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Cal Football Spring Position Battles: The D Line

Welcome back, true believers. When last we met, we took a look at the Cal offense heading into the spring. (Oline. WR/TE. TB/FB. QB.)

Next up, a closer look at the defense. Statistically, our defense took a big step forward last year. In terms of pure excitement and big plays, we were much more aggressive with our blitzes and with getting after the opposing quarterback. But from a results standpoint, we also had some games where we were absolutely steam-rolled and seemed to have no answers. And perhaps the most concerning fact is that when we really needed key stops, (vs. Arizona, vs. UW, vs. Oregon) we simply didn't get it done. In fairness, the defense was often put in tough spots because our struggles on offense resulted in losing either the time of possession or the field position battles. We sure as heck weren't bending but not breaking. Was this an improvement?

CGB Roundtable here.

Our best player from each level of the defense departs, (Chris Conte, Mike Mohammed, Cameron Jordan) yet the future seems bright with the best back to back recruiting classes in Cal history; especially with most of the blue-chippers on the defensive side of the ball. But even the brightest young talent usually takes time to grow and develop.

So, the jury is still out for both Coach Pendergast as he moves into year #2. Here's hoping that as the coach is more familiar with the Pac-10/12 and the players have more time in his system, that we see an increased level of comfort and proficiency.

First up, a look at the Dline:

Defensive Line:

Trevor Guyton(Sr, DE) - The "other guy" who was often overshadowed by Cam Jordan's brilliance. Platooned w/ Owusu (who often started). Was steady all year and really came on strong towards the end of last year. Although not a speed rusher, he's tough enough to set the edge against the run and shows the ability to penetrate the pocket.

Ernie Owusu(Sr, DE) - The fastest of our linemen, he's tantalized us with his potential the last couple of years. It seems he'll have a breakout game featuring multiple sacks, and then be quiet. If there was ever a time for him to put it all together and learn to use his speed effectively, this would be the year.

Kendrick Payne(Jr, DT)
- Played well enough in camp last year to win the starting job over incumbent Derrick Hill, but was slowed by injuries throughout the year. He just wasn't the same guy down the stretch and had trouble holding the point of attack. Still limited in the spring due to shoulder surgery. He'll need to get healthy in a hurry if he's going to hold off the talented youngsters on the line.

Aaron Tipoti(Jr, DT) - Platooned with Payne and Hill at the nose. Also had issues with injuries, both real Still needs to get stronger if we're going to play him in the middle of a 3-4. Also might be limited this spring due to shoulder surgery.

Austin Clark (So, DT) - Blueshirt sophomore walk-on. Getting plenty of practice snaps with so many of the other defense tackles still recovering.

Deandre Coleman(So, DE) - Might have caused more "whoa" plays than any other Cal lineman last year. There were times when he just threw guys around. Only played in short bursts, so conditioning should be an emphasis this year. With his strength/size combo, I could see him getting some time inside, too.

Keni Kaufusi(So, DT)
- Got promising reviews out of camp for his strength until he hurt himself. Had to rehab a serious shoulder injury for almost all of last year. If he's healthy, it would be great to see what he can do.

Gabe King(Fr*, DE)
- Redshirted last year while recovering from injury. Although he lacks experience, he has a ton of physical ability. Could work his way into the rotation.

Todd Barr(Fr, DT) - Awesome motor. Gets low and has fearsome leg drive. Should redshirt, but I wouldn't rule him out of playing if there's attrition in the trenches. Enrolls in the fall.

Mustafa Jalil(Fr, DT) - Strong, sturdy, and good in pursuit. Will likely redshirt. Enrolls in the fall.

Puka Lopa(Fr, DE) - Relentless. Maybe not the biggest/strongest guy, but he knows how to play. Great range and has a diverse skillset. Will likely redshirt. Enrolls in the fall.

Viliami Moala(Fr, NT) - The only true nose-tackle on the team. Might already be the strongest player in the Tedford era before starting workouts with Coach Blasquez. Probably won't start right away, but will definitely see the field. Enrolls in the fall.

Brennan Scarlett(Fr) - Listed with the linebackers for now. Could move to DE.

Projected Depth Chart:
DE: Guyton/King
DT: Payne/Tipoti/Moala
DE: Coleman/Owusu

Overview: Unlike previous years where there was a clear successor as the next star lineman, it's a little more uncertain this year. Our most talented players are very young, and we simply don't know if Tipoti/Payne/Owusu/Guyton will take that next step. We have a number of solid players; we may need them to play better as the sum of their parts until the young guys get themselves settled.

As great as Cam Jordan was, I'm more concerned with trying to replace Hill. There was a noticeable drop-off last year when he went out, particularly with regards to teams being able to run it straight at us. It'll be an interesting spring with regards to position battles and the depth chart.

From a philosophical standpoint, Coach Pendergast's emphasis on attacking upfield might help the young guys get game-ready faster because they don't have as many reads or decisions to make.

Biggest Questions: Who takes over for Derrick Hill at the nose and for Cameron Jordan on the end? Is there a pass-rusher in the house?

Next up: The Linebackers