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Spring Football primer: Defense and Special Teams

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Some good news and some really, really scary news.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at California Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

While today may be Pro Day for California Golden Bears trying to earn their way into the NFL, we’re not forgetting the oft-forgotten phases of a football team—defense and special teams.

Cornerback

Departures

  • Darius Allensworth
  • Marloshawn Franklin Jr.

Cornerback arrivals... maybe?

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
7 Chigozie Anusiem 6-1 180 Fr. HS

Cornerback returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
3 Elijah Hicks 5-11 185 So. 1L
8 Nygel Edmonds 5-11 190 R-So. SQ
16 Chibuzo Nwokocha 6-1 205 R-Sr. 1L
20 Josh Drayden 5-10 185 Jr. 2L
22 Traveon Beck 5-9 160 Jr. 2L
24 Camryn Bynum 6-0 180 R-So. 1L
29 Bryce Turner 5-10 180 R-So. RS
45 Branden Smith 5-10 175 R-Fr. RS

Last year, Justin Wilcox et al. stunned the Cal fandom when the season began and former team captain and two-year starter Allensworth was not named a starter (although he would eventually start three games in the second half of the season). But it wasn’t even that crazy since Cal had a number of young talented corners who gained considerable experience that will presumably propel them forward in 2018.

Elijah Hicks and Camryn Bynum will be the big headliners among this group, but I expect them to be pushed by Josh Drayden and Traveon Beck.

Chigozie Anusiem is an early enrollee at defensive back, but a bit of a wildcard as Wilcox noted his ability to play either at cornerback or safety. Speaking of safety...

Safety

Departures

  • Jacob Anderson
  • Derron Brown (position change)
  • De’Zhon Grace
  • Luke Rubenzer
  • Ricky Walker III (position change)

Safety arrivals... maybe?

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
7 Chigozie Anusiem 6-1 180 Fr. HS

Safety returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
5 Trey Turner III 6-1 180 R-Jr. 2L
6 Jaylinn Hawkins 6-2 205 R-Jr. 2L
21 Evan Rambo 6-4 210 R-Jr. 1L
27 Ashtyn Davis 6-1 190 R-Jr. 2L
28 Quentin Tartabull 5-11 195 R-Sr. 2L
32 Daniel Scott 6-2 215 R-Fr. RS

Our defensive backs in general will be enjoying plenty of returning talent and using the spring to improve and challenge our starters rather than be in a frenzied need to find starters. I can’t find stats for Trey Turner III in 2017, but all other players have starting experience at the position. Ashtyn Davis played in all 12 games last year—with three starts—and is an exceptional sprinter.

Again, Anusiem may be a factor here. While I don’t expect him to become a starter due to entrenched talent, the spring will be our first opportunity to see him up close and determine if he’s a better fit here or at corner.

Outside linebacker

Departures

  • Hamilton Anoa’i
  • Austin Locke
  • Raymond Davison III
  • Noah Westerfield
  • Cameron Saffle (medical retirement)

Outside linebacker arrivals... maybe?

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
4 Derron Brown 6-1 205 R-Sr. 2L

Outside linebacker returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
13 Russ Ude 6-3 255 R-Jr. 1L
19 Cameron Goode 6-3 220 R-So. 1L
23 Malik Psalms 6-1 195 R-Jr. 2L
36 Alex Funches 6-2 225 Sr. 1L
38 Matt Horwitz 6-4 205 R-Fr. RS
48 Tim Newman 6-2 230 R-So. RS

Look at all of those departures (including Cameron Saffle to unfortunate medical retirement). We’ve been thin at the position since last year, with Raymond Davison III having to make a mid-year switch from inside linebacker just to give us more depth.

Alex Funches—a junior-college transfer—was a breakout pass rusher last year and Cameron Goode also impressed in nine games (with six starts).

We’ve got some pseudo- arrivals at OLB. Derron Brown has been flipping back and forth from safety and linebacker, including being listed at safety last year. Tim Newman redshirted last year after transferring from Saddleback College and is just listed as linebacker, but he came out of high school as a defensive end/outside linebacker/edge rusher, so I expect the same from him as a Golden Bear. Malik Psalms made a last-minute change from safety right before the start of the 2017 season, so it will be key to see how he’s been developing at this new position and playing five pounds heavier than he was last year.

The spring is critical for our outside linebackers. We’ve got one great rusher in Funches, but developing another pass rusher will be critical so defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter can continue to attack from any angle and confuse opposing quarterbacks. Similarly, it would also be great to find another OLB who can drop into coverage as good as Goode.

Inside linebacker

Departures

  • Devante Downs
  • David Ortega Jr.
  • Aisea Tongilava

Inside linebacker arrivals... maybe?

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
42 Colt Doughty 6-1 235 Jr. JC

Inside linebacker returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
41 Gerran Brown 6-2 220 R-Jr. 1L
59 Jordan Kunaszyk 6-3 235 R-Sr. 2L
89 Evan Weaver 6-3 240 Jr. 2L

I know that it’s misleading to cite a “base defense” as defenses have had to be multiple to counter the evolution of opposing offenses, but as a 3–4 team that would have two starting inside linebackers, it’s terrifying to only have three returning players. To be fair, all three players have impressed while at Cal—Gerran Brown and Jordan Kunaszyk especially demonstrated aptitude for DeRuyter’s system and playmaking ability—it is imperative to find some depth behind these three.

