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In which we examine another three position groups worth paying attention to this spring.
Thursday, we took a look at the linebackers, offensive linemen, and running backs. Today, I'll break down another three groups worth watching in spring practice - these three, in my opinion, being the most important.
After Steve Williams unexpectedly bolted for the NFL draft, the projected depth at corner took a big step back.
One of the starting spots will almost assuredly belong to Kameron Jackson, who proved more than capable when taking over for the injured Marc Anthony last year. Though he struggled badly in the slot, Jackson demonstrated much better coverage when playing outside, to go with solid ball-skills - anyone who saw the UCLA game can attest to that. His tackling still leaves a little to be desired, and he has a tendency to be called for pass interference here and there [Pac-12 refs and all...], but overall, Kam should be just fine.
It won't be him that fans must keep an eye on - it'll be whoever wins the job of his running mate.
The first name that springs to mind here is Stefan McClure, whose play in 2011 left many impressed - remember, he was largely responsible for holding Robert Woods to just 5 catches for 36 yards that season. After sitting out the entirety of 2012 to recover from an ACL injury, though, McClure has been cleared to go this spring. How quickly he shakes off the rust and how quickly he regains - or improves upon - his previous form will go a long way to stabilizing the California secondary.
If neither happens, then the Bears will be forced to turn to some less experienced candidates like Adrian Lee, Isaac Lapite, and Cedric Dozier. Two other contenders for cornerback time, Cameron Walker and Darius Allensworth, will not arrive until fall.
With Josh Hill also gone, the Bears will need to spend spring ball finding a nickel back, whoever that ends up being. Beyond being capable of keeping pace with slot receivers, it would be nice if that player proved capable of handling opposing tight ends, as well; it is no secret that the linebackers and safeties both struggled mightily against the likes of Seferian-Jenkins and Ertz last season. A versatile nickel would be a huge plus for Andy Buh and Randy Stewart, because it would likely relieve Forbes and company of some of their pass-coverage responsibilities.
3) Defensive line
As mentioned up earlier, Cal will premiere more of a 4-3 look in 2013, and the ripple effects of that move will be felt here, too.
First order of business? Finding a pair of true 4-3 ends, ones who are capable of generating the kind of pass-rush that Cal too often lacked in 2012. Chris McCain led the team in sacks with 3.5 last season, a number that needs to at least double for defensive success. The good news is that there is no shortage of candidates here, as McCain, along with fellow linebackers Brennan Scarlett, Nathan Broussard, and Dan Camporeale will all move down to defensive line going forward. That puts this unit in good shape, even with Scarlett and McCain out of commission during the spring. JUCO transfers Kyle Kragen and Sione Sina [once fully recovered from a knee injury] should help in that search, too.
The need to find ends cannot be stressed enough - a good pass rush hides many problems on defense, and the Bears will have a relatively young secondary next year.
One thing is for sure - Viliami Moala will be the key to this unit's success. The 6'2", 335 pound behemoth will be entering his junior year in 2013, a make or break season for him in terms of production. Moala wasn't much of a factor in his first two seasons, and many chalked these disappointing campaigns up to his need to lose weight and work on technique.
Fine, but a little over two years to do so should be ample time to accomplish these things, and I expect we will know quite soon whether or not Moala is capable of living up to the massive hype he gathered as a high schooler. Nothing could help this defense more than a consistently destructive force like Moala - you know, the kind we thought he would be when he first signed.
A personal prediction of who ends up on top, come fall:
DT rotation: Moala, Deandre Coleman, Mustafa Jalil, Todd Barr
DE rotation: Kyle Kragen, Chris McCain [entirely dependent on whether he can gain more weight], Brennan Scarlett. Jalil could see time here, too.
Yes, I skipped numbers.
That's how vitally important quarterback is compared to everything else - a tired refrain that I'm sure we are all sick of hearing. That being said, the realistic contenders for Bear Raid Commander really run five deep: Zach Kline, Kyle Boehm, Allan Bridgford, Jared Goff, and Austin Hinder. [Apologies to Joey Mahalic and Brendan Keeney.]
I have them ranked as:
Tier 1 - Zach Kline
Tier 2 - Allan Bridgford
Tier 3 - Kyle Boehm, Austin Hinder, Jared Goff
Let's break em down, shall we?
Much has been written about redshirt freshman Zach Kline, who carries the hopes of the Blue and Gold faithful on his right arm. Having talked to a few of the writers who know football far better than I do and have seen Zach play for years, I am inKlined to believe he is the real deal. After seeing him only 3 or 4 times last summer, I can say this for sure - the ball explodes out of his hand in a way it does not for any of the other quarterbacks on the roster, a weapon that will come in handy if he is appointed Bear Raid Commander.
Kline spent last season on the bench, but immersed himself in in the game preparation process and traveled to every game; an oddity for a 4th string quarterback, to say the least. Some speculated that this was because Tedford was grooming him to take over in 2013. Count me among that group, especially because Allan Bridgford showed very little in subbing for the injured Zach Maynard.
Whether you believe that that was due to poor coaching or lack of ability, I'll let you decide, but this much cannot really be questioned - the offense would have very little upside or explosive potential if Bridgford starts going forward. That is a large part of why I - like many of you - predict Kline to take the reins coming out of spring; because he offers a chance at something completely new altogether.
After Kline and Bridgford is a triumvirate of mystery candidates, since nobody has really seen anything from Hinder or Boehm - Tedford's closed practices limited chances for fans to make their own judgments on either. You have to figure that they get the edge over freshman Jared Goff, though, simply because of their physical maturity and experience - Goff still looks like he could use a good 15-20 pounds on his frame as of now, although he showcases the kind of mobility on film that Sonny Dykes said would be ideal for a Bear Raid quarterback. A redshirt season would do Goff some good, and in an ideal situation, prepare him nicely to take over once Kline graduates or leaves for the NFL.
That much is still a ways off, but I did say ideal...
Whew. That was a lot of typing. If you're still with me, this is the part where you guys sound off - what do you think the areas to pay attention will be? Are there players I forgot, or left out at any of the positions? How do you rank the QB candidates? Hit the comments and give your take.