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California Preview 2006 - Defense
California Golden Bears
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Aug 8, 2006


California Golden Bears Preview 2006 - Cal Defense

What you need to know ... Eight starters return to a defense that should just now be hitting its stride with speed, athleticism and lots and lots of talent. The front seven should be a rock if all the top prospects come through as expected. The ends are deep, talented, and should have few problems getting into the backfield all season long, while Brandon Mebane is one of the nation's best tackles. The linebacking corps is one of the best in the nation with last year's recruiting class about to become tremendous. Cornerback is set with Daymeion Hughes and Tim Mixon sure to earn all-star honors, but the safeties are a big concern with no developed depth and two new starters. 

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Desmond Bishop, 89
Sacks: Brandon Mebane, 7
Interceptions: Daymeion Hughes, 5

Star of the defense: Senior DT Brandon Mebane
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior S Brandon Hampton
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Worrell Williams
Best pro prospect: Mebane
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mebane, 2) CB Daymeion Hughes, 3) LB Desmond Bishop
Strength of the defense: Linebackers, athleticism
Weakness of the defense:
Safeties

Defensive Line
The line should be tremendous with a deep group of ends that all need to find playing time and an All-America tackle in Brandon Mebane to free everyone up. Getting to the quarterback won't be a problem with Abu Ma'afala, Nu'u Tafisi, Phillip Mbakogu and Fahim Abd Allah all capable of camping out in the backfield. Mika Kane has to grow into a force on the inside with all the double and triple teaming done to stop Mebane. Tackle depth will be an early concern.
The key to the unit: Get all the ends working to keep everyone fresh and healthy and hope a strong number two tackle develops to make teams pay for focusing on Brandon Mebane.
Defensive Line Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- DE Abu Ma'afala, Sr. - 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
The 281-pound senior is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher on the outside, so he needs to be part of a rotation with Phillip Mbakogu, among others. That's not to saw he can't get into the backfield, but the former Hawaii transfer is most effective on running downs.

- DT Mika Kane, Soph. - 5 tackles, 1 TFL
Kane saw a little bit of time as a freshman, but not enough to consider him an experienced veteran ready to step in and be an instant star. Even so, he has the potential to grow into the anchor of the line and the star next year once Brandon Mebane is gone. He's 6-3 and 303 pounds and should flourish with all the attention paid to Mebane. 

- DT Brandon Mebane, Sr. - 29 tackles, 7 sacks, 9.5 TFL
One of the nation's best tackles returns for what should be an All-Pac 10 season with a few All-America honors. He's a defensive end built into the 6-3, 306-pound body with tremendous quickness into the backfield. He was one of the league's top linemen last year even though he suffered through an ankle injury and constant double teaming.

- DE Nu'u Tafisi, Sr. - 38 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 TFL
The former JUCO transfer became a regular in opposing backfields last season tying for the team lead in tackles for loss with ten. He's a good-sized defender at 260 pounds with a good motor and great quickness to the ball. Now he has to come up with more sacks.

Top Backups
- DE Phillip Mbakogu, Jr. - 50 tackles 5.5 sacks, 10 TFL
Consider him starter No. 1A on the depth chart. He's one of the team's best talents with linebacker speed in a 6-3, 265-pound frame. He's a tremendous pass rusher who rotates into the mix when the defense needs a big play and is always around the ball. A knee problem shouldn't be an issue by the start of the season.
- DT Tyson Alualu, Fr.
Consider him the star of the future. The 309-pound Alualu originally signed with the Bears last year, but he didn't enroll in classes until this year. He's an active presence with great speed for his size and a quick first step. He'll start off as the understudy behind Brandon Mebane.
- DE Fahim Abd Allah, Sr. - 8 tackles, 1 sack
The star JUCO transfer of a year ago, who used to be known as Justin Johnson, has the speed and talent to be an elite pass rusher, but he has to be healthy to get back in the mix. He has had issues with his back in the past and was out this spring.
- DE Steve Kelly, Sr.
The former linebacker is trying to return after suffering a knee injury that cost him all of last year. He's a tough, 238-pound defender who should make a big impact if he can return 100% healthy.

Linebackers
It'll be a major disappointment if this doesn't grow into one of the nation's best linebacking corps. There's a great mix of reliable veterans and rising young stars with last year's fantastic recruiting class about to pay off in a big way. Everyone can run and everyone can hit like a ton of bricks. Desmond Bishop is a strong leader in the middle, while speedy Anthony Felder and the superstar recruit of 2005, Worrell Williams, will wreak havoc on the outside. There's good depth at each spot with more on the way after signing one of the nation's top defensive backs, Darian Hagen.  
The key to the unit: Hoping all the potential and hype turns into production.
Linebacker Rating: 10

Projected Starters
- Justin Moye, Jr. - 7 tackles
Mostly a special teamer so far, the 228-pound junior was the surprise of spring ball and is pushing hard for one of the starting spots on the outside. He's a good hitter who'll battle with Anthony Felder this fall.

- Desmond Bishop, Sr. - 89 tackles, 6 TFL
The star JUCO transfer of last year made more than an immediate impact leading the team in tackles. He's a big presence in the middle at 243 pounds and hits like a ton of bricks. While not a steady pass rusher, he can make big plays in the backfield. He's a very, very fast defender with fantastic closing ability when locked on to a ball carrier.

- Worrell Williams, Soph. - 26 tackles, 4 TFL
The brother of former Miami Hurricane star D.J. Williams has to be one of the nation's biggest weakside linebackers. He's only six feet tall, but he's a load at 257 pounds packing a huge punch when he hits. He can play on the strongside if needed, but his speed makes him a better fit for the other side to use his athleticism in pass coverage where he'll be one of the Pac 10's breakout stars.

