2013 Russell Athletic Bowl Opponent Breakdown: Linebackers

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

A unit that has struggled with tackling all year will be asked to shut down a much improved Louisville running game.

When I was younger Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews used to build his defenses by recruiting players that he could move "up" a position. Outside linebackers became defensive ends. Big safeties became linebackers. So on and so forth. I used to always marvel at those defenses because they were so much more athletic than everyone else. That is, until I saw Miami just recruit freakishly talented kids that were just bigger, stronger, and faster than everyone else. D.J. Williams, Sean Taylor, Jon Vilma, Dan Morgan, Ed Reed, and Antrell Rolle were all guys that just seemed to be a full notch ahead of everyone else. Al Golden and his staff are still trying to get back to that level of talent and this year's group of linebackers is a solid sign of how far they have to go.

First and foremost, it should be noted that Miami's defense has plenty of talent. Their group of linebackers aren't bad players by any standard either. They're just not on the level of the other positions on the team and it shows. Denzel Perryman leads the team in tackles and he is had a very good year at outside linebacker. He has the size and speed to handle Louisville's massive offensive line as well as power back Dominique Brown. Perryman is the exception for this defense as a whole. He makes plays all over the field and is a very solid tackler. He really stands out amongst this group with his ability to take on blockers and make plays at the line. The issue, with this unit at least, is the guys that surround Perryman.

Jimmy Gaines is solid. That's what kept coming to mind when I went over some of Miami's game film. He doesn' t make too many impact plays, but he makes a good amount of tackles when the ball comes his way. Gaines is the type of player that seems to make a lot of his tackles five yards down the field. Instead of using his size to take on blockers, he tends to avoid guys and run around blocks to get to the ball. I've always said there are two types of defensive players. The guy that is always in on the tackle, and the guy who's standing at the edge of the pile. Gaines tends to be the guy looking down at the pile after the play. For a middle linebacker, that isn't really what you want to see.

The Hurricanes have had a few different guys man the third linebacker spot this year. Tyrone Cornelius, Tyriq McCord and Thurston Armbrister have all played minutes opposite Perryman and all have played decently. Cornelius has been the most effective but plays very similarly to Gaines. He tends to just make the tackle down the field. McCord has four sacks on the year in limited playing time but some of that production was in garbage time. Armbrister is listed as the starter as of now and I could see him getting the most minutes Saturday. He plays pretty well in space and he doesn't struggle as much covering slot receivers.

As a whole this group can become allergic to tackling. They tend to arm tackle a lot and they tend to allow guys to run through their tackles. With the speed this defense possesses you would expect to see more gang tackling, but too often guys are finding themselves out of position and they end up chasing plays. Louisville doesn't spread the field as much as some of the teams Miami has faced so it will be interesting to see if the poor tackling will be an issue. Watson utilized a ton of short quick passes against Florida's man coverage last year. I would imagine we could see the same this year against an aggressive defense like Miami's.

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