Berkeley Ballhawks - Cal Football's Defensive Backs in 2011

TwistNHook:  Perhaps the biggest change for the DBs this off-season is the new coach, Ashley Ambrose:

Ashley Ambrose joins the California Golden Bears after a one year stint on the Colorado Buffaloes coaching staff according to an official CalBears.com release. Ambrose got lost in the Dan Hawkins firing and Jon Embree hiring shuffle in Boulder, and now, just like Eric Kiesau, finds himself at Cal. Ambrose replaces the departing Al Simmons.

Ambrose had a long and successful career in the NFL, playing 13 seasons, intercepting 42 passes, deflecting 178 passes, and notching 514 tackles, including one All-Pro season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Although he was on the staff only one year in Colorado (and it wasn't a particularly great one), Buff fans have generally positive things to say about him. Here's a good feature on him from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He coached cornerback Jimmy Smith to first-team All-Big 12 Honors on a not-so-talented Colorado defense (he was the only Buffalo on either the first or second All-Big 12 defensive teams), and has developed talented Jalil Brown as well.

 

What can we expect from Ambrose and his charges in 2011?

NorCalNick:  This is the only unit on the defensive side of the ball where I feel any kind of doubt, which might say more about how much faith I have in the linebackers and linemen than my lack of faith in the DBs. 

That said, the starting foursome of Marc Anthony, Steve Williams, Sean Cattouse and Josh Hill/D.J. Campbell should be pretty good.  It's the depth that might be iffy.  It's possible my fears are entirely overblown, becuase youngsters like Avery Wall and Stephan McClure are all highly touted and reportedly excelling at camp.  But they are still freshmen, and that means it's unfair to expect immediate results out of them.
 
Of course, I'm hoping our pash rush is so awesome that our DBs can get away with occasional mistakes!

Kodiak:  Our starting DB's are solid.  Hill doesn't have great speed, but he's supposed to know the defense inside and out - hopefully Coach Pendergast will be able to find a way to make him a "secret weapon."  I think it should really help Hill to be coached by Ashley Ambrose;  here's a guy who was able to extend his pro career with savvy and anticipation even when he lost his top-end speed.


I'm not sure what we'll get out of the safety position.  Cattouse has oozed potential since his freshman year, but has been really inconsistent since then.  Campbell and Moncrease are solid, but haven't shown any real knack for playmaking.  Considering Clancy's blitz-happy scheme, we need someone to be this year's Chris Conte and make all the critical touchdown-saving tackles.

Where it gets scary is that the rest of our secondary depth is made up of blueshirt frosh (Lee, Coley), or true frosh. (McClure, Jackson, Walls, Willis)  As talented as they are, I don't know if I've ever seen a freshman defensive back _not_ get lit up at least a few times during their first season.  The fact that McClure is going to play with a cast is giving me flashbacks to the INT that went off of Williams last year and led to Zona's game-winning field go...or Robert Meachem lighting up Syd'Quan over and over again.

Where I'm hopeful is that if we can generate a ferocious pass-rush out of our talented linebackers and ends, it can provide some accident-forgiveness while our younger DBs go through their growing pains.

 

HydroTech:  I'm the most intrigued about Josh Hill.  If you recall, Tedford had an interesting quote about how he didn't want to tell the press where Hill was playing because Hill was sort of a "secret weapon" (or something to that effect).  Where will we see Josh Hill play this year?  I'm guessing that he could be seeing a lot of playing time in Cal's 3-3 nickel defense as a sort of hybrid CB/S player.   If my memory serves me correct, I believe that former Cal DB Brandon Hampton played a similar role in 2006.  While he was listed as strictly a CB, he often saw a lot of action in the box as a sort of in-the-box and flat area safety (with the safety behind him taking deep cover responsibilities).  

I'm probably the most excited to see Avery Walls play as a true freshman.   I'm pretty sure Cal hasn't had many true freshman play as DBs aside from Chris Conte and Dante Hughes.  Both players turned out to be pretty good.  If it's any correlation between how soon a player plays and how good they become, then it appears as if this is a good indication for Avery Walls.

Berkelium97:  Here is an interesting statistic: Cal only came away with 19 turnovers last season.  During the previous four seasons, we averaged nearly 27 forced turnovers.  Our 9 interceptions last year were the fewest in many seasons.  As far back as I can go (2004), I cannot find another season with as few interceptions.

Our defense, specifically the defensive backs, are ripe for a regression to the mean.  I was surprised with how few turnovers the defense forced last season, particularly because Pendergast's aggressive schemes seemed likely to force QB turnovers through rushed passes or fumbles off sacks.  We all remember the 24 interception season in 2008 which was in large part thanks to a ferocious pass rush.  Our defense will face several young, inexperienced QBs (Fresno St, UW, OSU, ASU), who may become turnover-prone if we can continually pressure them.

TwistNHook:  Not only is Avery Walls potentially going to get playing time as a freshman, Stefan McClure is slated to get playing time, also.  It is impressive that 2 true freshman might find themselves on the field at the same time.  This recruiting class is paying dividends!

Solarise:  Happy to hear that McClure & Walls will see playing time. I have every confidence in both talented athletes to have excellent careers @ Cal. My guess is that Walls will be used more in the nickleback situation instead of KA21. Avery's learning curve is less steep after greenshirting this Spring semester. The impending graduating of Cattouse, Campbell, and Moncrease should put Walls in line as the next great safety in the Golden Bears uniform.


I'm most intrigued with Kameron Jackson after displaying much improvement after his senior year. Given our depth @ CB Jackson should have a chance to see time as a true freshman. Bryant Nnabuife did a decent job applying pressure from the secondary last season. Josh "The Secret Weapon" Hill may be the player who is going to step into Nnabuife's role for 2011.

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