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Hurricanes Linebackers Embracing Competition in Fall Camp



Miami fourth-year junior linebacker K.J. Cloyd // LifeWallet Sports

What was once one of Miami’s thinnest position groups has transformed into arguably one of its deepest.

The Hurricanes added a trio of veteran linebackers through the transfer portal last offseason in Rocky Shelton, K.J. Cloyd and Francisco Mauigoa, all of whom bring with them seasons of playing experience at the major-conference level. UM also signed four freshman linebackers, with Fayetteville, Ga. native Raul Aguirre Jr. standing out especially in his first fall camp, according to several of his teammates.

This has caused the level of competition of the unit to increase. 

“[Cristobal] brought in guys like K.J. and Francisco. Both of those guys were guys at their school,” veteran linebacker Corey Flagg Jr. said on Tuesday. “You bring in dudes like that, and for me and [Keontra Smith] as well, we are very excited because we get to compete with guys like that every day because those guys are the same guys that are all around the country.”

Flagg thinks that this competitiveness is a necessity for the team.

“This linebacker room is full of guys that are hungry, a lot of competition … You’re gonna make mistakes, but you know in the back of your mind, you really can’t make mistakes because there’s someone behind you and that’s what you need,” Flagg said. “You need competition. It makes you better. It makes you better as a team, and it makes you better as a unit and as an individual, and I think over the years we’ve had glimpses of that, but this year in this fall camp, it’s been very consistent every day. Every guy is competing [at] every position. I love it because you got to do every little thing right, and it’s gonna make you better.”

New linebackers coach Derek Nicholson’s methods have also played a part in this competitive rise.

According to Flagg, Nicholson cross-trains the linebackers at different positions along the defense. This requires the players to constantly study the defense’s playbook to stay prepared for these positional switches, which Flagg says are random.

This is similar to the cross-training that is practiced at other positions, like wide receiver, offensive line and defensive back. 

The veteran newcomers relayed a similar message about the linebackers’ overall competitiveness, with Mauigoa also referencing the many abilities that the group has to offer as an “advantage.”

“I’d say this is a really talented group. We got a lot of competitors. Each guy has their own unique technique. Unique skill sets, just using it as an advantage,” Mauigoa said. “Coach [Nicholson], just putting us in a good spot to feel comfortable and play better, so yeah, I’d say the competition is up there.”

Cloyd, like Flagg, agrees that the competition among the linebackers has been positive and that the cross-training from the coaches has contributed to this.

“Everybody’s doing their part. We’re doing a good job of getting reps and making sure that everybody’s getting, if not the same play … mental reps, and everybody’s competing well,” Cloyd said. “Everybody’s competing. The coaches are doing a good job of rotating us.”

This competition, however, has not caused hostility among the players, according to Flagg.

“The thing I love about it the most, it’s no jealousy, it’s no envy. We’re all trying to get better together.”

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