Hurricanes linebackers enter 2013 bigger and stronger

Published Aug. 23, 2013 11:48 a.m. ET

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Micheal Barrow knows what it takes to be an impact linebacker at The U.

"What I call the 'Hurricane DNA' -- the speed, the toughness, the instincts, the commitment on being the best, the football smarts," said Barrow, a former University of Miami linebacker before his 13-year NFL career.

"Even when I'm out recruiting, I'm looking for those five things. I'm starting to see more of it with my own guys."

As the 'Canes linebackers coach, Barrow's "guys" will play a key role in the 4-3 defense trying to erase memories of last year's unit that surrendered 30.5 points per game.

The most recent depth chart, released Monday night, had junior Denzel Perryman starting at one outside spot and senior Jimmy Gaines in the middle as expected.

Freshman Alex Figueroa and redshirt sophomore Thurston Armbrister shared top billing at the strong-side OLB spot (Sam) that was vacated by last year's fourth-leading tackler Eddie Johnson, suspended for the season's final two games in '12 and no longer at the school.

Coach Al Golden has said many positions on Miami's depth chart would be fluid situations right up until next Friday night, when the 'Canes open the season against Florida Atlantic University at Sun Life Stadium.

Both Figueroa and Armbrister seem to be impressing the coaching staff.

Figueroa, a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder from Stafford, Va., enrolled at Miami in January.

"He is tough, man, he is physical and tough, "defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio said at the team's recent media luncheon. "He's still young, so he's making some errors right now, but he's making them full speed and that's what we want him to do, we want him continue to learn."

"We don't want to tame that physical-ness and aggressiveness because he's making some mental errors right now. He's gotta fight through it like any young player does."

The 6-3, 233-pound Armbrister played in all 12 games last season, including four starts. He missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum.

"He's doing great. He's 233 -- he's a guy who played for us last year at 208," Golden said. "He's always been long and can run. His strength is finally catching up to his body."

The Hollywood Hills High School product, who switched from safety last season, sounded ready to go.

"I'm back, 100 percent," Armbrister told FOX Sports Florida. "That time out really helped me to get my game together. I studied more, got my body weight up. I'm in a good position now."

Armbrister was not the only Hurricanes player who has bulked up since last season. The entire defense appears to have benefited from the team's offseason strength and conditioning program.

Golden said he was not worried that added weight might hinder the linebackers' speed.

"I think the good barometer for that is Denzel Perryman," Golden said. "First of all, that was the first time all the linebackers passed their conditioning test and all of them are significantly bigger. Denzel's 240 right now and playing at a high level. Same thing with Jimmy. Those guys probably gained the most.

"This is the way we want to look. We want to be a big, physical defense."

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