Cal Football Fall Camp Preview: The Linebackers

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

This group should be a position of strength for the defense. The starters are all fast and experienced while there's plenty of young talent waiting in the wings. With depth concerns in the secondary, we'll need this group to be strong in coverage because we may not be able to play a lot of nickel/dime packages.

Although linebacking is Buh's area of expertise, don't expect a lot of exotic blitzes. Similar to the Dykes/Franklin approach on offense, he prefers to keep the scheme simple and rely on good fundamentals and execution.

Before we collectively panic over a "bend, but don't break" or vanilla scheme, keep it mind that it can be very successful. This is the same type of defense that Mike Riley has used to good effect for years at Oregon State. It's also the same scheme and philosophy employed by Pete Carroll (sans illegal benefits) during his run at 'sc.


Linebackers:
SAM: Jalen Jefferson(So)/Michael Barton(Fr)
MIKE: Nick Forbes(Jr)/Hardy Nickerson, Jr.(Fr)
WILL: Khairi Fortt(Jr)/Nathan Broussard(So)/David Wilkerson(Jr)

Also: Lucas King(Jr), Chad Whitener(Fr), Edward Tandy(Fr), Johnny Ragin(Fr)

Nick Forbes is the clear leader here and an emerging star. It usually takes MLBs a year of adjustment before they really come into their own. He was already showing signs of being a real difference-maker towards the end of last season. He's got the speed and instincts to be strong against the run or pass as well as providing a blitzing threat. With a year of starting experience under his belt, expect him to play even faster.

Khairi Fortt already has extensive Div-I playing experience from his time at Penn State. Now healed from his knee injury, he's looking to knock the rust off and use his veteran's savvy to be a disruptive force. He's fast enough to cover or blitz, but also strong enough to shed blockers.

Jalen Jefferson was thrown into the fire last year because of injuries. He responded admirably and quickly developed into our best cover linebacker before getting hurt himself. A part-time safety in high school, he's another guy who can really run.

David Wilkerson played well enough to earn playing time as a true frosh. An inside linebacker in high school, he was fast enough to see snaps as an edge rusher on the outside. He's another freak athlete who showed big-play potential and the ability to explode through ball carriers. Unfortunately, each of the past two seasons has been de-railed by recurrent foot/ankle injuries.

Nathan Broussard has played both inside and outside as needed. He's another young buck that stepped up when needed last year. He was one of the spring standouts who was always around the ball.

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.

Michael Barton was one of the stars on the De La Salle team that steam-rolled Zach Kline's San Ramon Valley Wolves. He was last year's Scout Team POY and freshman lifter of the year. Listed as highly as the #10 inside linebacker nationally out of high school, he's got an incredible knack for reading plays and flowing through traffic.

Hardy Nickerson, Jr. is a familiar name for long-time Cal fans. Here's hoping he follows the same career arc as his father whose play got him enshrined in the Cal Athletics Hall of Fame. He's not the biggest linebacker, but he's known for his instincts and quickness.

Lucas King is a home-grown player from nearby Berkeley High who has earned Scout Team honors in the past.

With the experience and talent at this position, it's likely that the incoming freshmen will all redshirt.

Per Khairi Fortt:


"... I think [Buh] understands the athleticism he has with this defense. It's almost like a hybrid defense. There's a little bit of zone, but a lot of times I'm playing man-to-man because of the trust he has in us being an athletic group. We can keep teams guessing because we're good enough to play man or zone."

Linebackers Summary

Position Coach: Andy Buh

Probable Strengths:

Athleticism. Everyone can run. Even the "slower" 'backers play fast because of their instincts.

Experience. Forbes and Fortt are veterans. Jefferson, Broussard and Wilkerson have all seen time.

Talent. Plenty of stars throughout the two-deep.

Potential Weaknesses:

Pass rushing ability. Guys have speed. But no one has emerged yet as a Follett-like menace.

Tight ends. 'Cuz. You know.

Biggest Questions:

On paper, this is one of the team's strengths. Will this unit be the backbone of the defense?

Will Coach Buh be blitz-happy, or prefer to keep his 'backers in the box?

Can we afford to keep our OLBs in on passing downs, or swap them out for nickel/dime backs?

Fall Camp Preview Series:

QB Oline WR/TE RB Dline DB

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