Last year, injuries prevented any spot (other than Beason's) to be held for very long. This spring, each of them will be looking to make a statement.

Senior Tavares Gooden

After sitting out most of 2005 with a shoulder injury, Gooden returned to the lineup in 2006 with mixed results. Physically, he is probably the most imposing of Miami's established veterans, but he allegedly has trouble playing assignment football and found himself out of position enough times to warrant a benching on more than one occasion. Despite that, he has excellent physical ability and one has to consider that he was recovering from a season ending injury to his shoulder. Shoulder injuries for a linebacker are particularly devastating because of the nature of the position. Gooden, who came off the field during nickel situations in 2006, has been both the SLB and WLB spots, and some would contend that he's more fit for WLB. With Beason moving on to the NFL, he may just find himself back on the weak side. His spot last year was primarily on the strong side, and he could just as easily find himself back there.

Senior Glenn Cook

Cook is praised as the most instinctive of Miami's linebackers and started the year in the middle. Coaches praised his ability to sniff out a play and put himself in the correct position to make the tackle. Unfortunately, sometimes he had trouble finishing on plays. Injury problems forced him to take a seat, and when he came back, his spot had been occupied by Darryl Sharpton. Cook did manage to get himself back on the field though, making a move to outside linebacker and playing in nickel packages alongside Beason. Cook will be battling for the starting job in the middle again this spring, but even if he doesn't start in the 4-3 package on the outside, he still could start in nickel packages and be moved to the outside for base packages. On the outside, he'd probably be expected to play SLB.

Sophomore Darryl Sharpton

After redshirting in 2005 as a freshman, Sharpton had an impressive spring and fall practice and garnered the reputation of being a playmaker. He had a nose for the ball and would seemingly always be in on tackles close to the line of scrimmage, earning him a spot on the second team. However, since he was a young player, he had some trouble playing assignment football, which to his credit is not uncommon for young players. When Cook went out with injury, Sharpton was next in line at middle linebacker. He played well enough to keep the position even when Cook came back. Sharpton will be an exciting player to watch this spring, especially with Barrow taking the reigns of his development, and should be the favorite to keep the starting job. If he improves his pass defense and awareness, it wouldn't be out of the question to see him in nickel packages either.

Senior Romeo Davis

Davis came to Miami in 2004 as an unheralded recruit, but his ability to pick up the system quickly led to early playing time. He's been in the mix in the middle for three years, but this year he'll play on the outside, where he was moved to last season. Like Cook, the coaches love Davis' ability to read offenses and put himself in a position to make the play. Unfortunately, Davis also shares Cook's tendency to whiff on tackles from time to time. His career can be summed up as unspectacular, and a knee injury last season kept him out of most of the action. This spring, we'll get a chance to see if he's progressed in his recovery. A redshirt is probably not out of the question for him if he has trouble with his lateral movement. If he is healthy, he'll most certainly compete for a starting job, as he normally does. Last season, he held the starting job over Tavares Gooden for a period. This season, they'll probably be battling again.

Junior Spencer Adkins

Adkins is a physical specimen. His career thus far has been marred by nagging injuries and an inability to consistently see the field, but no one can doubt his physical ability when healthy. This spring, he'll be realistically competing for a starting job for the first time in his career, most likely at the WLB spot, where he will be able to roam more often and make plays. Coach Shannon believed last season that Adkins was taking too long to make decisions and should rely more on his instincts. Hopefully, Adkins has had enough experience to get him more comfortable with the system. This spring, he'll get even more practice, and if he can make quicker decisions and he manages to stay healthy, then he should definitely be in the mix to start on the weak side.

Sophomore Colin McCarthy

McCarthy is probably the most athletically gifted of all Miami's linebackers. He's tall, athletically built, and fast. Last year on special teams, he was involved in several plays, and has developed into a fan favorite because of his nose for the ball on special teams. It is unknown what position he will play, but it will probably be on the weak side, where he can take advantage of his ranginess and like Adkins, roam free and make plays. He does not have much experience on the field however, appearing in only seven games as a linebacker. As we've seen with other players, linebackers in Coach Shannon's system are expected to rely on much more than just physical ability. If McCarthy cannot grasp the system as well as the other players, he could see himself relegated to the third team. However, if he is as instinctive as his high school coaches rave about, he could start every game. He'll be closely monitored this spring and will be one of the more exciting players to watch.

Junior Eric Houston

Houston was third on the depth chart at the SLB position in 2006 behind Tavares Gooden and Romeo Davis. He played primarily on special teams, but appeared in a handful of games at linebacker for brief periods of time. Depending on the injury status of Davis, he could be competing for a spot fairly high on the depth chart. Even if he lands on the third team again, fans should take note that the two players most likely above him, Gooden and Davis, have a history of injury problems. He should be prepared to get more playing time this season.

Sophomore Demetri Stewart

Last season, Stewart was primarily a special teams player and rarely saw the field, appearing in six games. He'll be playing primarily on the weak side, but it will be a surprise to see him advance past third on the depth chart, where he was listed at last fall.

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