2009 California Preview - Defense
California DE Cameron Jordan
California DE Cameron Jordan
Posted May 7, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - California Golden Bear Defense

California Golden Bears

Preview 2009 - Defense  

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What you need to know: Outstanding defensive play is not the first thing that comes to mind when Cal football is the subject. Maybe it should be. Without much national pub, eighth-year coordinator Bob Gregory has done a fantastic job with this unit. A year ago, he installed the 3-4, which was an unbridled success. The  Bears ranked no lower than 26th nationally in run defense, pass efficiency defense, and scoring defense. Much of that group returns, including a top-flight defensive line and one of the country’s most aggressive defensive backfields. The lone concern will be a corps of linebackers that lost  Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and Anthony Felder to graduation. Mike Mohamed is the next big thing at the position, but he’ll need plenty of help from a quartet that’s expected to roam the field and make plays wherever they’re needed.    

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Mike Mohamed, 87
Sacks: Tyson Alualu, 6
Interceptions: Syd'Quan Thompson, 4

Star of the defense: Senior CB Syd’Quan Thompson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Mike Mohamed
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Mychal Kendricks
Best pro prospect: Junior DE Cameron Jordan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Thompson  2) Senior DE Tyson Alualu 3) Mohamed
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, pass defense, creating turnovers, stuffing the run
Weakness of the defense: Turnover at linebacker, lapses away from home

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: All three starters return from last season, giving the defense a solid base up front. The ends, in particular are going to be among the best in the Pac-10. Senior Tyson Alualu is coming off a breakthrough, All-Pac-10 season, his second as a regular. At 6-3 and 295 pounds, he’s an end in a tackle’s body, he’s strong up top, uses his hands very well, and will not be out worked. An outstanding run defender, he stepped it up as a pass rusher in 2008, collecting 62 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and six sacks.

On the other side is 6-4, 287-pound junior Cameron Jordan, who’s on the brink of becoming a nationally-known defender. He only scratched the surface of his potential a year ago, cracking the lineup early on and making 47 stops, 11 tackles for loss, and four sacks. At his size, he possesses the burst and quickness that’s usually seen in outside linebackers.

The lone inside guy in this defense will be 6-2, 302-pound junior NG Derrick Hill, who sat out spring to rehab a nagging knee injury. A blue-chip recruit from the 2006 class, he moves well for a big lineman, shedding blockers, shooting the gaps, and disrupting plays behind the line. As a starter last year, he had 29 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, while often occupying multiple blockers. 

Projected Top Reserves: One of the best stories of the offseason has been the play of 6-2, 300-pound redshirt freshman Kendrick Payne, who took full advantage of the absence of Hill. He made play after play in April, sometimes commanding double-teams and always catching the eye of the coaching staff. A slam-dunk part of the rotation, he gives the Bears much-needed depth inside.

While it’ll be an on-going competition, 6-3, 293-pound sophomore Trevor Guyton has nudged ahead as the first defensive end off the bench. Although he played sparingly in 2008, he did earn a letter and grew as a player. Much like Alualu, he’s the type of strongside end, who’ll hold up well on running plays, yet still be able to get penetration in the backfield.

Watch Out For… Jordan. He just looks and performs like a next-level player. That combination of size and athleticism hasn’t been lost on pro scouts, which could make for a difficult decision when the season is finished. If he can tap into Alualu’s drive and work ethic, he’s good enough to extend his brand outside the Pac-10’s borders.    
Strength: The ends. With Alualu on one side and Jordan on the other, opposing tackles will have a devil of a time keeping these two from mauling the quarterback. It used to be that teams could send extra resources in Alualu’s direction. If they do that now, you might as well pencil in Jordan as the Pac-10 player of the week.
Weakness: Proven depth. Payne and Guyton looked terrific in practice, but that was practice. How would they hold up if thrust into a key moment in a game in September? No one knows for sure, which is one of the few concerns about this unit.
Outlook: The pieces are in place for this to be the most talented and productive Cal defensive line in years. Alualu and Jordan form an all-star bookend, and Hill and Payne will plug holes in run defense from the middle. If Jordan really blows up, as expected, there’ll be few answers for containing this line.
Rating: 8.5

Projected Starters: When you employ the 3-4 defense and lose three All-Pac-10 linebackers to graduation, there’s just cause for concern. No, the Bears aren’t destitute at the position, but there’ll be no easy way to replace the production of Zack Follett, Worrell Williams, and Anthony Felder. Taking over for Follett as the leading man is 6-3, 237-pound junior Mike Mohamed, the fourth starter in last year’s lineup. More than just a size-speed guy, he plays with outstanding field awareness and has the instincts to freelance at more than one position. He’s ready to take off after making 87 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks, three picks, and a couple of fumble recoveries.

