The defense was inconsistent at best. We all knew in our heart of hearts that the prodigious rate of ball-hawking and Kraken releasing we saw early in the season cannot continue. However, few of us expected a massive drop-off of production by the D-line and secondary once Cal hit its main Pac-12 series of games. Next year we will see a departure of key contributors in all defensive units. Usually a large departure of players would spell a lean year in defensive production. However, considering how poorly the team played in the latter stretch of the season I do not foresee a large drop-off in relative production.
"But it ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." - R. Balboa
The passing defense left much to desire. Although the horrendous 2013 and 2014 seasons begin to fade away in my whiskey soaked memories, I had flashbacks to those moments this year. Especially when teams exploited the large holes in our zone schemes where the windows between safeties, corners, and linebackers were often exploited (out routes between the safeties and corners looked like our achilles heel in 2nd/3rd and long situations).
The D-line shall miss Mustafa Jalil and Kyle Kragen, the LBs will lose Jalen Jefferson, and the secondary will lose Stefan McClure and Cedric Dozier. All of them were key contributors in the passing defense.
Looking at the breakdown of the production that is departing we can see that the numbers support the fact that departing players were key contributors to Cal's defense
|Name||Pos||Ht, Wt||Year||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kyle Kragen||DE||6'2, 245||SR||54.5||7.10%||8||7||0||1||2||0|
|Stefan McClure||S||5'11, 205||SR||48||6.20%||3.5||1||0||3||0||1|
|Darius White||CB||6'0, 180||SR||48||6.20%||2||0||3||8||1||0|
|Jalen Jefferson||LB||6'2, 240||SR||46.5||6.00%||5||2||1||3||0||0|
|Michael Barton||LB||6'0, 240||JR||17.5||2.30%||1||0||1||0||0||0|
|Jonathan Johnson||DE||6'2, 245||SR||15||1.90%||4||2||0||0||0||0|
|Mustafa Jalil||DT||6'4, 315||SR||14||1.80%||2||1||0||0||1||0|
|Todd Barr||DE||6'2, 240||SR||11||1.40%||6||4||0||0||0||0|
|Puka Lopa||DE||6'1, 250||SR||9.5||1.20%||2||1||0||0||0||0|
|Nathan Broussard||LB||6'3, 245||SR||9.5||1.20%||0.5||0||0||1||1||0|
|Cedric Dozier||CB||5'10, 180||JR||8.5||1.10%||0.5||0||0||2||0||0|
This is the breakdown of the total missing production:
|Percentage of Total||41.81%||57.98%||72.00%||33.33%||47.37%||62.50%||100.00%|
"Once More Unto the Breach, dear friends" - Henry V
A lot of the departing players were D-Linemen which is worrying since weakening our already unimpressive unit. What I am hoping to see is Cam Saffle and Russell Ude, and Noah Westerfield can step up to replace and eclipse the production by the departing players. I like Saffle's athleticism, Ude's raw talent and what Westerfield showed on the field during the season. Furthermore, Rusty Becker ought to be an immediate contributor as a transfer, while as Evan Weaver can crack the rotation as a true freshman.
However, what is worrying is the lack of DT talent, besides Ude, to replace Moose. This can spell disaster to our ability to generate inside pass-rush pressure and run-stopping on inside rushers. Furthermore, the lack of depth in this position may cause the D-Line to wear out quicker than the average team. Thus causing the pressure to cease. This is compounded by the lack of depth in the LB corps, this I will address in the next section, can lead to opposing team to be able to run early and late in games and give the QB more time in late game stages to make deep-throws.
I am a firm believer that a good secondary play cannot mask an underperforming d-line but a good d-line can mask issues in the secondary. Thus a lot of the advanced statistics for next year will hinge on whether or not we can
"The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood" - T.Roosevelt
Linebackers for Cal have been a deep but an underwhelming unit this year. The reason for their performance in my view is the lack of athleticism of the starters on the unit. There were always moments where either Jalen or Hardy would be in the right place but a step too late or unable to seal the deal leading to a lot of tackles but also broken arm-tackles. The outlook continues to look bleak as the 2014-15 recruiting classes have , as of now, yielded 1 LB commit. I can see Nickerson being the leader of the defense next year as senior with Devante Downs being the athletic hammer of the LB corps.
What will worry me the most is how Cal can stop the intermediate throws in LB zones later in the games as our shallow LB rotation will cause our players to be exhausted.
"We Shall Fight with Growing Confidence and Growing Strength in the Air" - W.Churchill
Finally, defensive backs for Cal. Here we will be losing the vocal leader of the defense Stefan McClure whose presence at safety gave our defense stability and leadership to survive the oncoming onslaught through the air. Outside of the LB corps, my biggest worry is the lack of a good rotation of safeties. In this area I expect Billy McCreary, Evan Rambo and Tre Turner to duke it out at the safety spot next to Damariay Drew and Griffin Piatt. The issue is the fact that it is hard to project safety play, especially when I watched the games from the TV angle that didn't show safety play.
The one unit I am not worried about on pass-defense are our cornerbacks. As our defensive alignment begins to shifttowards a 4-2-5 system, the plethora of athletic, tall, and savvy DBs should lead to an improved pass-defense. Jaylinn Hawkins coming back from injury, Malik Psalms and Antoine Albert will all see more play-time next season. This is not including the addition of Nygel Edmonds and Marloshawn Franklin who bring speed, size and day 1 skills. The infusion of athleticism should shrink some of the windows in our coverage shells while more size should help them shed blocks on screens.
"If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine." - O. Kenobi.
Cal's defense hasn't been decent since the Tedford era. The 2013-2015 stretch can be classified as one of the worst statistical 3 seasons Cal has ever had in its existence. And there are signs that point both towards an improvement and deterioration in the 2016 season. The lack of depth on the d-line and LB corps is worrying, as well as the void left by Stefan McClure on the safety spot leaves us with a lot disturbing uncertainty. The signs for hope are also here: stronger secondary with athletes in each area. And maybe I will be wrong with the doom and gloom with young and untested talent taking up the mantle of leadership.