2010 California Preview – Defense
California LB Mike Mohamed
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - California Golden Bear Defense
Preview 2010 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: In order to replace long-time and successful coordinator Bob Gregory, Jeff Tedford hired Clancy Pendergast, a veteran of the NFL for the past 15 years. Out of the same 3-4 that Cal employed a year ago, he plans to use more blitzes and stunts to dial up additional pressure. More than anything else, he's going to demand that his kids play hard, fast, and smart, which have been drilled into them since February. The biggest concern for a defense that generally underachieved in 2009 is a secondary that ranked 111th nationally in pass defense and loses three starters. If the light was ever going to go on for CB Darian Hagan, now would be an ideal time. In general, the front seven should be a team strength, boasting all-star candidates in DE Cameron Jordan, NG Derrick Hill, and LB Mike Mohamed, and a solid run defense.
Star of the defense: Senior LB Mike Mohamed
Tackles: Mike Mohamed, 112
Sacks: Cameron Jordan, 6
Interceptions: Mike Mohamed, 3
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior CB Darian Hagan
Unsung star on the rise: Junior S Sean Cattouse
Best pro prospect: Senior DE Cameron Jordan
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Mohamed, 2) Jordan, 3) Cattouse
Strength of the defense: The defensive line, inside linebackers, run defense, third down defense
Weakness of the defense: Outside linebackers, pass defense
Projected Starters: One of the Bears' biggest challenges at any position this season will be replacing DE Tyson Alualu, a first round draft choice of the Jacksonville Jaguars. For now, his replacement will be 6-3, 281-pound junior Trevor Guyton, who has been an apprentice for 18 games as he waited for this opportunity. As a reserve a year ago, he had 13 tackles in 11 games, four behind the line of scrimmage. A coveted recruit from the 2008 class, he plays with the physicality and the motor needed to be especially effective in run defense.
On the opposite end, 6-4, 282-pound senior Cameron Jordan is back for one more season, looking to put it all together and improve his own standing with pro scouts. An honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection last season, he posted career-highs with 48 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and six sacks. At his size and thickness, he plays with unusual quickness and get-off, a combination that could garner him attention outside the confines of the league if he commits to bringing it on every down.
Back at the nose for a third consecutive season will be 6-2, 306-pound senior Derrick Hill, a rock in the middle of the line. Tough and physical at the point of attack, he moves extremely well for such a squat lineman, shedding the block, shooting the gap, and forcing backs to improvise. A frequent visitor to opposing backfields, he had 18 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks in 2009.
Projected Top Reserves: The successor to Hill at nose guard will be 6-2, 307-pound sophomore Kendrick Payne. Similar in stature and disruptiveness, he plays with good pad level and will fight through blocks in an attempt to get penetration. He put down a nice foundation for the future in 2009, starting a pair of games and making 13 tackles, four tackles for loss, and a sack.
The top defensive end off the sidelines will be 6-4, 265-pound junior Ernest Owusu, Jordan's caddy for one more season. He showed spurts in the most extensive action of his career, lettering in a dozen games and chipping in seven tackles, three tackles for loss, and a couple of sacks. Quick enough to get into the backfield, he also has enough size to be an effective run-stopper.
Watch Out For … Guyton's acclimation to the starting lineup. While you pretty much know what you're going to get out of Jordan and Hill, Guyton is a question mark. While there's a lot of natural ability there, there's also concern that if he doesn't produce, it could impact Jordan's numbers.
Strength: The nose. No disrespect to Jordan on the outside, but the Bears are flush with talent and depth at nose guard. Hill is a seasoned veteran, Payne is more than ready to carry the torch, and 6-2, 293-pound Aaron Tipoti finds himself buried after starting four games and making 21 tackles as a rookie.
Weakness: The "other" side. While Guyton is talented enough to squash these concerns, for now he's a career backup replacing a star and looking to take the heat off another proven pass rusher. It's an awful lot of pressure that bears a close watch once the season kicks off.
