Preview 2008 -
2008 California Preview
2008 Cal Offense
2008 Cal Defense
2008 Cal Depth
2007 CFN California Preview
2006 CFN California
need to know:
The Bears and coordinator Bob Gregory have the ingredients to
improve upon last year’s flexible defense. They’re particularly
strong at linebacker, where Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and
Anthony Felder each have All-Pac-10 potential. Up front,
however, there’s a glaring need for more pressure, and for
talented sophomores Derrick Hill and Michael Costanzo to emerge
as run stuffers in the middle. The depth at linebacker coupled
with the front wall concerns have the Bears flirting with the
idea of using more 3-4 sets, which showed promise in last year’s
bowl win over Air Force. Up-and-coming CB Chris Conte gets his
first chance to start in the secondary, replacing Brandon
Tackles: Worrell Williams, 105
Sacks: Zack Follett, 5.5
Interceptions: Brandon Hampton, 2
of the defense: Senior LB Zack Follett
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Cameron Jordan
Best pro prospect: Follett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Follett 2) Senior LB
Worrell Williams 3) Junior CB Syd’Quan Thompson
Strength of the defense: The linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Pressuring the quarterback
Projected Starters: Save for the graduation of
Matt Malele, the defensive line returns intact, determined to
create more pressure than a year ago. Replacing Malele at tackle
will be sophomore Derrick Hill, a blue-chip recruit and
the gem of the 2006 class. At 6-2 and 298 pounds, he can
disengage from blocks, shoot the gaps, and make plays behind the
line. After making 24 tackles as a backup and getting his knee
completely healthy in the offseason, Hill is prepared to deliver
a breakthrough season for the defense.
Senior Mika Kane is a returning starter at the other
tackle spot, a steady performer who chipped in 36 tackles and
two tackles for loss as a junior. Solid in run defense, he could
get the nod at nose tackle, when Cal makes the shift to a 3-4
defense. While Kane doesn’t have Hill’s upside, he’ll be looked
at provide leadership and experience to the unit.
On the outside, junior Tyson Alualu is expected to be
joined by senior Rulon Davis. Alualu is a 6-3, 290-pound
end in a tackle’s body. Extremely strong at the point of attack,
he’s able to bull rush opposing tackles, but doesn’t have the
burst to blow past him around the corner. Especially valuable in
run defense, he led the linemen with 52 tackles, adding 3.5
tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and four fumble recoveries.
The hope is that Davis can supply the pass rush that Alualu was
unable to a year ago. An imposing figure at 6-5 and 281 pounds,
the former Marine played with an energy and sense of urgency
this spring that portends a huge final year. Davis has an NFL
blend of size and speed, but needs to stay healthy for an entire
season, which hasn’t happened since he arrived from junior
Projected Top Reserves: If spring is any
indication, sophomore DE Cameron Jordan is going to be
one of the stars of the future for the Cal defense. In fact, he
was so explosive at times in March and April, he might be ready
to push for extensive playing time this fall. One year after
making 18 tackles as a wide-eyed true freshman, the 6-4 and
286-pound Jordan has returned bigger, stronger, and poised to
make a lot of noise for the Bear D.
Junior Cody Jones won’t blow anyone away with his skill
set, but his experience will provide a big boost to the second
unit at tackle. A quick defender who’s beefed up to 6-4 and 276
pounds, he came off the bench last year to make 22 tackles, five
tackles for loss, and a couple of sacks.
The Cal staff is eagerly awaiting the return of 6-2, 302-pound
sophomore DT Michael Costanzo, who appeared in just three
games last season, and is trying to make his way back from knee
surgery. A rugged north-south type lineman, he’s capable of
clogging lanes and occupying multiple blockers once he gets back
to full strength.
Watch Out For… Jordan. Even if he doesn’t jump
Davis or Alualu on the depth chart, he has earned an important
role on this defense. A rare combination of speed and power at
286 pounds, he’s going to follow father Steve Jordan into the
NFL if he keeps working on his pass rushing skills.
Strength: Size and strength. Much like last
season, there are no lightweights on a Cal defensive front that
averages almost 290 pounds, and is going to be tough to move off
the ball. Even the ends are thick, which should bode well for a
questionable run defense.
