Meet the most interesting player for Alabama's Week 1 opponent, Miami's Zach McCloud

Nick Kelly
The Tuscaloosa News

Every week in the fall and even throughout the offseason, the best players, the worst players and the most important players on each of Alabama football's opponents will all be part of the conversation, and for good reason. They all play into how the Crimson Tide will game-plan one way or another. 

But what about some of the most interesting players? 

Throughout the summer, The Tuscaloosa News will take a look at an interesting player or person around each Alabama football opponent. Not necessarily the best, the worst or the most important: just interesting, which is a subjective term in itself. 

First up, Miami. 

An interesting player in Week 1: 

Zach McCloud, DE

Zach McCloud is out to prove that you can teach an old Hurricane new tricks. 

He could have wrapped up his college career after 2020. He's spent plenty of time with the Hurricanes, sharing the record for the most games in a Miami uniform. He has used four years of eligibility and even redshirted in 2019. That's five years with the Miami program, the fifth as a team captain. 

He's not ready to call it, though. He's coming back for a sixth year, thanks to the NCAA providing a blanket waiver for an extra year of eligibility for all players because of COVID-19. 

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That alone is not original or, frankly, terribly interesting. Other players are taking advantage of the ruling across the country in the same way. Here's where McCloud differs: Instead of keeping things the same in a sixth year that could easily become repetitive, McCloud has created a challenge for himself. 

Switching positions. 

After five years at outside linebacker, the position at which he was recruited, McCloud is expected to switch to defensive end. 

And it wasn't some long, thought-out plan. If anything, the switch started by accident. 

McCloud started to dabble in defensive line ahead of the bowl game against Oklahoma State this past December. And he really had no intention to try something new. 

“I was like, ‘Man, coach, I can do that.’ I was being cocky and making a joke, but he perked up and was like, ‘Really?’ and it kind of turned into a serious thing,” McCloud said in March. “I took my first reps at D-end that day and then just started rolling in at practice as a D-end. (It) went from being just that third-down package to, ‘Well, if I get caught on the field in base, I have to know that technique.’ … It just happened naturally.”

Defensive end is no small undertaking for McCloud to somewhat jokingly proclaim he can play. Especially at a place such as Miami. 

The defensive end spot is a big deal at Miami in its 4-3 base system. Just this past year alone, the Hurricanes had three defensive ends drafted into the NFL, two in the first round in Greg Rousseau and Jaelen Phillips. 

The opportunity is certainly there for McCloud to play significant snaps on the edge with two starting spots open. Phillips started opposite sixth-round-pick Quincy Roche as Rousseau opted out of the 2020 season. 

Whether McCloud succeeds as a focal point in the Miami defense remains to be seen. He gets his first crack against Alabama. 

Nonetheless, in a sixth year that could have easily become stale for him, he's keeping things interesting.