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Bay Area Backers - Cal Football's Linebackers In 2011

TwistNHook: Cal has been extremely lucky with linebackers these last few years. Running backs and linebackers have been our speciality. This year, all eyes are on Mychal Kendricks, who is receiving many pre-season honors, including inclusion on the Butkis Award List:

Mychal Kendricks received yet more preseason recognition on Thursday when he was named to the collegiate watch list for the 2011 Butkus Award® that identifies the best linebackers in the country for both the collegiate and high school levels for the first time in his career.

Kendricks adds to his list of 2011 preseason honors, which include national recognition as a preseason honorable mention All-American choice of and previous selections to watch lists for the Bednarik Award, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, the Lott IMPACT Trophy and the College Football Performance Awards Linebacker Trophy.

Kendricks has played in all 38 games possible at Cal from 2008-10 with 18 career starts, all in the last two seasons. His 38 games played are tied for the most by any active Cal player heading into the 2011 campaign that he begins as the Golden Bears' active career leader in tackles (152), tackles for loss (22.0, -85 yards), sacks (10.5, -69 yards), fumble recoveries (5) and blocked kicks (1)

LeonPowe: I think after running backs, linebackers are the most consistent postion we've had at Cal during the Tedford years. We've never really had a bad year - and we've always had good backers in place, even if the defense hasn't always been good.

In the early parts of the year, I'm always most excited to see the development of highly regards recruits or guys who have been reported to be tearing up the scout team or practice - and that group is Wilkerson, Fanua and Forbes. Also, with the practice reports about McCain and Whiteside AND DJ Holt who should be the other rock in the LB alongside Kendricks - this sounds like a deep and talented group. I tend to worry about a lot of things - but Cal's linebacking group, I don't lose sleep over.

HydroTech: I really think this is one of the most exciting positions for fans to watch on Cal's defense. It just seems like we have a plethora of really talented players all across the board at every position. Whiteside... Wilkerson... Forbes... Kendricks... Gibson... And most amazingly, most of these guys are pretty young too. I could definitely see this younger group of Linebackers being that dominant group like Worrell Williams, Anthony Felder, Desmond Bishop, Zack Follett, and Mickey Pimentel who just dominated on defense for a good three consecutive years or so. I think Cal is going to be pretty well off at the LB for at least the next three years or so barring any unfortunate injuries. There might be a few growing pains this year since so many players are young, but the talent is there... and the potential is high.

Kodiak: We're definitely set in the middle with Holt and Kendricks. I'm a little concerned with the depth behind them. With Forbes limited in camp due to a slow recovery from off-season ankle surgery, that leaves the backups in the middle as Fanua and Mullins. To put it politely, both were somewhat up and down when filling in for Mike Mohammed last year. But to be fair, most young linebackers struggle. Mohammed, Holt, and Kendricks all struggled initially when they had to fill-in for Williams/Felder/Follet; in fact, that was the worst Cal defense that we've had during the Tedford era. Although they were all faster and more athletic than the departing seniors, they lacked experience, particularly with regards to pass coverage.

Fast-forward to today, and we once again have inexperienced starters at the outside backer positions. With Wilkerson on one side and either McCain/Whiteside/Davis on the other, we have plenty of big-play potential. These young guys can really run and hit. I'm excited to see if someone emerges as as Follett-type of pass-rusher who can beat a blocker one on one. If someone can step-up, it will really open up the defense. Instead of relying on blitzes to get pressure, we could get pressure out of our base (rush 4) look - and that's how you put together an absolutely dominating defense.

Where I'm worried is with misdirection and pass coverage. Youth on the edges + an aggressive scheme means that we're probably going to give up some big plays. I just hope we make enough big plays to even things out.

TwistNHook: Looks like there are a lot of potential starters at LB:

Tedford said the two-deep depth chart still isn’t completely finalized. He also said that sophomore Dan Camporeale took the first reps at outside linebacker opposite David Wilkerson. There appears to be a big logjam at that position, with Chris McCain, Cecil Whiteside and Ryan Davis also in the mix. Tedford reiterated that he expects them all to get playing time but won’t decide on a starter until sometime this weekend.

LeonPowe: Count me among those who was surprised to read that Camporeale remained in this mix. We heard little to nothing about him during training camp, hearing mostly about how McCain and Whiteside had emerged as as freshmen ready to make a contribution at the OLB position.