Weakness: Getting to the passer. After two
difficult years in this area, it’s time for the defensive line
to start getting more pressure on the quarterback. A linebacker
led the team in sacks in 2007, an obvious indication that the
front four simply isn’t getting its job done.
Outlook: The Bears are flush with potential,
especially with the underclassmen. However, potential isn’t
going to help the run defense or make life any tougher for
opposing quarterbacks. If Cal has any designs of becoming a
first-division Pac-10 defense, it needs the front four to make
more big plays and start living up to its promise.
Projected Starters: With all due respect to USC,
Cal is sneaking up behind the Trojans in the race to determine
the Pac-10’s best set of linebackers. All three of last year’s
starters are for the Bears, including All-Pac-10 second teamer
Zack Follett. The senior will line up at strongside, but
can play all three positions, and makes his presence known in a
multitude of different ways. A high-energy, high-impact athlete
at 6-1 and 238 pounds, Follett has had 12.5 tackles for loss and
5.5 sacks in each of the last two seasons to go along with eight
career forced fumbles.
In the middle is senior Worrell Williams, a third-year
starter and the biggest of the Cal linebackers. At 6-2 and 250
pounds, he’s a wrap-up tackler with the range to string out
running plays. A work-in-progress not long ago, Williams had 105
tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and a team-high three forced
fumbles in his debut on the inside.
Finally healthy for an entire season, senior Anthony
Felder showed glimpses of his potential last season, racking
up 101 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. A
6-3, 235-pound starter on the weakside, he has the quickness,
strength, and intensity to finish an up-and-down career with a
positive audition for NFL scouts.
Projected Top Reserves: With the Bears destined to
make more use of 3-4 alignments, there’ll be plenty of
opportunities for the reserves to get on the field. Sophomore
Mike Mohamed, in particular, has made a positive
impression on the coaching since collecting 46 tackles as a
rookie. The 6-3, 229-pounder earned a start against Oregon and
got better as the season wound down, flashing outstanding speed,
even as he added more weight. With three seniors occupying the
starting spots, Mohamed is a year away from becoming a major
contributor on the Cal D.
Behind Follett will be sophomore Eddie Young, a 6-0,
230-pounder who has continuously gotten better over the past
year. A quality athlete who plays with good pad level, he played
in all 13 games, making a dozen tackles and a compelling case
for a starting gig a year from now.
The heir apparent to Williams in the middle is 6-1, 255-pound
redshirt freshman D.J. Holt, who was a standout on the
scout team and during spring practice. A high school defensive
end, he sheds blocks effortlessly and has the instincts of a
future 100-tackle linebacker. Holt has one more year to wait
before becoming a top run stopper for the Bears.
Watch Out For… four linebackers to be on the field
a lot. Bear coaches want to leverage the team’s deepest position
by using more 3-4 sets, which allow Mohamed, Young, and Holt to
get more reps than the typical second teamer.
Strength: Athletic ability. From top to bottom,
there isn't a more athletic group of linebackers than the one in
Berkeley. Best of all, all of that speed and athleticism doesn’t
come at a price, as the top six players on the depth chart
average nearly 240 pounds.
Weakness: Durability. It’s splitting hairs, but
Follett and Felder have had some injury issues in the past. An
extended stay on the disabled list is the only thing that’ll
prevent Cal from being home to one of the nation’s more
productive sets of linebackers.
Outlook: The Bears have an ideal situation at
linebacker; the starters are proven veterans and the backups are
talented underclassmen, who are learning and waiting in the
wings to take over in 2009. Together, they form the strength of
the Cal team and an ensemble capable of delivering game-changing
Projected Starters: The Bears return a whopping
nine defensive backs who lettered last season, none more
important than feisty junior CB Syd’Quan Thompson, who
shook off a rocky debut to contribute 78 tackles, six tackles
for loss, and a team-high 10 pass break ups. Only 5-9 and 184
pounds, he’s surprisingly physical and a dynamite all-around
athlete. Thompson has lockdown potential, needing to turn a few
more of those deflected balls into interceptions.
Thompson’s partner at cornerback is likely to be sophomore
Chris Conte, a player who turned heads as a true freshman,
making 32 tackles and growing up as the season progressed. At
6-3 and 198 pounds, he has corner skills in a safety’s body.
Conte is a physical open field tackler with the length to match
up well with some of the league’s bigger receivers.
