Tackles, Tackles, And More Tackles! Cal Linebackers In 2011

TwistNHook: Be honest here. How much are we going to miss Mychal Kendricks and D.J. Holt? They seemed especially key to our defense this year!

Atomsareenough: With the play of our young OLBs McCain, Wilkerson, and Whiteside this year, not to mention guys like Brennan Scarlett, Jason Gibson, and Jalen Jefferson coming up the pipeline, I'm pretty bullish about depth on the outside. The major concern is, as Twist pointed out, how to replace Kendricks and Holt on the inside. Last year, the worry was replacing Mike Mohamed at the key middle linebacker position, but the experienced and talented Mychal Kendricks gamely moved in from outside linebacker. Fortunately for the Bears, Kendricks was more than up to the task, earning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he and Holt turned out to be a huge strength and source of stability for the Cal D. It seems likely that juniors JP Hurrell and Robert Mullins, who have the most game experience, will continue to see the field next year on the inside, but will they be the starters, or will well-regarded but unproven underclassmen such as Nick Forbes or Nate Broussard earn starting roles? With the depth we have on the outside, could Wilkerson move back inside and start for the Bears? Will Fanua and Krebs be able to contribute? I feel like there are way more questions than answers at this point.

NorCalNick: To me, replacing Kendricks and Holt is the biggest concern of the off-season, potentially only surpassed by replacing Mitchell Schwartz. They were the rocks on defense - with injuries to the secondary and outside linebackers, and a rotation on the d line, they were the few players who played pretty much every snap, and they were awesome.

They were so awesome that I don't really recall seeing much action for inside linebacker back-ups. As a result I have no idea what to expect on the inside next year. Atoms talked about all of the choices - veteran backups, up-and-coming youngsters, guys with OLB experience - nothing would surprise me, which makes it really hard to speculate.

Kodiak: This year, I had assumed that we'd be solid in the middle with Holt and Kendricks, but take our lumps on the outside. It wasn't too surprising to see the trio of McCain, Wilkerson, and Whiteside struggle a bit early. But, they really seemed to make steps towards the middle of the year. It was unfortunate that both McCain and Wilkerson were injured right when they were finding their way.

Holt was a bit overshadowed because the other guys were the ones making the big plays, but a case could be made for him as the defensive MVP. He did everything well and was rock-solid consistent.

Kendricks was incredibly versatile. Although he had to make some adjustments to different coverage responsibilities early in the year, his ability to play inside or out and stick with wide receivers in our nickel package really helped take pressure off of our secondary.

Right now, I don't see anyone who can easily duplicate what Holt or Kendricks brought to the field; at least, not on an every down basis.

Moving forward, we have speed and athleticism, but we're going to be short on experience. Worst-case, it's a situation similar to when we lost Follett, Felder, Bishop, and young - even though the players replacing them were theoretically faster, they didn't have the same instincts or play-recognition. If we're allowed to pump some sunshine, I'm not sure if we've ever been able to fill our linebacking depth chart with guys who were AAs in high school.

If I had to guess, it would be McCain and Whiteside on the outside, and Wilkerson will move back to his natural spot at one ILB. The other ILB spot will be up for grabs between Forbes, Mullins, Fanua, or Hurrell. Right now, I'd give the edge to Mullins on experience; he was the one who subbed in when Kendricks was out. It might be a situation like this year with Campo/Davis giving way to McCain/Wilkerson/Whiteside with Mullins starting and eventually sharing more snaps with Forbes or another youngster.

Realistically speaking, we're probably a year away from having a dominating linebacking corps. It'll still be fun to see who eventually wins playing time, however. We might give up more than our fair share of play-action passes to the flat, or tight ends down the middle, but we'll hopefully be able to offset those with some TFLs and sacks. Once the young guys figure it out, I wouldn't want to play against our defense. The pieces are in place (dominoes!) for an absolutely nasty unit.

LeonPowe: In making a mistake I've always made, I feel fairly comfortable about replacing losses because we've been able to do it consistently before. From des bishop to the Williams felder follett trio to Miley mo to Kendricks/Holt we've had decent to good linebacking for what seems like forever. (why I didn't give Sofele the benefit of the doubt with Gould is another matter) I think we'll be golden at backer for years to come, praise Tosh.

Avinash: Kenwick Thompson deserves a lot of credit. The linebackers had plenty of hiccups this season, but it's hard to get everything right fundamentally in such an aggressive scheme Pendergast employs. Those type of defenses are always subject to various counterattacks by the offense to exploit weaknesses in gaps, so it's hard to get it right at the beginning (and at times you can look really, really bad).

But they shaped up. The difference between their play in September and October is significant, and it only got better in November. Credit Thompson for finding players who could run the scheme even when depth got hit late in the year. Hopefully over the next season or two depth will become less of an issue.

OhioBear: When a unit has the Pat Tillman Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, that's nothing to sneeze at. I was surprised that Mychal Kendricks won the award, but the more I replayed the games in my mind's eye and looked at the statistics, I can't say that it was undeserved. Kendricks had a very, very good season. There were numerous games (none more than the Big Game) when it seemed like the dude was EVERYWHERE .

That said, we will miss Kendricks. And we will miss D.J. Holt, probably more than we know. Losing those two guys will hurt, but I somehow remain confident in the guys that are left. I am excited about what Chris McCain gives this defense in terms of an outside speed rusher. I thought Cecil Whiteside did some good things, too, in the time he saw the field. David Wilkerson is also a guy I expect to really step up.
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