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Cal linebackers preview: Hardy Nickerson, Jalen Jefferson, Michael Barton form steadiest defensive group?

With uncertainty in the secondary and question marks about the pass rush, the linebackers have to be the steady, reliable position group of the defense under Art Kaufman. Who will the Bears be relying on to captain the defense?

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Dick Butkus. Ray Lewis. Brian Urlacher. Lawrence Taylor. Linebacker is probably my all-time favorite defensive position group. I have always felt as though the linebackers set the tone for the entire defense. Whether it be emotionally or mentally, the leader of any great defense is typically a linebacker.

Look at the Seattle Seahawks, for instance. The Legion of Boom garners the bulk of media praise and attention, but when Bobby Wagner is out of the lineup the defense does not look nearly as strong. His intensity sets the tone. The rest of the defense feeds off of his energy.

Cal has had some awesome linebackers come through over the last 10 plus years. Mychal Kendricks, Mike Mohammed, Worrell Williams, Desmond Bishop, Anthony Felder and Zack Follett, among others.

This season's crew of linebackers looks set to keep the tradition of linebacker play alive and well at Memorial Stadium. The linebackers are the steadiest position group on the defensive side of the ball this season. Between Hardy Nickerson (JR), Jalen Jefferson (SR), Michael Barton (JR) and Jake Kearney (JR) the Bears will get solid contributions from the linebackers, especially in run support.

Here's how the depth chart looks for the linebackers:

SAM (strongside): Kearney, Aisea Tongilava (SO)

MIKE (middle): Nickerson, Ray Davison (SO), Hamilton Anoa'i (SO), Nathan Broussard (SR)

WILL (weakside):  Jefferson, Barton, Devante Downs (SO)

Expect to see a lot of rotating among the linebackers this season.

The Bears' base defense is once again a 4-3, but as is becoming a trend at all levels of football, more defensive backs are needed on the field as more teams utilize the spread offense. Expect the Bears to utilize the 4-2-5 defense when facing a spread attack. What this means is that a linebacker will leave the field and a third cornerback will take his place in the defense.

Caleb Coleman (SO), Cameron Walker (JR) and Tre Turner (FR) are the top three nickel cornerbacks on the depth chart.

When you look at the linebackers as a whole, you see that they are mostly sure tacklers and they swarm to the football, but we aren't likely to see much in the way of pass rushing from any of them. Though the Bears have just one senior likely to see significant time at linebacker this is an experienced group, considering the Bears have had to play a lot of young players on defense throughout the past few seasons.

2014 defensive statistics

Barton: 80 tackles, 1.5 sacks

Nickerson: 69 tackles, 1 interception

Jefferson: 58 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 interception

Kearney: 40 tackles, 1 interception

Downs: 34 tackles, 3 sacks

Any pass rushing we can get from the group would be a bonus, but don't expect a ton more sacks. An uptick in interceptions would be nice as well, and is a realistic goal since this will be the team's second season in defensive coordinator Art Kaufman's scheme.

Hungry for more about the linebackers? Well, CGB's very own Eugene Choo conducted an interview with Nickerson and Barton and you can read it here.

How do you guys feel about the linebackers this season?