Like Conte, sophomore Marcus Ezeff played extensively in
his rookie season, making 47 tackles and a couple of tackles for
loss. One of the hardest hitters out of the Bear secondary, the
5-11, 208-pound thumper will be the Bears’ rover and like having
an additional linebacker on the field on running plays.
Rounding out the defensive backfield is Bernard Hicks,
who’s moving from rover to free safety, a better fit for the
senior. He had 40 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss a year ago,
doing an average job in pass defense. While the 5-11, 210-pound
is another big hitter out of the secondary, he needs to become a
little more patient, knowing when to pull back and when to lay
Projected Top Reserves: Just because Darian
Hagan hasn’t performed like a can’t-miss recruit in his
first two seasons, does not mean he’s on the road to being a
disappointment. A year after making brief appearances on special
teams, the talented sophomore is determined to start living up
to the hype. At 6-0 and 181 pounds, Hagan has the potential to
be a premier cover corner, even if he starts the season behind
Like Hagan, sophomore CB Charles Amadi played in five
games a year ago, earning a letter and bagging seven tackles.
The former Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year is 5-10 and
182 pounds and still somewhat raw with his technique, but has
the hips and athletic ability to overcome some of his
The most experienced of the reserve safeties is junior Brett
Johnson, a returning letterman who had eight tackles and
special teams contributions in 12 games. One of the team’s
bigger defensive backs at 6-1 and 192 pounds, he’s pushing Hicks
for the starting assignment, but will probably have to wait
until 2009 for a promotion.
Watch Out For… Hagan to be in Conte’s back pocket
all season long. The sophomore was humbled by his
ineffectiveness last season, but came to camp with a renewed
focus, and has clicked with new secondary coach Al Simmons. On a
team pining for more help at cornerback, Hagan is too good to
spend another season stuck in neutral.
Strength: Preventing the long ball. Yeah, the
defense has been forced to get somewhat conservative in its
approach to pass defense, but by doing so, the secondary has
been able to keep plays in front of it. While the Bears will
yield the short dump-offs, they also finished No. 2 in the
Pac-10 in yards per completion and yards per game by not being
overly aggressive in coverage.
Weakness: Ball skills. While the Cal defensive
backs have upside, they’re not a scary bunch capable of changing
the momentum of a game, a la former Bear Daymeion Hughes. Last
year’s secondary accounted for just six interceptions in 13
Outlook: The rebuilt Golden Bear secondary
overachieved a year ago, and should take another positive step
this fall. However, better passing will still move the ball on a
unit that’s young and vulnerable at the corner spot opposite
Projected Starters: Cal found itself a punter in
the spring, 6-4, 196-pound Bryan Anger. He left no doubts
about the opening, consistently booming punts downfield and
wowing onlookers with his hang time. A former high school
All-American, he’s prepared to become a fixture on the Bear
special teams for the next four seasons.
For the moment, senior Jordan Kay is the Bear
placekicker, but he has a loose grip on the job. Inconsistent
beyond 30 yards, the former walk-on went just 13-of-20 on field
goals, while showing little pop in his leg. If Kay continues to
struggle with his accuracy, sophomore Joe Robles could
get the call. A top kicker in high school, he shows promise with
his range and accuracy.
Pac-10 special coaches no longer have dangerous return men
DeSean Jackson and LaVelle Hawkins to worry about. Both have
graduated. In their place, junior Syd’Quan Thompson and
redshirt freshman Shane Vereen are expected to handle
punt returns and kick returns, respectively.
Watch Out For… any developments at kicker. Kay is
vulnerable if he continues hooking his kicks, needing to
maintain the momentum from a strong finish to 2007 and an
Strength: Punt coverage. A year after finishing 11th
nationally in covering punts, the Bears will again be among the
country’s stingiest units. With Anger lofting the ball in the
air for four or five seconds, opponents will spend most of the
year waving a hand in the air.
Weakness: Inconsistency in the kicking game. Rock
solid from the 20-29 range, Kay managed to go only 7-of-14 on
field goals outside 30 yards. He needs to make strides or else
Cal will be taking plenty of chances on fourth down.
Outlook: After absorbing hits everywhere, the
Bears are about to regress on special teams. Anger has an
exciting future, but the program will keep its fingers crossed
on field goals, while hoping Thompson and Vereen can ignite the