2012 California Preview – Defense
Cal NG Aaron Tipoti
Cal NG Aaron Tipoti
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted May 15, 2012


CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - California Golden Bear Defense


California Golden Bears

Preview 2012 - Defense


- 2012 California Preview | 2012 California Offense
- 2012 California Defense | 2012 California Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: The bad news is that the Bears lost five key starters to graduation. The good news? The program is about to enter its third year in coordinator Clancy Pendergast’s 3-4 system, meaning everyone should have a firm handle on it now. Oh, and also, the staff has recruited this side of the ball exceptionally well in recent years. So, while Mychal Kendricks, Trevor Guyton and Sean Cattouse will be missed, their departures open the door for DE Deandre Coleman, LB Chris McCain and LB Nick Forbes, among others, to blossom into Pac-12 playmakers. Having stockpiled exciting young talent for the past few years, Cal is poised to start turning some of its prized recruits loose. Pendergast prefers an attacking style of D that helps accentuate the speed and aggressiveness that have become the trademarks of this team. It often pays off for the Bears, but not without a cost. Cal has had a knack for yielding big plays at costly times in games.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Josh Hill, 49
Sacks: David Wilkerson, 4
Interceptions: Steve Williams, Josh Hill, 2

Star of the defense: Senior CB Marc Anthony
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior S Josh Hill
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DE Deandre Coleman
Best pro prospect: Coleman
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Anthony, 2) Junior CB Steve Williams, 3) Coleman
Strength of the defense: Nose guard, run defense, outside linebacker, the secondary, limiting big plays, third-down D, red-zone D
Weakness of the defense: Proven pass rushers, inside linebacker

Defensive Line

The Bears’ three-man front will be a classic case of good news and bad news. The good news is that a pair of players with starting experience returns to the nose. The challenge will be to develop successors for the program’s best pass rushers, Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu. Cal has options on the inside, beginning with 6-2, 274-pound senior Kendrick Payne, who has nudged ahead in a very close competition. He’s a veteran of 37 games, including eight starts, but had just 16 tackles, three stops for loss and two sacks, an hasn’t quite busted out up to expectations. Undersized, yet quick off the snap, he has the potential to be the penetrator that this defense needs in the middle.

Behind Payne for now is 6-2, 274-pound Aaron Tipoti , an eight-game starter in 2011 who showed enough to earn All-Pac-12 honorable mention recognition. He, too, can blow up opposing running plays with his burst and terrific motor. In fact, the staff is comfortable using him inside or as a strongside end. Tipoti chipped in 25 tackles, four stops for loss and 1.5 sacks last fall.

The program is justifiably pumped about the future of its ends. On one side, 6-5, 311-pound junior Deandre Coleman appears set to explode now that a full-time role awaits him. He’s an ideal end in this Bears defensive alignment, strong enough to toss linemen around, yet quick enough to get into the backfield. He started a pair of games in 2011, making 19 tackles, six stops for loss and a pair of sacks to set the stage for what figures to be a monster third season.

Opposite of Coleman will be 6-2, 302-pound sophomore Mustafa Jalil , who came on strong toward the end of his rookie season. He ended the year with 13 tackles and a couple behind the line, but impressed the staff with his strength and bull rushing style. Once he improves his technique and reshapes his body a little, he’ll have a chance to be a force up front.

Watch Out For … NFL scouts—and NFL agents—to start paying a lot of attention to No. 90. Coleman is primed for the kind of season that entices him to consider whether or not to turn pro early. He’s that rare commodity in a defensive lineman who can impact a game on every down. The junior has spent the last two seasons preparing for this opportunity, and is not about to squander it with mediocrity.
Strength: Immovable objects. Cal will give away nothing at the point of attack this fall, averaging close to 300 pounds along the starting front three. The combination of Coleman, Jalil and either Payne or Tipoti are going to provide plenty of support for a run defense that yielded only 3.8 yards per carry in 2011.
Weakness: Proven pass rushers. Last year’s top two sackers have graduated, leaving the Bears with considerable holes to fill in the pass rush. On the outside, Coleman and Jalil are bull-rushers, and not the kinds of speedsters who just explode off the edge. The onus will once again be on the outside linebackers to create some heat for the D.
Outlook: Even after losing a pair of quality starters to graduation, might Cal be better on the first line of defense? Don’t rule it out. The Bears are busting with potential on the outside, and depth on the interior with Payne and Tipoti. This group is going to make a lot of big plays this fall, while producing a handful of players worthy of attention from pro scouts.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Linebackers

