In a new format for this year Rob and Michael discuss the different position groups for the upcoming season. Part 1 will discuss the arguably strongest position on the team, the Defensive Backs.
Rob: Let’s start with the Defensive Backs. The star unit of the entire team and program right now. Gerald Alexander is an absolute magician. The group is ridiculously talented and some of the most outgoing guys on the roster. Fully believe this group to take the next step to National Recognition as a unit. What are you thoughts on the unit?
Michael: Great place to start. The defensive backfield is absolutely the strength of this team and the astounding growth of this unit in both technique and mental preparation is a clear example of the strides Cal has made on the defensive side of the ball under Justin Wilcox. While the talent is indisputable, the work ethic of this unit nicknamed “The Takers” is what makes it so elite. Gerald Alexander is one of the premiere defensive backs coaches in the country and the group he inherited in 2017 responded to him extraordinarily well. It irks me not many of last season’s contributors have gained much national attention. It is understandable for a seven win team, but the defensive backfield played at a supreme level rivaled by very few others in the country. Obviously this group can get better, but the numbers may improve either way if Cal’s pass rush is what we hope it may be. The additions of Cameron Goode and Kuony Deng both as pass rushers and coverage linebackers will make throwing on the Bears a nightmare for opposing offenses. Baring a barrage of injuries to the two-deep, this unit is going to thrive.
Rob: Great points. The biggest thing here is that even with a few injuries the roster has so much depth at the DB spots that the talent drop off won’t be as significant as other years. Josh Drayden and Chigozie Anusieum are the non-freshman that will be able to fill in right away. Freshman and Redshirt players like Jaylen Martin and Isaiah Humphries could maybe get some moments to spell the upperclassmen. Humphries’ eligibility is a question mark as he is transferring from Penn State, and if they decide to apply for a waiver and succeed that could play a role in the rotation for this season. This group is poised to be a top 5 group in the country and could be the undisputed best unit in the Pac-12.
Michael: I like everything you said. It really is an admirable group of veteran guys who each took enormous steps last season. Below is my projected depth chart. Cal plays a lot of nickel so expect to see five DBs on the field for about half the snaps.
CB 1. Camryn Bynum rJR
1. Elijah Hicks JR
2. Josh Drayden SR
2a. Chigozie Anusiem rFR
2b. Brandon Smith rSO
NB 1. Traveon Beck SR
2. Josh Drayden SR
S 1. Ashtyn Davis rSR
1. Jaylinn Hawkins rSR
2. Trey Turner rSR
2. Daniel Scott rSO
3. Isaiah Humphries rFR
Cameron Bynum is an excellent cornerback. Good length and athleticism but his technique and elite understanding of coverage have turned him in to a premier CB. Josh Drayden should continue to see the field plenty behind Hicks and Beck at both corner and nickel. He would start on several Pac 12 teams. Traveon Beck is the unsung hero of this bunch. His smaller size keeps him off the radar, but he has to be the best nickelback I have ever seen at Cal and he plays much tougher than his size indicates. I love Hicks’ hard mentality and swagger. His play speaks to this group’s physical demeanor blowing up screens and flying in for run support.
The back line of the defense was incredible last season. I do not believe there is a better safety in this conference than Ashtyn Davis. He earned 1st Team All Conference by College Football Focus and rightfully so. His sideline-to-sideline speed is elite and he is another guy who prides himself on watching tape. And its hard to not talk about Jaylinn Hawkins who led the team with six interceptions. His play recognition has seemingly doubled each season since 2016 and his tenacity and ball skills speak for itself. This has to be the best safety duo in the conference and Trey Turner is another guy who adds quality depth and experience.
The only thing that can deter this group is a slew of injuries and even that would not necessarily be a killer. I am eager to see a healthy Chogozie Anusiem in fall practice and am enthusiastic about the growth of Daniel Scott and Brandon Smith who played plenty of snaps in the spring. I do not imagine true frosh Miles Williams, Jaylen Martin, or Craig Woodson burning redshirts this season, but hope Humphries is granted the waiver since he has already used his redshirt. It is hard not to sound like a homer when writing about the defensive backs but these guys have really earned their due. All the hype is deserved and I am excited for season two of “The Takers”
Rob: This is a really senior heavy group which makes me very excited for the on-field product, but at the same time worried about the experience drop off if they need to spelled or if one were to get injured for any reason. I do have full faith in Alexander’s ability to teach, but on-field experience is something that cant be taught. I think we’ve pretty much covered all there is to cover regarding this group. Any closing thoughts?
Michael: Think that just about sums it up.