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Cal Football Roundtable: The Future of the Defense

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Maybe I'll just play seven linemen...
Maybe I'll just play seven linemen...

Kodiak: As if screen passes in the flat, and tight ends running free down the seams weren't enough of a Cal tradition, next year we have to replace the entire middle of our defense. Without the underrated DJ Holt and the dynamic Mychal Kendricks at inside linebacker, are we in trouble? We also replace a trio of senior safeties in Cattouse, Campbell, and Moncrease. But, much has been made of the incredible young talent recruited for the defensive side of the ball. Are they ready? Do you see the defense taking a step forward, or back?

Berkelium97: The young defense might not reach its potential until midway through the season, but I am really looking forward to year 3 under Pendergast.

One of the criticisms I have had against Pendergast over the past two years is that he tends to devise solid schemes, but his players are not always equipped to execute well enough for the defense to succeed. And when they don't do well, he has trouble putting them back into positions where they can succeed. A great example was the UCLA game. We usually had a safety responsible for containing Kevin Prince when he kept the ball on a run. How often did he fail to contain Prince due to a poor angle or a bad tackle? We kept running the same scheme, but it continued to fail. Pendergast didn't necessarily do much to fix it and as a result Prince had one of the best games of his career.

With another crop of exceptionally talented athletes, Pendergast ought to have some better execution over the next few years. It's not necessarily a coaching problem--DBs, LBs, and the D-line have all had great individual performances over the past two years, but we have not yet had a complete lineup of excellent players. With talented youngsters in the secondary (our biggest problem spot over the years), Pendergast ought to have the pieces necessary to put together a solid defense. It may take time for everyone to get a sufficient comfort level with the defense, but once we get some experience, the rest of the Pac-12 should watch out.

Ohio Bear: I expect growing pains and a learning curve. We missed Desmond Bishop more than many thought we would. Then we missed Worrell Williams more than we thought we would. Then we missed Mike Mohamed maybe more than we thought we would. So I am not about to believe that we can lose the Pac-12 defensive player of the year AND DJ Holt and expect to not miss a beat at LB. Couple that with losing veteran safeties (Cattouse and Campbell) and I see a defense trying to find itself in the early part of the season. I also wonder if we'll see...anyone starting at safety as a true freshman.

I'm excited by the potential. There's talent there at LB and S. And I like our returning corners -- I like what I've seen in Steve Williams and Stefan McClure. (Here's hoping for a full and speedy recovery for McClure.)

We will take a step forward defensively. Maybe just not right away.

TwistNHook: We should be seeing an improvement, hopefully soon, in the D. And that is an improvement based on an already pretty solid D. We've had some really good recruiting classes in the last few years, especially on the DLIne (TOSH :(!). Those players who we were creepily following on Twitter as 18 year high school seniors are now sophomores and juniors at Cal.

Players like Gabe King, Mustafa Jalil, and Tiny will hopefully be ready to step up to the plate and dominate. If all this talent on the DLine really blooms the way we've been promised by the recruitniks, then it could really, really, really help anchor an improved D.

And Cal's D has been one of the best in the Pac-12 in the last few years. This could be truly special. Hopefully, we can cut down on the embarrassing national blowouts. Hopefully, we can return to a D like 2008 where we just crushed everybody in sight!

Kodiak: Turmoil aside, there's a lot of potential in the defense.

It looks like the Dline should be the strength of the team, assuming that we make a solid hire at this position. When healthy, Tipoti really played well last year. He and Payne provide a nice senior rotation at the nose. And another year of working with Blasquez plus some coaching on technique should earn Tiny more playing time. Moose Jalil and Deandre Coleman were regulars in the DE rotation towards the end of last year and would be first in line to start. But, you also have highly touted guys like Todd Barr, Puka Lopa, and Gabe King all waiting in the wings.

At linebacker, I'd expect Wilkerson to move back inside. We'll have a rotation on the outside between McCain, Whiteside, and Campo. Guys like Jason Gibson and Brennan Scarlett might also demand snaps. The other inside spot is a question mark. Mullins took the snaps there last year when Kendricks was out. But, HS AA Nick Forbes should be recovered from his ankle injury. Fanua is the other guy who has played at times inside.

At corner, it's nice to have two experienced starters in Anthony and Williams. Depth is still a concern, particularly after McClure's devastating knee injury. I wouldn't expect him to come back next year. And, in fact, it might be better to let him blueshirt to get fully healthy. Kam Jackson was the next guy in line. He played well in limited time. Joel Willis and Adrian Lee would be the other guys who might be ready. (Willis might switch to WR)

Safety is another huge question mark. I'd expect Avery Sebastian to control one starting spot. The other is a toss-up between Josh Hill, Michael Coley(if healthy), and maybe an uber-frosh recruit. (fingers crossed) How well the young guys play probably determines whether Hill stays at nickel or switches back to safety.

This is a defense that might struggle a bit with their reads early, but should get tougher later in the year. Historically, new inside linebackers and safeties struggle a bit before the game slows down. However, we've never replaced veterans with such high-level athletes/recruits before. It will be really interesting to see how the depth chart plays out and what Pendergast and the position coaches decided to do with all this potential.