Cal needs to do some rebuilding at linebacker. The staff is hoping to reload instead. The team’s top two tacklers have graduated, headed by Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Mychal Kendricks. The new leader on the second level just might be sophomore Chris McCain , a former mega-recruit ready to make good on his high school hype. At 6-6 and 230 pounds, he’s a thoroughbred coming from the outside, with the long arms to be especially disruptive on third downs. He only scratched the surface of his considerable potential last fall, starting six games, and making 29 tackles, six stops for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Providing more of a run-stuffing presence at the other starting outside linebacker spot will be junior Dan Camporeale . The 6-3, 243-pound former walk-on has gotten progressively better each year, and starting seven games in 2011. However, he had just 19 tackles and 4.5 stops for loss, needing to become more active now that his role is increasing.

Cal is going to be a little inexperienced on the inside. Sophomore Nick Forbes used the spring to solidify a starting role just a year after being limited to a single game of action. The athletic 6-1, 236-pound defender showed a knack for wrapping up in the open field, and for getting to the ball quickly throughout the months of March and April. Forbes will also be an asset in pass defense.

Right behind Forbes is 6-2, 238-pound sophomore David Wilkerson , who’s going to push for a starting job in August. He already has three starts from a year ago, making 17 tackles, 5.5 stops for loss and four sacks. He possesses tremendous instincts for the position, timing his blitzes, and reading and reacting as quickly as any other Cal linebacker. Like Whiteside at outside linebacker, it will not be easy keeping Wilkerson on the sidelines.

After playing sparingly throughout his career, 6-0, 228-pound senior Robert Mullins is bucking for the biggest promotion of his Cal career. Plagued by injuries throughout much of his time in Berkeley, he has started only one game in each of the last two seasons, but brings veteran leadership and know-how to this unit.

Watch Out For … the competition in the summer to be as intense as the weather. There are battles brewing at all four positions, with the backups unlikely to retreat over the next couple of months. Six members of the two-deep started at least one game in 2011, so the appetite to return to the huddle has already begun to be fed.
Strength: Range. No matter what happens with this group in 2012, it’s assured of covering plenty of ground. More than just quality athletes, the Bears are an instinctive bunch that takes good pursuit angles, and knows its assignments on the field.
Weakness: Experience and veteran leadership. Yeah a lot of players have starts on the resume, but no one has been a true full-timer at any point in his career. As high as the ceiling is for McCain, it says a lot about the general inexperience of the linebackers that the sophomore has a chance to become the leading man.
Outlook: While the Bears are facing a transition year at linebacker, the hope around campus is that the school has recruited well enough in recent years to make it a smooth one. Cal might have one of the best collections of sophomores at the position in the country, a quartet comprised of McCain, Forbes, Wilkerson and Whiteside. If this unit is a little unsure of itself in September, it shouldn’t be by late October.
Unit Rating: 7

Secondary

The Cal secondary started slow, slumped late and met expectations in the middle of the year. From that erratic group return four defensive backs who started at least two games in 2011. The top option at free safety will be 5-10, 207-pound senior Josh Hill , the back end anchor with 20 career starts to his name. He’s one of the headiest and most instinctive members of the entire defense, sniffing out plays before they can develop. He really started coming on late last year, making 49 tackles, three stops for loss, two picks and five pass breakups to set the stage for a possible all-star finale. Hill will be one of the more prominent voices in the huddle this fall.

Hill’s heir apparent will be 5-10, 201-pound sophomore Avery Sebastian, a first-time letterwinner last fall. He’s going to bring it on every down, which does leave him a little vulnerable to play-action passes from time to time. He has catalyst tendencies, though, a real tone-setter from the back level.

