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Cal football: What can the struggling defense do to improve this offseason?

What are your thoughts on the Cal defense wasting a historically great season by the Jared Goff and the Bear Raid? Do you think our defense just doesn't have the bodies, our DC didn't bring the right gameplan, our coaches aren't getting improvement from these guys, or a mixture of both?

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boomtho: It sucks. (Not a super deep thought, right?) We had the offensive firepower to compete with most of the good teams in the league, but we knew that coming into the year. We knew the defense would be bad, so again that didn't surprise me. I think Kaufman, through the first 2/3 of the season, did a pretty decent job given the bodies we had. He minimized blitzing (which I know some people disliked), kept bodies in front of the secondary, and tried to make teams march down the field (which they largely did, to be fair). As the season went on, however, the coaching seemed to get worse. There were more breakdowns, more missed tackles, and a frustrating lack of in-game adjustments (oh look, Agholor just took another simple screen/swing for 10 yards).

That's a long winded way of saying that I think we had multiple problems: we didn't have the bodies (especially at pass rushing spots and in the secondary) and the coaching seemed to let us down more in the second half of the season.

Next year will be the real test for the defensive staff. We need an above average defense next year... or I think we're looking for new coaches.

Vlad Belo: Football is a team game, so I hate to say necessarily that the defense "wasted" a prolifically good offense. The defense had its moments this season (e.g., vs. Washington, the first half vs. Arizona, much of the NW game, most of the Oregon State game).

But I suppose we have to call a spade a spade: the defense was the weaker unit on this team and a better defense might have made more games winnable this season. I tend to think our defense doesn't have the bodies, first and foremost: if we did, we wouldn't have had to move Bryce McGovern to safety. But I do think that it's fair to look at the game plans that Kaufman devised this season. It seemed clear to me that the weakest link of our defense was coverage in the secondary. So there comes a point where you have to decide whether to drop more into coverage or try and get more pressure on the QB to reduce the amount of time that the DBs have to cover.

We tried the former A LOT, with limited success. I would have liked to see us take the other approach more and blitz to put pressure on the QB. I realize that we tried that, too, also with mixed results. In the BYU game, for instance, we probably brought a linebacker more than any other game this season, got 3 sacks, but still got torched for 433 yards passing. With this group, you could say it was a "pick your poison" scenario. But if our guys were going to get torched in the secondary, I would have preferred to see us at least try to get more pressure on the QB and force a mistake here and there.

And as someone (whom I won't call out here) pointed out to me: if we blitz more, at least the other team will score faster and we can get the offense back out there.

Leland Wong: It seems excessively negative to say the defense "wasted" Goff and the offense's efforts. None of us were too happy with the defensive results overall, but it's not like those guys were just hanging around and twiddling their thumbs. They gave their time, effort and body and I'm not crazy about being so dismissive to their contributions.

Well, nitpicking aside, onto the meat of the question. I think our defensive shortcomings are due to all of those factors to some extent (which is the great wishy-washy kind of contributions you've come to expect out of me). We're still suffering from injuries to critical positions on the defense, though nowhere near as bad as the 2013 season. Every safety on the two-deep missed considerable time and we lost our best pass rusher--Brennan Scarlett--during the fifth game of the season. Compounded with our misses in recruiting, transfers, and early entrants to the draft, and I don't think it's much of a stretch to see that we were running out of players to even put on the field. We had to turn three receivers into safeties (Griffin Piatt, Bryce McGovern, and Patrcik Worstell) just to play football.

On that note, let's talk about our staffs ability to coach up these players. On one hand, I grew nauseous watching our defense continue to take the wrong angles and turn short gains into first downs against teams like UCLA. On the other hand, these coaches turned two receivers into quality safeties. Piatt was on Phil Steele's All-Conference second-team before suffering a season-ending injury. McGovern switched to defense out of necessity late in the season, but was coached up to always find his way to the ball.

Improving on defense seems like it's going to take awhile for us. We have to hope the coaches can recruit the right players who can make immediate impacts, get them to improve and develop, and call the right plays that take advantage of their strengths.