Next to Mohamed on the inside is 6-0, 230-pound sophomore Mychal Kendricks, who had 15 tackles as a backup and special teamer a year ago. One of the fastest and most disruptive athletes on defense, he can make plays from sideline to sideline and is a natural to be turned loose on the blitz. Once he gains the experience and gets the cerebral side of the position down, look out because he’s a bona fide playmaker.

A couple of seniors, 6-1, 239-pound Devin Bishop and 6-0, 239-pound Eddie Young, are slated to man the outside spots. The physical and excitable Bishop has yet to fulfill lofty expectations since arriving from San Francisco Community College, but that’s partly due to the logjam at the position. Although he had just 13 tackles a season ago, he now has an opportunity to produce so much more in his final year of eligibility.

Young is neither the biggest nor the quickest of the linebackers, but he’s the type of heady veteran, who always seems to know where he belongs. He started eight games on the outside last year, making 40 stops and 1.5 tackles for loss. He’s not going to make a lot of game-changing plays, but he’s also not going to hurt you.

Projected Top Reserves: The third option on the inside will be 6-1, 250-pound sophomore D.J. Holt, who has considerable upside, but has fallen behind Kendricks in the battle for Williams’ old job. Where Kendricks is the better athlete, he has more size and is a better run stuffer. He’ll improve on last year’s 14 tackles, even if he has to come off the bench to do it.

The veteran reserve from outside linebacker will be 6-1, 232-pound junior Charles Johnson, who played in 13 games and had seven tackles in his debut out of Saddleback (Calif.) Community College. While not in the same class as Young and Bishop, he’s physically up to the challenge of being more than just a special teams contributor.         

Watch Out For… pressure. One of the reasons why you go with the 3-4 is that it puts an additional athlete on the field to generate heat on the quarterback. The linebackers, especially the outside pair, are expected to use their speed and agility to blitz liberally and disrupt the other team’s passer.
Strength: Run stuffers. Take a look at the size of the primary linebackers, who average around 6-1 and 230 pounds. They’re tough, squat, and able to shed blockers en route to the ballcarrier. The Bears allowed just 122 yards a game on the ground last year, in part because of the run-stopping ability of that second line of defense.
Weakness: Playmakers. While Mohamed meets the stress test and Kendricks has the potential to disrupt, they’ll be hard-pressed to match the playmaking ability of Follett, Felder, and Williams. As a whole, this group isn’t nearly as dynamic as its predecessor.
Outlook: While you certainly don’t get better by losing three-fourths of the starting lineup, Cal still has a solid base of linebackers, with Mohamed as its newest All-Pac-10 contender. The key will be for the rest of the group, namely Bishop and Kendricks, to step up and deliver the best seasons of their careers.
Rating: 7.5


Projected Starters: All but one of the 11 letterwinners who helped Cal to a No. 6 ranking in pass efficiency defense are back. Yippee. Senior CB Syd’Quan Thompson
flirted with the idea of leaving early for the NFL before opting to return for his final season of eligibility. He’s come a long way since a rocky sophomore year, turning 70 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, four picks, and 14 breakups into a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team. One of the nation’s few bona fide lockdown cornerbacks, he’s far more physical than his 5-9, 191-pound frame might indicate.

It took a couple of years, but 6-0, 186-pound junior Darian Hagan
has started to perform like the can’t-miss prospect of the class of 2006. He really began to blossom in 2008, making 56 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions, and a school-record 15 pass breakups. After sitting out part of spring to concentrate on the books, he’s expected to return to action when summer camp starts in August.

The steadiest of the safeties is 5-11, 219-pound senior Marcus Ezeff, who’s added more muscle in preparation for his second season as a full-timer. He performed well in all phases a year ago, making 66 tackles, picking off three passes, and breaking up six others. More than just one of the hardest hitters out of the defensive backfield, he also has good range and quickness.

