Linebackers become unified force

Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL. Nov 6, 2010. Linebacker Sean Spence (31); defensive lineman Adewale Ojomo (97) and defensive back Ryan Hill (13) celebrate during the first quarter of the University of Miami's homecoming football game against the University of Maryland. Miami ended up winning the game 26-20. Photo by Jessica Hodder

The unquestioned general on the field. He’s the one the team counts on to analyze the opposition, change the play based on he sees, and make sure that everyone on his end is in the right spot, all in a matter of seconds.

Though this description seems to incorporate everything necessary in a starting quarterback, on the other side of the ball the linebacker unit is charged with holding up those same responsibilities. With Miami’s history of producing several NFL-caliber linebackers over the years, the position will once again be expected to be a major contributor once the games begin.

Leading the core group of linebackers is senior Sean Spence, who is the team’s unquestioned defensive leader after deciding to return for his senior season. A second team All-ACC selection and team co-MVP last year, Spence ended last year ranked second on the team and fifth in the ACC with 111 tackles.

“I’m very comfortable. I feel like I know the playbook,” he said during a morning practice. “Guys on the defense are looking for me to make the right checks and calls and what we need in a certain situation.”

Though Spence went into camp almost assured a starting position, the university has reportedly ruled him as one of eight players currently ineligible to play due to the recent scandal surrounding the team. Although the team has asked the NCAA to expedite the process to see if he and the other seven players will be allowed to take the field, in case he is not, the players behind him are ready to carry their share of the load.

Sophomore Jimmy Gaines, who came into camp battling with senior Jordan Futch for the middle linebacker spot, has impressed players and coaches throughout camp and has all but won the battle for the position already.

“I’ve been working extremely hard every day,” he said. “Out there, competing against Jordan Futch and Gionni Paul, I’m out there competing against those guys and just trying to help this team make everybody better the best way I know how.”

With Gaines solidifying the middle position, Futch will likely be moved behind Spence at weakside linebacker. Still, if the NCAA upholds Spence’s ineligibility, Futch will be the one called upon to fill the void.