Linebacker could be hurdle to improving poor Miami defense

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Miami's defense was epically bad last season: The Hurricanes allowed both the most rushing yards (2,615) and passing yards (3,222) in school history.

Miami opens fall camp Saturday with few concerns on offense but numerous questions on defense. Linebacker probably is the biggest concern, and the spotlight will be on that position group during camp.

In the offseason, coaches tossed two linebackers off the team who, at the least, would've competed for starting jobs this fall in Gionni Paul (61 tackles last season) and Eddie Johnson (59 tackles); they were third and fourth, respectively, in tackles on the team last season.

True freshman Alex Figueroa enrolled early and grabbed one starting outside linebacker spot in spring drills; the other outside spot will go to junior Denzel Perryman, who is undersized (6 feet, 236 pounds) but productive and can lay the lumber. He has moved from the middle to a more natural spot on the outside.

The middle 'backer job will come down to sophomore Raphael Kirby (6-0, 230) and senior Jimmy Gaines (6-3, 232). Kirby lacks prototype size, but he has a bigger upside than Gaines, who does have good size and intangibles but lacks athleticism. Injuries limited Kirby to seven games last season, and he made 16 tackles and flashed good athleticism for the position. Gaines started six times and had 57 tackles and two interceptions. Kirby played well during the spring and heads into camp atop the depth chart in the middle.

Depth is a concern, though Gaines' ability to also play outside will help in that regard. Sophomore Tyriq McCord is a pass-rush threat, but there is no proven depth beyond the top four -- and remember that Figueroa is a true freshman.

The linebackers should be helped by what is expected to be a better rotation at tackle with seniors Curtis Porter and Luther Robinson and junior Olsen Pierre. Porter is a big-time run-stuffer, but injuries have limited him to just 15 games (and three starts) in his career.

Getting tougher against the run should also help the pass rush. Miami had just 13 sacks last season, an embarrassing -- and, frankly, appalling -- number for a program of this magnitude. Stuffing the run on early downs would force some third-and-longs, which should lead to better sack totals.

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