Outlook: Although a drop-off now that Alualu has graduated is inevitable, it won't be as severe as many might assume. The Bears retain a lot of talent up front, and depth is unlikely to be a concern. If Guyton can blossom into a steady performer, Cal will once again be first division Pac-10 in sacks and run defense.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: There's a need for more linebackers in Berkeley, especially at a school that operates out of the 3-4. The one constant on the inside is 6-3, 238-pound senior Mike Mohamed, who'll enter 2010 on a lot of Preseason All-America teams and watch lists. In his first season as the cover boy of the group, he broke out by parlaying a league-high 112 tackles, eight tackles for loss, two sacks, and three picks into a spot on the All-Pac-10 first team. While he has the requisite speed and size, he also harbors the instincts and field awareness to usually be in the right place at the right time.
Next to Mohamed on the inside will be 6-1, 250-pound junior D.J. Holt, who has gradually worked his way into this position. A former blue-chip recruit, he's lettered in his first two seasons, starting eight games and making 37 tackles a year ago. A versatile player and outstanding run stuffer, he's about to build on the momentum he seized after moving into the lineup in the second half of 2009.
The most experienced player on the outside will be 6-6, 260-pound senior Keith Browner. The next in a long line of Browners to play college football at a high level, injuries and an inability to find a position have hindered his ability to reach the expectations that followed him coming out of high school. Mostly a special teamer over the last two seasons, he was only in on five tackles a year ago and has an opportunity about as big as he is to finish a disappointing career on a positive note at strongside.
At weakside, 6-2, 224-pound sophomore Chris Little is being groomed for the starting job. After getting a taste of action in his first year, making 10 stops as a reserve, he's primed for a considerable promotion. By far the more athletic of the projected starting outside linebackers, he plays the game with the speed and quickness of a safety, opening himself up as a candidate on the blitz.
Projected Top Reserves: Whether or not he can crack the lineup, the Bears will enjoy the luxury of having 6-0, 235-pound junior Mychal Kendricks on the inside. Like having another starter at linebacker, he was in the lineup for six games and finished second of the team with 71 tackles, six tackles for loss, and a pair of fumble recoveries. A threat to make plays from sideline to sideline, he has an important spot in the rotation once he recovers from an injury.
Behind Browner coming out of spring was another senior looking to end his career with a flurry, 5-11, 213-pound senior Jarred Price. Originally a transfer from Blinn (Tex.) College, he had six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and 2.5 sacks. An explosive athlete, who fielded plenty of offers, he has playmaking tendencies that the staff hopes to cultivate this fall.
Watch Out For … the competition at strongside. Browner and Price each offer something different, the latter a disruptive force and the former better suited to defend the run. Both will play, but neither wants to begin the season on the bench, which will make for spirited summer competition.
Strength: The inside. In Mohamed and Holt, the Bears have a potential All-American and a budding force, respectively. With this pair, which averages 244 pounds and diagnoses as well as anyone on the team, it'll once again be difficult to navigate Cal on the ground.
Weakness: The outside. This is where Eddie Young's graduation is really going to be felt. Unless someone switches positions, a possibility, the Bears have no sure-things at outside linebacker and average depth. For different reasons, both Browner and Little have a lot to prove.
Outlook: Over the last few years, Cal has done an excellent job of regrouping at this spot on the field, and this season won't be any different. Mohamed, Holt, and Kendricks will be the inside anchors, making plays all over the field and life a little easier for the unproven Bears on the outside.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Projected Starters: With three starters gone from last year's defensive backfield, this group will have a very different look in 2010. The good news is that a bunch of players did earn starts a year ago. Junior S Sean Cattouse, for instance. He took over the starting job midway through the year and went on to put down the ground floor of what promises to be a terrific second half to his career. In fact, he played well enough to earn honorable mention All-Pac-10 recognition, making 37 stops and breaking up three passes. At 6-2 and 208 pounds, he can hit like a linebacker, yet still has impressive cover skills.
At the other safety spot is another well-sized veteran athlete, 6-3, 220-pound senior Chris Conte. Having out grown the cornerback position, he's taking his physicality and open field tackling skills to an area where he can really contribute to run defense. Blessed with some of the best triangle numbers on the defense, he used his agility and fluid athleticism to make 25 tackles in 13 games last year.
Although he has the inside track on one of the cornerback openings, 6-0, 188-pound senior Darian Hagan hasn't emerged as expected since arriving in 2006 as a can't-miss recruit. After showing flashes in 2008, he regressed as a junior, starting just four games and making 30 tackles, three tackles for loss, and five pass breakups. After falling out of favor last fall, he has one more shot to channel past achievements and help solidify the Cal pass defense.
