Over the past few seasons, Cal’s defense has consistently been one of the worst in the country. Last year the Bears ranked in the bottom five in both total defense and scoring defense. But first-year defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is ready to turn the page.
“We talked to (the players) about changing the image, having a new paradigm. That was my talk with them meeting one. We determine what we’re going to be. Don’t let outside voices do that.”
DeRuyter comes to Cal after five seasons as Fresno State’s head coach. The most immediate change he’ll bring to Berkeley is a shift from a 4-3 base defense to 3-4, which consists of three down linemen and four linebackers.
“The thing I’ve really been pleased about is our guys are very willing to learn,” said DeRuyter of the change in alignment. “They’re putting extra time in and they’re coming out with a great attitude every day.”
“The first two days (of spring practice) are really teaching days,” said junior Cameron Saffle, who has shifted from defensive end to outside linebacker. “Now it’s time to keep going. No more baby steps. We’re taking long strides. Embracing this change has been the biggest goal, and with that, tenfold, we’ve gotten a lot more results.”
“(DeRuyter) brings a hard-nosed mentality,” added senior inside linebacker Devante Downs. “He wants us to be great tacklers. He wants us to know exactly what to do.”
Beyond just the change in alignment, the players are excited to reinvent the culture on defense.
“Last year we were kind of a laughingstock,” Downs admitted. “We had some signs about us that we didn’t like, and we’re going to remember that this year.”
Added Saffle: “With the new staff this year, it’s a fresh start. We’re not going to think about the last seasons. We’re looking forward.”
Of course with first-year head coach Justin Wilcox’s defensive background, DeRuyter will have plenty of help on that side of the ball.
“What’s great for me is getting a chance to use (Wilcox’s) knowledge of defense,” DeRuyter said. “We’re all in there putting this Cal defense together. It’s not my defense, this is the Cal Bears defense.”
“(Wilcox has) been involved a little bit,” added Downs. “He’s incorporating a little bit of what he did at Wisconsin and trying to give it to us to help us be a better defense.”
“Every year you kind of live this story of Cal football and you get to write your own chapter as a team,” said Saffle. “So as a defense, we’re getting to write our own chapter, and hopefully we’re going to make it the most exciting it’s been.”