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Cal Football Spring Position Battles: The Secondary

In one of the more surprising moves of the off-season, Coach Tedford opted to replace secondary coach Al Simmons with long-time NFL veteran Ashley Ambrose. CGB talked it over in a roundtable here. The exact reasons will probably never come out, but it's speculated that we'd like to force more turnovers. Easier said than done, of course, especially without having a fearsome pass rush. Ambrose did a good job with Colorado's standout corner duo (Smith and Brown), and has a reputation for being a strong recruiter. He'll need to hit the ground running because we have uncertainty at safety and are very thin at the corner. With so many Pac-12 teams using some variant of the spread, we're either going to rely on young and inexperienced corners, or try to compensate by playing an extra safety.

Marc Anthony(Jr) - Played capably in his first year as a starter. Did get picked on at times, but was rarely out of position. Hard to fault a guy for getting beaten by NFL-talent at QB/WR. Compares favorably with a young Hughes, Syd, Mixon - none of them broke out until they were upper classmen.

Steve Williams(So) - "Speedy" has been called the fastest CB ever to play at Cal. Undersized, but tough. Had to battle through some injury issues, but played well for a first year starter. If he stays healthy, could be a great player.

Vachel Samuels(So?) - Lost a year due to a serious injury and contemplated medical retirement. Has been participating in spring workouts and might be able to return to the team. Doesn't have his previous speed, but has good size/strength for a DB.

Adrian Lee(Fr*) - A fast and tough prospect out of Texas. Still recovering from shoulder surgery. If healthy, he's in the mix as nickel back. Was timed in the 40 at 4.31.

Joel Willis(Fr) - Fantastic hops. Will go up and battle for the ball. Not just a cover guy, shows a willingness to stick his nose in and play run support. Definitely has a turbo button and can kick it into another gear when needed. Enrolls in the fall.

Kameron Jackson(Fr) - Looks like he played a lot of zone. Good closing and recovery speed when the ball is in the air. Showed the ability to blanket a guy and outjump/outfight him in man, too. Enrolls in the fall.

Stefan McClure(Fr) - Dante Hughes' ball skills + Syd's tackling ability. Will absolutely stick guys. Incredible athlete. Great hops and anticipation. Plays the ball as well or better in the air than most receivers. Enrolls in the fall.

Projected Depth Chart:
LCB: Williams/Lee

RCB: Anthony/Samuels

Nickel: McClure/Lee/Samuels

Dime: Lee/Samuels/Willis/Jackson

Overview: The starters should be set (Anthony/Williams) and ought to build on their experience last year. Depth is a big issue. Anthony/Williams have a been a little nicked during spring workouts. Neither one is particularly big, so injuries will be a concern all year. With Samuels/Lee coming off of injury and also lacking experience, we might find ourselves relying heavily on true frosh in the two-deeps. Historically, true frosh get eaten alive by top-flight Div-I WR's. (see Thompson, Syd vs. Tenn) The young guys are athletic and have talent, but they're going to get burned at times. Matching up with larger receivers remains an issue with only two corners listed at 6'0. (Anthony & Samuels)

Biggest Questions: Who is our 3rd and 4th DB when we face spread teams? Can the young guys play, or will we need to slide a safety into coverage?

DJ Campbell(Sr) - Good mix of size and speed. Did a nice job in limited time as a backup last year. Showed good instincts against the run. His ability to play the ball in the air is still unproven. Should challenge for starting snaps.

Sean Cattouse(Sr) - Showed great ball skills and anticipation as an underclassman. Loves to go for the big hit, but is sometimes overly aggressive and gets out of position. Limited most of last year with injury. If he can learn to pick his spots for laying the wood and play a more disciplined game, this could be his breakout year.

CJ Moncrease(Sr) - Previous JC transfer from Laney. Strong contributor on special teams and played well as a backup. Steady player.

Josh Hill(Jr) - Smart player who has been called a "coach on the field." Switched over from corner last year. Will need to use his instincts to play faster or could get supplanted by our young talent. If he can up his game and cover the slot, we might play 3 safeties in nickel situations instead of going with a true frosh cornerback. Academically ineligible this spring and finishing some coursework at a local JC. Reportedly should be able to return this fall.

Alex Logan(So) - Special teams contributor who was a top safety prospect. Has good size (6'2, 210) and will continue to provide depth.

Michael Coley(Fr*) - The coaching staff is high on his upside. Shows a knack for knowing where to be, has the speed to get there, and the size to make big stops. Will definitely contribute on special teams. May challenge for time in the two-deeps.

Avery Walls(Fr) - Doesn't just tackle guys - it's a violent explosion when he arrives at the ball carrier. Shows a lot of range. His ability to wrap guys up is a little reminiscent of a shorter DeCoud. Enrolled early in the spring and has been already wreaking terror in workouts. Too good to keep off the field, even as a true frosh.

Jordan Morgan(Fr) - Smart player. Makes good reads in coverage and shows a nice mix of ball-hawking and big hits. Almost a combo of Conte/Cattouse. Really shifty with the ball in his hands. Will likely redshirt. Enrolls in the fall.

Projected Depth Chart:

FS: Cattouse/Hill(?)

SS: Campbell/Walls

Overview: This position has been a question mark for the past couple of years. McClesky was great. DeCoud was great. Gutierrrez/Giordano were a great tandem. Since then, it's been hit/miss. Conte stepped up last year, but the other safety was filled by committee. It's wide open for the starting spots. Cattouse should be the guy, but hasn't been disciplined enough to be the last line of defense. Campbell has played well at times as a backup. He's more a run-stopper than a ball-hawk. Hill is a smart player, but may be a bit of a tweener with regards to size/speed and hasn't shown much playmaking ability yet. Walls could be the best of them all if you're willing to accept his inexperience. How well this position performs could have a big impact on our personnel packages. If one or more of the safeties proves to better in coverage than the young corners, we might go with a three safety look instead of a traditional nickel. Or, we might switch things up and put more speed on the field by going with a run-stopping safety instead of a fourth linebacker like we did last year.

Biggest Questions: Who will be the starting safeties? Who will play in nickel and dime coverages?

Next up:
"Special" Teams