Leading the way at strong safety is 6-2, 207-pound junior Alex Logan who has ridden a strong offseason to the cusp of a starting assignment. Although he has played sparingly up to this point, the coaching staff has been impressed by his willingness to step up on running downs, and really deliver the payload.

The starting cornerbacks are going to be familiar faces. Senior Marc Anthony returns for his third season in the lineup, looking to build on last year’s 38 tackles, five stops for loss and team-high 12 pass breakups. The 6-0, 200-pound dealt with nagging injuries throughout 2011, but when at full strength, he’s the kind of bump-and-run corner who can neutralize the other team’s best receiver with his physicality.

The other starting corner is 5-10, 189-pound junior Steve Williams , one of the fastest Bears on the roster. He started all 13 games a year ago, chipping in 44 tackles, two picks and 11 pass breakups. The former four-star recruit has started to show flashes of playing like a four-star recruit, jumping routes and using his fluid hips to stick with some of the league’s better pass-catchers.

When Anthony was dinged a year ago, 5-11, 188-pound sophomore Stefan McClure picked up a couple of valuable starts to go along with 24 tackles. The blue-chip recruit from the 2011 class has tremendous future ahead of him, but first must complete a recovery from a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus that curtailed his debut season last November.

Watch Out For … lots of use of man coverage. Coordinator Clancy Pendergast loves to go man in pass defense when it’s feasible, and he has the cornerbacks to fulfill his wishes. With access to Williams, Anthony and McClure, the staff will feel a lot more comfortable unleashing a safety or linebacker on the blitz.
Strength: Locking down receivers. The Bears can flat-out cover, a trend that’ll continue in 2012. The defensive backs stick close to the receivers and bat balls away, key reasons why this program ranked second in the Pac-12 in opposing quarterback’s completion percentage, and third in yards per attempt.
Weakness: The situation at safety. Hill looks as if he might contend for all-star honors, but losing Sean Cattouse and D.J. will be tough to overcome in just one year. While free safety should be fine, it remains to be seen just how well Logan and sophomore Michael Lowe handle their promotions at strong safety.
Outlook: The secondary could Cal’s strongest defensive unit of 2012. The defensive backfield is going to be manned by veterans, and quality ones at that. The cornerbacks are particularly accountable, making it tough for opposing quarterbacks to move the ball through the air. The key is going to be Hill, the leader of the safeties, if not the entire group.
Unit Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

This year’s Bears will be forced to replace a pair of reliable specialists in PK Giorgio Tavecchio and P Bryan Anger. The program’s new placekicker is expected to be junior Vincenzo D’Amato , who last had a prominent role in 2009. A true freshman at the time, he split reps with Tavecchio, making 7-of-12 field goal attempts and all 31 of his extra points.

Replacing the all-star and current Jacksonville Jaguar, Anger, at punter is expected to be true freshman Cole Leininger . The heralded recruit from the 2012 class has plenty to overcome as a rookie, but earned his scholarship with a powerful leg and ideal hang time.

Handling punts will be the always-dangerous Keenan Allen, who doubles as an all-conference wide receiver. Kickoffs appear to be the domain of sophomore Brendan Bigelow , who had an 88-yard touchdown return in 2011, and senior Mike Manuel .

Watch Out For … Leininger’s confidence level. The rookie punter is very talented, but he’ll also be very green once he arrives on campus. Oh, and he’s going to face the added pressure of succeeding Anger, the highest drafted punter since 1985.
Strength: The coverage teams. Cal harbors plenty of quality athletes and fearless defenders, and it showed last fall. The Bears were sound on both kickoffs and punts, finishing 37th and 48th, respectively, in the country.
Weakness: Extra points. This is a seemingly benign and automatic area of special teams that Cal needs to address with its new placekicker. The Bears either missed or had blocked six extra points, making them one of the most ineffective teams in the country here.
Outlook: Cal and assistant coach Jeff Genyk will have their work cut out for them in the summer. Not only are the Bears breaking in a new placekicker and punter, but they still need to address a few execution errors that plagued the team in 2011. Leininger is a particular key for a team that had grown accustomed to top-notch punting for the last four seasons.
Unit Rating: 6.5
 
- 2012 California Preview | 2012 California Offense
- 2012 California Defense | 2012 California Depth Chart