Rounding out the starting secondary is another senior, 6-1, 194-pound Brett Johnson. While always known for his big sticks, he also made strides as a pass defender last year, further solidifying the secondary and his role within it. In the most extensive action of his career, he chipped in with 43 tackles and had a pair of interceptions.

Projected Top Reserves: In this program, junior CB Chris Conte is a reserve. In most others, the 6-3, 205-pounder would be a starter. A smooth athlete and arguably the best combination of size, speed and agility, he’s a luxury to have coming off the bench. He had 28 tackles and seven breakups in 2008, biding his time and learning multiple positions until a job opens up in 2010.

The top backup at safety is 6-2, 206-pound sophomore Sean Cattouse, a big hitter with surprisingly good cover skills. He appeared in 11 games as a freshman, including two starts, and made 13 tackles, picked off three passes, and broke up five others. With Ezeff and Johnson in their final seasons, he’s just a year away from being in the lineup.

Watch Out For… a ton of batted balls. The Golden Bears broke up 73 passes in 2008, most of which came from this crew. With the same cast back in Berkeley, you can bank on more of the same and plenty of chances for interceptions.
Strength: Ball skills. What happens when your secondary is flush with really gifted and instinctive athletes? They tend to get their hands on the ball a lot. And when they do, they’re often headed in the opposite direction, which the Bears did a Pac-10 best 24 times last season.
Weakness: Size. If there’s a knock on this group, it’s that its members aren’t particularly big. When Conte and Cattouse aren’t on the field, they average less than 6-0, which makes the defense very vulnerable against tall wide receivers.
Outlook: Give a ton of credit to Al Simmons, who has done a magnificent job of molding this unit into a bunch of feisty playmakers. The way Cal gets after the passer and covers receivers, it’ll once again be extremely difficult to break through this secondary. Thompson and Hagan give the Bears one of the best corner tandems in America and plenty of confidence when they blitz a safety.
Rating: 8

Special Teams

Projected Starters: The obvious part of the kicking equation is that sophomore Bryan Anger will again manage the punting duties. As a freshman, he averaged more than 43 yards and displayed great hang time, en route to a spot on the All-Pac-10 second team. He’ll be a mainstay in these parts for the next three seasons.

The situation at placekicker is far less settled, as sophomores Giorgio Tavecchio and David Seawright continue a battle that began last fall. Tavecchio walked on to the squad just before the opener with Michigan State and wound up connecting on 9-of-13 field goal attempts. His leg strength, however, is a concern.

At 6-3 and 223 pounds, Seawright is a much bigger player with more pop in his leg. He hit 5-of-7 tries, all from close range, before going down with a groin injury in the middle of the season. The more heralded of the pair, he needs to improve on his accuracy, especially beyond 40 yards.

The Bears’ run of dangerous returns will continue with senior Syd’Quan Thompson handling punts and junior Jahvid Best taking the kickoffs. Both are potential gamebreakers, who can go a long way with a little help from the wedge.

Watch Out For… the competition at placekicker. Neither Tavecchio nor Seawright has been able to pull away, which is why the coaching didn’t name a starter after spring. The sophomores will lock horns again in August in one of the team’s more underrated battles.
Strength: The return game. Everyone knew that Best was a human highlight reel, but Thompson was a pleasant surprise in 2008, averaging more than 12 yards a punt return and taking one back for a 73-yard score. Together, they give Cal one of the most dangerous tandems around.
Weakness: Kickoffs. Short kicks, kicks out of bounds, poor coverage. You name it, and the Golden Bear kickoff team violated it, allowing opponents outstanding field position throughout the season. There are also questions at placekicker, and the punt coverage team needs a makeover.
Outlook: Cal is set at punter and is explosive in the return game. The concerns for special teams coach Pete Alamar surround the coverage units and the quandary at kicker. If Tavecchio or Seawright can’t deliver in the clutch, it could cost the program a game or two during the year.
Rating: 7.5

- 2009 California Preview | 2009 Cal Offense
- 2009 Cal Defense | 2009 Cal Depth Chart
- 2008 Cal Preview | 2007 Cal Preview
| 2006 Cal Preview