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Roundtable: Previewing Cal's linebacking corps

Our tour through each position group continues with a look at a group that should be very different this year.

Can Jalen Jefferson lead an improved showing from Cal's LBs?
Can Jalen Jefferson lead an improved showing from Cal's LBs?
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

TwistNHook: How do you see the LBs doing in 2014?

Avinash Kunnath: I see them seeing the field as little as possible to make way for the secondary.

It's not that they're not trustworthy--Jalen Jefferson is as close as to a mainstay we've had on this volatile defense, and Michael Barton saw plenty of time last season. But losing Nathan Broussard was a critical blow. Seeing David Wilkerson, Johnny Ragin III and Chad Whitener walk elsewhere wasn't ideal. Having to pray that Hardy Nickerson gets healthy as soon as possible is not where you want to be in September.

So Cal now has a motley crew of backups that I am having trouble naming. One of Ray Davison, Edward Tandy or Devante Downs will probably be starting in 4-3 units, which probably means Kaufman and company will do their best to go nickel, stay nickel, upgrade to dime, and hope that Nickerson heals up enough to helm the Mike by the time we hit mid-October. Otherwise we will have a lot of struggles here.

Do you think Cal can get away with playing nickel much of the season? Who are the teams where we'll have to play three linebackers constantly this season? I see Furd and USC, but who else?

boomtho: I am worried about the LB's. Like Avi says, we've seen significant attrition due to people leaving/transferring as well as Broussard's injury, and the season hasn't even started. This wasn't the most talented group by any means to begin with, but now it appears that even treading water will be a minor miracle. Hopefully Kaufman finds a way to get more production from the DL which will make the LB's jobs slightly easier.

Nick Kranz: In a way, this group will be an interesting little coaching experiment. What happens when you remove a replacement level coach with someone who is presumably NOT a replacement level coach? That question applies to the entire defense generally, but probably the linebackers more than any other unit. We perceive that this unit is low on talent, but the accuracy of our perceptions will be revealed this year, assuming that Kaufman is in fact the above-average coach we all believe he is.

Leland Wong: This is the doomiest of groups in my opinion. I think we have a solid crew of starters, especially with Barton, Jefferson, and Nickerson (hopefully) rapidly maturing after being thrown into action last year. But we basically have no depth beyond them... We've lost our only other two experienced players in Broussard and Jason Gibson (both to injuries of varying degrees). So, our depth consists of players with scout and high school experience.

Like Avi says, we'll probably be playing a lot of nickel to compensate for the lack of LB depth, which will be a necessity anyway in the pass-heavy Pac-12.

Scott Chong: Before fall camp, it was an unofficial competition between the linebackers and defensive backs to see whether we'd be playing a lot of nickel or staying base. With Broussard out and Lowe stepping up his game, I could see us playing a lot of big nickel using Sebastian (when healthy) in the box where he excels in run support. And as mentioned above, we'll see a lot of Allensworth in the slot against spread teams. Yes, when you look at the two-deep, we're alarmingly young here and we're relying on JuCo's Jake Kearney and Arthur Wainwright to get up to speed quickly as reserves. Even so, Jefferson is solid and I think Barton will be a break-out playmaker this year. Still not sure what we'll get out of Uncle Ray Davison, Edward Tandy, or Devante Downs, but they've all flashed potential in camp. This is where Kaufman is supposed to excel; creating a scheme that allows young players to play fast and use their instincts/athleticism.

Vlad Belo: When Cal released the preseason depth chart, I liked what I saw in one respect: the starters were listed as Jalen Jefferson at the Sam, Michael Barton at the Will, and Nathan Broussard at the Mike. Those are three good, smart football players, IMO. I was concerned, however, about depth. We have a lot of inexperience after that. And we have to see how healthy Nickerson is.

Now, with Broussard out, my concern only grew. This unit may turn out to be good, but it will be because someone we know very little about right now steps up and shows something. Kind of like I didn't know what to expect in 1991, and the half-shirted Jerrott Willard showed us he was a player as a freshman. (Okay, maybe that's expecting a lot, but I can dream.) Who is going to be that guy?

Avinash: According to many reports, Ray Davison will get the start against Northwestern. What do you think of his highlight tape, CGB community?

And what are your thoughts on Cal's linebackers in 2014?