The favorite to join Hagan on an island is 6-1, 192-pound senior Bryant Nnabuife, who's coming off his second season out of Blinn (Tex.) College. A starter in four of his 10 games last year, he made 30 tackles and a pair of tackles for loss. Although he has the right combination of size, speed, and toughness, he has to do a better job of keeping the play in front of him and getting his hands on more passes.
Projected Top Reserves: Lurking just behind the starters at cornerback is 5-11, 197-pound sophomore Josh Hill. The future—and possibly the present—at the position, He supplanted Hagan at times in his first year, starting five games and making 34 tackles, two picks, and three breakups. There were the expected lapses, but there were also those moments when he flashed the smooth hips and playmaking ability of a future all-conference performer.
Veteran depth behind Cattouse at safety will be provided by 6-0, 204-pound junior D.J. Campbell. A former Scout Team Player of the Year, he's about to enter his third season as a reserve and a valuable special teams performer. He saw the field for a dozen games in 2009, displaying toughness in the open field and making 14 tackles and a couple of fumble recoveries.
Watch Out For … Hagan's mindset. He's been all over the map since arriving as a ballyhooed recruit, rarely playing with the necessary consistency. He has one year to turn things around and possibly attract the attention of pro scouts. The physical ability is there, but now he must find a way to meld it with the required discipline and focus.
Strength: Corner depth. Even with graduations, the Bears feel fortunate to return three different cornerbacks, who started each started at least four games in 2009. The trio of Hagan, Nnabuife, and Hill pretty much ensures healthy competition and gives the staff a viable option in nickel packages.
Weakness: Defending the pass. Not only is Cal parting with three starters, but it's doing so after ranking 111th nationally in pass efficiency D. Even with current Denver Bronco Syd'Quan Thompson roaming the field, the Bears were routinely picked apart, ominous news for this group.
Outlook: Early signs indicate that this might be the weakest link in the Cal fence this fall. A major disappointment a year ago, it's asking too much for a complete turnaround in a short period of time. There are quality athletes and veterans at corner and safety, but are there enough bona fide pass defenders to thrive in a league rife with good quarterbacks?
Unit Rating: 7
Projected Starters: The placekicking duties were a shared responsibility in 2009 that has yet to produce a favorite for 2010. Junior Giorgio Tavecchio, a former walk-on, went 8-of-12 on field goals during a five-game stretch in October and November, which constitutes the bulk of his resume.
Tavecchio only got his opportunities because sophomore Vince D'Amato injured his shoulder on Oct. 17. Prior to and after that point, he was sporadic with his accuracy, connecting on just 7-of-12 field goal tries. He has a little more pop in his leg than the competition, but the winner of this race will be the kicker who can consistently nail the 37 or 38-yarder.
The situation at punter is far more certain, as junior Bryan Anger returns as a reigning All-Pac-10 first-teamer. While he averaged a deceptively-average 41.5 yards, that number fails to show how often he pinned opponents deep in their own territory or that the Bears were second in the league in net punting.
Cal has a number of options in the return game, including junior Shane Vereen , senior Jeremy Ross, and sophomore Isi Sofele. Vereen led the team in kickoff returns at 23 yards, while Ross turned nine punt returns into 192 yards and a score.
Watch Out For … the competition at placekicker. For the second straight season, Cal will enter the summer unsure who'll be attempting field goals and extra points in September. It's a very close and underrated competition that could impact more than a couple of games in the fall.
Strength: Anger. More than just a strong leg, Anger has blossomed into the type of punter, who actually assists the defense with his hang time and directional kicks. A Ray Guy Award candidate, he's one of the overlooked weapons that helps keep the program on a winning track.
Weakness: The kicking game. The Bears need to elevate beyond last season when two kickers combined to go just 15-of-24 on field goal attempts. Even worse Tavecchio and D'Amato were a dreadful 5-of-13 outside 30 yards. Barring a change, that degree of inaccuracy is going to be costly during the year.
Outlook: It's a mixed bag for a special teams unit that is set at punter, unstable at placekicker, and generally average everywhere else. While the return game and coverage units have a chance to come around, a pass or fail grade will depend heavily on how the two kickers perform once the season begins.
Unit Rating: 7
- 2010 California Preview |
2010 California Defense |
California Depth Chart
- California Previews