Cal Football Fall Camp Preview: The Secondary

Jason O. Watson

Perhaps as a microcosm of the position itself, the Cal secondary offers a large delta between risk and reward. Kam Jackson is a proven ballhawk, Stefan McClure might very well develop into one of the best shut-down corners we've ever had(HT: Vlad Belo), and Avery Sebastian is a potential star at safety. But the other safety position is a huge question mark. Depth behind the starters ranges from non-existent to unproven depending on whether you're half-empty or half-full.

New position coach Randy Stewart did a nice job in his previous stint at Cal. Most notably, he was able to turn converted tailback Deltha O'Neal into an all-conference performer and 1st-round draft pick. He also worked with All-Pro NFLer Nnamdi Asomugha.

Some fans might remember that while Cal's teams weren't particularly successful during the late 90's, the "Hit Squad" defense was known for making big plays. In contrast to earlier teams, the Hit Squad defensive backs actually looked back and fought for the ball. Unfortunately, this was a still a Cal defense...which meant the tight end often ran unimpeded down the middle of the field and that no distance on 3rd down could ever truly be considered "long."

Coach Buh reportedly likes to mix up man and zone as a type of hybrid defense. How well and quickly our young secondary develops will likely determine whether we dare play tighter press coverage or go with a more conservative "keep everything in front" cushion. It would also go a long way towards helping our secondary play if we're able to generate a consistent pass rush from our front seven.

Secondary Depth Chart:

LC: Stefan McClure(So)/Adrian Lee(Jr)
SS: Avery Sebastian(Jr)/Damariay Drew(Fr)
FS: Alex Logan(Sr)/Michael Lowe(Jr)
BC: Kameron Jackson(Jr)/Isaac Lapite(Jr)

Also: Jason Gibson(So), Cedric Dozier(RS Fr), Trey Cheek(Fr), Darius Allensworth(Fr), Cameron Walker(Fr)

After an impressive debut as a true frosh, Stefan McClure suffered a devastating knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2012. Assuming that he has returned to form, he's got a unique blend of quickness and instincts to be an outstanding cover corner. All he needs is experience...and in the pass-happy Pac-12 that is likely to come quickly. Kameron Jackson still haunts Brett Hundley's dreams after picking him off three times last October. A standout as both a nickel back and fill-in starting corner, he'll look to build upon his strong performance last year. As the most experienced member of this thin and green secondary, he'll need to be our rock. He showed great improvement in his tackling and ball skills from his freshman to sophomore campaigns.

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via i.imgur.com

Inexplicably, Avery Sebastian was designated as a backup at the beginning of last season. When he did get playing time, he immediately made an impact as both a pass rusher and a tackling machine. Pound for pound, he might be the hardest hitter on the team. Already capable of being a one-man wrecking crew, he still needs to work on his coverage skills to become an all-conference performer. With his work ethic and charisma, he's a strong candidate to be a leader in the secondary and of the whole defense. Sebastian is already a fan favorite thanks to stepping up with his declaration of "we all we got, we all we need" in the response unexpected coaching departures and the ensuing fallout.

Alex Logan was listed as the other starting safety out of spring ball, but will get pushed by Michael Lowe throughout fall camp. He's a heady player who knows how to get the defense lined up and where he needs to be. However, he's struggled when forced to match up against superior athletes.

Michael Lowe bounced back from a tough leg injury to re-join the safety rotation last season. He was previously a special teams standout with a penchant for big hits. Although he's a physical player with good size, being consistent in coverage is still an area for improvement.

Adrian Lee is known for his speed, but has yet to distinguish himself by earning significant reps. He's been out-competed in the past by a number of younger corners.

Isaac Lapite is a walk-on who got plenty of reps during the spring. He's a bit undersized, though he'll compete.

Demariay Drew is known for his physical style of play, but lacks experience flying around out there. Many local coaches felt that he was by far the best all-around player in the East Bay Athletic League. However, he flew under the radar because his school is a perennial doormat.

Jason Gibson was a highly regarded DE/OLB known for his pass rushing ability out of high school. In order to get him more playing time, he was moved to MLB last year and was one of the stars of the 2012 spring camp before a broken foot cost him his season. He was held out of contact drills this past spring while recovering, but is expected to be back for fall camp. *UPDATE* Jason has undergone another position change to safety. He should be strong against the run, but we'll have to see how well he adapts to pass coverage.

Cedric Dozier was a highly-rated consensus 4* dual-threat athlete in high school who made the switch from wide receiver to corner last year. He's supposed to have quick feet and great ball skills.

Coach Dykes has already mentioned that we may very well rely on one or more of the true frosh to contribute immediately. He singled out Cameron Walker as someone who might earn early playing time.

I love his maturity on the back end as a corner. I think he'll come in and compete hard from day one. I think he's a very bright young man and will adjust quickly.

Darius Allensworth had offers from UCLA and Arizona as well as Wisconsin. He didn't get as much recruiting notice due to an ACL injury suffered early in his senior year, but still warranted a 4* rating. After the coaching change, a number of schools made a run at him, but he stuck with Cal calling his commitment a 10 out of 10.

Trey Cheek was hand-picked by 13-year NFL veteran Ashley Ambrose for an early offer. Despite some academic road bumps, he persevered and qualified. You've got to appreciate a kid who loves what Cal stands for and really wants to be here.

There's really no way to sugar-coat it; this position group is a huge area of concern. With so many teams playing 3 and 4 WR formations, there's a lot of pressure on new DB coach Randy Stewart to get backups and newcomers alike ready to be thrown into the fire.

Sadly enough, rude welcomings tend to be more the norm than the exception for inexperienced defensive backs in the Pac-12.

Defensive Backs Summary:

Position Coach: Randy Stewart

Probable Strengths:

Run support. Sebastian often looks like a guided missile the way he'll diagnose and blow up plays.

Outside coverage. Jackson and McClure should be solid as starting corners with the potential to be great.

Possible Weaknesses:

Depth. More than any other position group on the team, we can't afford any injuries here.

Inexperience. Many players in the two deeps have seen limited to no real game action.

Slot/Middle Coverage. We don't have a proven nickelback or safety that excels in coverage.

Biggest Questions:

Will someone step up as our 3rd and 4th cornerbacks?

Will we get improved safety play versus the passing game?

Fall Camp Preview Series:

QB Oline WR/TE RB DLine

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