CATTOUSE'D! A Look At Cal's Defensive Backs In 2011

TwistNHook: At the start of the season, there was some concern regarding the DBs. We were working in a new coach, Ashley Ambrose. The DL and LBs seemed to be the most solid parts of the Defense. Reading through that post, you can see that the general thought is "Talented, but can it be a consistent level of talent?" Was the play of the DBs consistent enough for you guys in 2011?

Avinash: I've always thought that a good secondary is dependent on having a good front seven. When the pass rush forces the quarterback out of the pocket and scramble around, when the run defense plugs the gap on the inside and forces the runner to bounce outside into waiting cornerbacks, then your secondary will look better, regardless of how good or bad these players are.

Remember our good our front seven in 2008? Made it easier for our cornerbacks to feel more confident to play the ball and our safeties to step up and make plays on the ball. The past couple of years, our front seven has been inconsistent. In 2009 we had a great defensive line and spotty linebacker play, so we were pretty good at stopping the run but absolutely horrid at generating pass rush, which in turn made it hard to stop accurate quarterbacks who could hit holes in our zone coverage. And that was a secondary with Squid locking down one sideline!

In 2010, we had a solid defensive line, but no capable rush linebackers, so we saw more of the same problems. More importantly, we had to totally revamp our cornerbacks, and we had growing pains at that position. However, Chris Conte had a career year, so for the most part I'd say secondary play didn't really look all too bad.

In 2011, the defensive line and linebackers both had flaws, but I'd say they were better at generating pass rush in addition to stuffing the run as the year went on. So the pass defense went from looking flat-out bad in the first month of the season to forcing Matt Barkley and Andrew Luck into pretty average performances and shutting down almost everyone else (Except Kevin Prince. Barf.).

Marc Anthony really never gets enough credit for what he does, but I'd say he's turned himself into a quality cover corner who can play both man and zone. Steve Williams has height issues but is really good at smothering his man. Stefan McClure looks like a star in the making, although it looks like we won't see him for a year or two depending on how that injury heals. I've generally been pleased with cornerback play, and with Anthony/Williams doing it one more time with Josh Hill likely mixing it up as well, they should look even better if front seven play improves. If.

Safeties ... I don't pay much attention to safety play, but there was a bit of a dropoff from last year. What else can you expect when you lose Conte? Not to say Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell aren't capable or athletic, but their tackling and coverage instincts are probably a step below. It really wasn't a huge issue against anyone except Oregon or UCLA though. I'll be interesting to see what happens at this position with young blood ready to take over, with guys like Coley and Sebastian chomping at the bit to get their turn. Maybe even a certain recruit can help out there.

Kodiak: I think Avi nailed it when he pointed out that how well our secondary performed strongly correlated to our pass rush.

Early in the year, the young rush backers were still finding their way and it led to a lot of angst against opposing passing attacks. (see Colorado)

As they started to find their way mid-season, our pass defense also improved. At our best, we were able to pressure the opposing QB with just a four-man rush and that really helped our DBs look good.

Unfortunately, we knew our depth at CB was somewhat tenuous and that got exposed when Anthony was hurt early. McClure had a rough start, but bounced back to play pretty well. When he was hurt, we had to turn to another true frosh, Kam Jackson, who also got picked on early.

The professed emphasis this year was on forcing more turnovers, but I didn't really see it. Again, I'm not sure if I could put that on the secondary as much as the inconsistency of our front seven. Williams and Anthony seem to be at their best playing tight man, but we couldn't do that exclusively without being vulnerable to runs or short passes on the edges; zone coverage allows the CBs to help out a lot more in run support.

I'm still not quite sure to make of Ashley Ambrose as a position coach.

Williams and Anthony are solid corners, and McClure will hopefully recover from his devastating knee injury because he was starting to look like a really good young player. Kam Jackson took his lumps early, but also rallied to play well for a true frosh. Josh Hill quietly had his best season and was relied on a lot as both a nickel back and extra safety.

On the other hand, I was disappointed that neither of our safeties took that next step. I suppose Conte set up unrealistic expectations and perhaps it's not fair to judge based on the bar he set. To be fair, Coach Pendergast puts a lot of pressure on his safeties. Whether it's a Cover One scheme where the lone deep safety is the last line of defense, or it's lining them up in the slot to play coverage. In some cases, the safeties look bad, but it's really the LBs that didn't drop deep enough or were out of position with their coverage. I'll be really interested to see what will be done next year with youngsters Coley, Sebastian, and perhaps a stud blue-chip recruit stepping to the forefront.

On the plus side, we should have a lot of talent on the Dline and at OLB coming of age. On the minus, inexperience at ILB and two brand new safeties could make for interesting times.

Berkelium97: For the Bears as well as their Pac-12 brethren, officiating certainly did not help out the defensive backs.

Nine of the conference's teams were among the 20 most penalized teams (in terms of yardage) in the nation. A painfully stringent group of conference referees made watching our pass defense a chore. I do not have a tally of how many PI calls we received, but I guarantee it was among the three most common penalties this season (along with holding and late hit/personal foul). We would often be flagged for minimal contact or in one particularly egregious case, during the OSU game, no contact (I believe it was Williams who was flagged: he had his forearm up and in front of him anticipating as he anticipated contact with the WR when he caught the ball. Despite no contact, the ref flagged Williams anyway). Certainly we are not the only victims here (we had our fair share of bad calls on the other end), but it substantially reduced my enjoyment of watching certain aspects of the game.

I'm not sure what the players can do about this next year (or if the Pac-12 will change its refereeing procedures--unlikely), but it's tough to play defense when you get flagged for anything more than sneezing on an opponent.

Atomsareenough: I agree with a lot of what was said here. I don't feel like there was a real, bonafide "star" this year in the Cal secondary, but as a unit I'd say they were pretty solid all around. I remember being impressed early on in the season by DJ Campbell, but I feel like he didn't continue to stand out as much as the year went on. Cattouse has improved season by season but was not quite up to the standard set by Conte last year. We'll probably miss both those guys a little at the beginning of next year, but I'm pretty confident that the young talent we have will be able to step in and hold their own in short order. McClure's injury was a huge blow though. I hope his recovery is swift and complete, because I was really impressed with his growth as a player in such a short time. Heal up, Stefan!

Anyway, next year we get Anthony, Hill, and Williams back, all of whom have plenty of experience and should continue to play well. I think Jackson, Sebastian, and Michael Coley will see plenty of time as well next year, especially if McClure is still recovering. However, I haven't heard the names of Adrian Lee and Joel Willis many times since they were recruited. Does anyone have any idea if they might be able to contribute?

OhioBear: Avinash brings up a very good point: as our front seven goes, so goes our secondary. The front seven did not put pressure on Tyler Hansen in the CU game and the secondary was prolifically torched. Against Keith Price and Washington, we didn't put a whole lot of pressure on the QB and the result was a pretty good day for the Husky passing game. We can contrast the Big Game, where Cal probably did as good a job defending Andrew Luck as was possible -- pressure on the QB was helpful there.

I am fairly satisfied with our CB play. Anthony did a decent job and so did Williams. Sure, each had his suspect moments, but I thought both were improved, on the whole, over last year. I was very sorry to see McClure injured at the end of the season because I was very impressed with him. For him to make his first start in the USC game and play as well as he did, for a freshman, was great to see. I hope he heals well: his football future is bright.

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