Top Backups

- Anthony Felder, Soph. - 39 tackles, 1 sack
Felder has defensive back speed and great hitting ability on the strongside. He's a lanky 6-3 and 229 pounds, but his 4.5 wheels help him to get in on every play. The true sophomore started eight games last year and should be one of the team's top tacklers now that he knows what he's doing.

- Zack Follett, Soph. - 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 TFL, 3 broken up passes
Follett had a monster first season as a true freshman seeing time in every game last year as a reliable backup. He's a good all-around playmaker who has few problems getting into the backfield and good quickness as a pass defender. He's not as big or as talented as Worrell Williams, but he's very, very good.
- Mickey Pimentel, Sr. - 34 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL, 2 interceptions, 3 broken up passes
The former JUCO transfer would be a sure starter for most other teams. He's 226 pounds and runs a 4.6 40 on the strongside. He was out this spring, but he's expected to be back by fall to add a fiery spark to the defense.
- Greg Van Hoesen, Jr. - 16 tackles, 1 interception, 3 TFL
A part-time starter on the outside last year, the 231-pound junior will back up Desmond Bishop in the middle. He had a few problems last year with an ankle injury, but he was still a reliable defender in the rotation. 

Defensive Backs
This could be the Achilles heel of the defense despite the return of All-America candidate Daymeion Hughes and All-Pac 10 candidate Tim Mixon at corner. The safeties have to shine replacing Harrison Smith and Donnie McCleskey, who came up with a ton of tackles but not enough big plays against the pass. The secondary was great last year against short to midrange passers, but got bombed on deep for 240 yards playing in the wide open Pac 10. There's speed and talent at each spot, but the safety situation is a bit muddy needing to settle on the starters as soon as possible. The real loss in the secondary could be coach J.D. Williams who left for Washington.
The key to the unit: Be consistent from day one. This group might be the difference between a good season and a BCS one.
Secondary Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- CB Daymeion Hughes, Sr. - 62 tackles, 5 interceptions, 12 broken up passes, 1.5 TFL
The first-team All-Pac 10 star of last year should be an All-American this season. He's an experienced defender with 118 tackles and seven career interceptions, and he put it all together with a fantastic 2005 turning into the lock-down corner the defense was looking for. At 6-2 and 188 pounds he's a great-sized corner with the speed to stay with just about any receiver in the conference.

- FS Thomas DeCoud, Jr. - 28 tackles, 3 broken up passes
It'll be up to the 6-3, 200-pound junior to take over for Harrison Smith after spending the last two years as a solid reserve. He has the speed to play corner if needed, but he experience and range will be key at free safety.

- SS Brandon Hampton, Jr. - 12 tackles, 1 interception
Hampton has worked his way up from walk-on running back to starting safety. He's not all that big at 5-10 and 187pounds, and he has some major shoes to fill replacing Donnie McCleskey at Rover, but he's experienced and is a fantastic all-around athlete with track star speed.

- CB Tim Mixon, Sr. - 46 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 broken up passes
Mixon isn't huge at 5-10 and 187 pounds, but he can flat-out fly with next level, sprinter's speed despite a knee injury that set him back a few years ago. He's a superior punt returner who'll vie for All-Pac 10 honors on the other side of Daymeion Hughes.

Top Backups
- FS Gary Doxy, RFr.
Expect him to grow into an intimidating force. The 6-2, 186 pounder isn't as big as Thomas DeCoud, but he's a fierce tackler who doesn't miss. He's being given every opportunity to win the free safety job.
- CB Randy Bundy, Sr. - 8 tackles, 2 broken up passes
The former wide receiver has to play a major role as one of the team's fastest players. He has 4.4 speed, but he's wiry-thin at 6-0 and 159 pounds. He'll start out playing behind Daymeion Hughes.
- CB Syd'Quan Thompson, RFr.
The team's top defensive back recruit of 2005 will finally be able to show off his next level speed playing behind Tim Mixon. He can be a top kick returner if needed and should be deadly if he ever gets the ball in his hands on defense.
- SS Robert Peele, RFr.
Peele will look to live up to his prep hype as a key Rover reserve behind Brandon Hampton. He's fast enough to be an effective corner if needed and will play more physical than his 5-11, 182-pound size at safety.

Special Teams
If punter Andrew Larson is as good as his JUCO hype, the kicking game will be fine with placekicker Tom Schneider returning for his third season. The return game was impressive last year with Tim Mixon averaging 14.9 yards per punt return leading the Bears to the fifth best return game in the country. Marshawn Lynch was decent, but not great on kickoff returns last year, but his increased duties on offense will mean Marcus O'Keith and Brandon Hampton will handle the job.
The key to the unit: Better coverage on punt returns and more consistency from PK Tom Schneider.
Special Teams Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- PK Tom Schneider, Jr. - 9-16 FGs, 50-52 extra points
Schneider has been the main man for each of the seasons hitting nine of 16 field goals in both of them. He doesn't have a consistently huge leg topping out at just under 50 yards. After two years, he's not going to be fazed by pressure situations and should be even more consistent.
- P Andrew Larson, Jr.
The JUCO all-star is expected to come in and immediately take over the starting punter job taking over for David Lonie. Larson averaged 42.9 yards per punt last season at Saddleback CC and put 17 inside the 20.

Related Stories
California Preview 2006 - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
California Preview 2006 - Further Analysis
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006
California Preview 2006 - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Aug 8, 2006








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