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D'Onofrio: Biggest concern at linebacker is continuity; compares finding right combination to solving 'Rubik's cube'

Got a chance to speak to defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio Wednesday for a quick one-on-one conversation about the state of his linebackers, who have been hobbled by injuries throughout camp.

With the season set to begin on Sept. 1 is D'Onofrio worried he might not have enough talent or depth?

"The only thing I'm concerned about is getting the continuity we want by having three starters and three backups and guys who may be involved as role players, special teams. Just getting that thing set," D'Onforio said. "We've had a lot of mix and match lineups throughout camp. Unfortunately, I went through it last year at all positions. So, there's always a silver lining. When this happens you create depth at multiple positions. Guys have to play. Anytime you go through this you're creating more layers of depth that are solving problems. Now, if you get a situation during the season, it's quicker to solve the problem. You're not not scrambling on a Monday to figure out who you can plug where. That said, we're still a ways away from the game. We got some guys coming back. Hopefully we'll get some continuity over the five or six practices here and have it look the way we want it to look."

When UM released it's most recent depth chart, sophomore Thurston Armbrister (6-3, 222) was listed at first team at strongside linebacker along with sophomore Denzel Perryman (middle linebacker) and senior Ramon Buchanan (weakside). While D'Onofrio is certainly happy with the growth Armbrister has displayed over the first 14 prctices of camp, the more likely scenario is junior Jimmy Gaines, who is currently listed as the backup to Perryman in the middle and who has experience playing all three positions will end up starting for the Canes Sept. 1.

But Armbrister, a former safety, has worked himself into a role at the very least.

"He's a guy who I think is going to help us, provide depth for us. I think he can be a factor in different packages in third down and obviously he has to do a great job on special teams," D'Onofrio said.

"The thing that surprised me about Thurston is he's a long guy who plays with great leverage. He's got long legs, limbs. I think he's going to be really big. He can play up on the tight end and do a good job in space and he's tough and he's physical. But he's learning. It was one of those moves where you go ahead and take a look at it and feel like you hit it on pretty good. "

Beyond his veterans and Armbrister, D'Onforio said he thinks redshirt freshman Eddie Johnson "is extremely talented. He has all the skills you would look for and he understands the defense. So I think he'll help us.

"Gionni [Paul] is a guy who has a year under his belt. Again, these are just guys who have been banged up, so they haven't gotten as much [reps] as we've wanted at this point and were held out of the scrimmage. We're just trying to put it all together.

"It's like a big rubic's cube right now. But we do have enough guys right now that can play for us and help us win. It's just a matter of getting them all healthy at the same time and getting them in the right spots. That's what we're working on in the next six days."


> UM coach Al Golden said while Kirby's injury will not require surgery, "he will be out awhile." Kirby was spotted on crutches and wearing a hard cast on his right leg from the knee down on Wednesday.

"Crushed," Golden said of his own reaction to the injury. "Great kid. Worked really hard. I think knowing his work ethic and character I wouldn't rule out him from coming back this season. Maybe he'll have a chance to come back midseason."

Still, Golden said MRIs have to be performed, so he isn't 100 percent if that will be possible.

> Defensive end Anthony Chickillo was practicing in a yellow jersey for limited contact Wednesday. Chickillo told me he had a stomach flu. But Golden said he heard something about a sinus infection. Either way, Chickillo expects to be out a couple days. He said he's taking medicine.

> UM had a special teams scrimmage Tuesday afternoon and Golden said freshmen Malcolm Lewis and Duke Johnson each had punt returns for touchdowns. Punter Dalton Botts also looked strong, Golden said. Safeties Kacy Rodgers and Deon Bush had great days in special teams coverage, Golden said.

> Turns out Armbrister got his first name Thurston from his grandmother, who happened to be a big fan of Gilligan's Island and Thurston Howell III. Armbrister, by the way, said he has an older brother who was a walk-on at Florida State.

As for his own recruitment to Miami, Armbrister was a late summer addition in 2011. His other offer: Northern Colorado.

"I feel like I have a chip on my shoulder, something to prove because people didn't think I could do it," Armbrister said. "A lot of schools didn't give me a chance."

> While coaches have been hoping for someone to break out at defensive tackle, D'Onforio told me: "I think it's going to be a group by committee as opposed to saying we have an elite guy or an elite star. We need some young guys who came in to keep improving."

D'Onofrio said freshman Dequan Ivery, listed by mistake as the starter, "flashed in Sunday's scrimmage" and has stood out among the freshmen defensive tackles.

"At defensive end, Chickillo, Shayon Green, Kelvin Cain have played a lot. I think we're looking to get something else, too," D'Onofrio said. "It's going to be a common theme -- guys who have been around and guys who haven't -- mixing and matching. I think that's good. We're not going to lose many guys from this defense and they'll keep growing."