Colt Doughty is transferring to Cal from the College of San Mateo where he played inside linebacker, so expect him to rotate in at ILB. Let’s see how he does this spring.

To further complicate matters, the inside linebackers have a position coach who’s new to Berkeley. Peter Sirmon joined Wilcox’s squad and will have to find bodies where they don’t exist while simultaneously seeing how his sermons fit into Wilcox and DeRuyter’s vision.

Nose Guard

Departures

  • Tony Mekari

Arrivals

None

Nose guard returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
50 Hunter Abel 6-0 265 R-Jr. SQ
98 Chris Palmer 6-2 335 R-Sr. 2L
99 Siulagisipai Fuimaono 6-4 305 R-Fr. RS

A successful defense with three down-linemen needs a talented nose tackle to anchor the interior of the line and allow for linebackers to make plays. With the graduation of Tony Mekari, the Bears will use the spring to identify a new nose guard. Chris Palmer has the most experience and the best size, so he may be the early favorite to start this spring.

Defensive end

Departures

  • James Looney

Arrivals

Defensive end arrivals... maybe?

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
55 Lone Toailoa 6-2 280 R-Jr. JC

Defense end returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
44 Zeandae Johnson 6-4 300 R-Jr. 1L
90 Rusty Becker 6-4 280 R-Sr. 2L
91 Chinedu Udeogu 6-4 265 R-So. 1L
92 Gabe Cherry 6-5 280 R-Fr. RS
93 Luc Bequette 6-2 300 R-Jr. 2L
96 Tevin Paul 6-4 265 R-So. 1L

James Looney was the only Cal invitee to the NFL Combine this year and his loss will be felt on the D-line. On the other side of the line, Luc Bequette started all 12 games, but this spring will be used to find Looney’s replacement. Lone Toailoa is a junior college transfer who’s still very new to the sport (and is just listed as DL rather than DE or NG), but has already earned recognition as defensive end at the JC level.

I’m not sure if I can divine who will take that role, but Zeandae Johnson might be an early candidate considering he was a preseason starter in 2017.

Long snapper

Departures

  • Grant Gluhaich
  • Garrett Frum

Arrivals

None

Long snapper returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
47 Alonso Vera 5-11 240 Sr. 1L
48 Daniel Etter 5-10 235 R-Fr. RS

The cliché is always that you never want to know who your long snapper is—because that means he’s consistently doing his job correctly. And I’m a terrible fan because I have no idea who our 2017 starting long snapper was... Grant Gluhaich was the 2017 preseason starter, but he is no longer on the roster. Alonso Vera started for the season opener against the North Carolina Tar Heels, but his CalBears roster is embarrassingly empty. Let’s use the spring to figure out who our starter is—not because there’s necessarily a competition, but because we should be better fans to recognize all players for their work.

Kicker

Departures

  • Matt Anderson

Arrivals

None

Kicker returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
46 Gabe Siemieniec 6-1 230 R-So. 1L
49 Chris Landgrebe 6-2 190 R-Fr. RS

Let us say a bittersweet farewell to Matt Anderson, who holds Cal’s records for successful field goals and all-time scoring. We will certainly miss Anderson’s reliability (lol jk the second-year of the Baldwin system means all touchdowns all the time).

We’re at least half in luck as Gabe Siemieniec took 52 of our 63 kickoffs in 2017 and doubled as living example of “i before e except after c”. He likely has this role locked down, but the spring will be time for special teams coordinator Charlie Ragle to pick who will be kicking our points.

Punter

Departures

Arrivals

None

Punter returnees

Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
Number Name Height (ft-in) Weight (lbs) Year Experience
37 Steven Coutts 6-4 220 R-Jr. RS

With Dylan Klumph grad-transferring to a Pac-12 rival, we now have one sole punter on the roster. Steven Coutts punted for us just five times in a mere two games last year (against North Carolina and the Washington Huskies), but I’m not too worried here. Coutts was a 2016 semifinalist for the Ray Guy Award with the Louisiana Ragin Cajuns and on the watchlist for said award in 2017. We’re pretty comfortable with this Australian punter, which means I ended on a totally anticlimatic note.


Looking at these two separate groups, there are considerable questions with both.

I feel great about our secondary with young talent like Hicks and Bynum. We have unproven talent on the defensive line, so we need to find starters, but the potential is there. Linebacker is a huge question mark though... There certainly is returning talent, but we’re perilously thin and we need to develop talent behind our starters.

We were solid at long snapper, so we must continue that in 2018. We have only one punter on roster, but he should be able to execute. We’re settled at kickoffs, but totally unproven for field goals and point-after kicks. Let’s hope that doesn’t come back to haunt us with a critical missed kick at some point in the year.

Poll

Which defensive or special teams unit will you be following most closely this spring?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Cornerback
    (8 votes)
  • 3%
    Safety
    (7 votes)
  • 18%
    Outside linebacker
    (40 votes)
  • 39%
    Inside linebacker
    (86 votes)
  • 14%
    Nose guard
    (32 votes)
  • 11%
    Defensive end
    (26 votes)
  • 2%
    Long snapper
    (5 votes)
  • 5%
    Kicker
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Punter
    (5 votes)
220 votes total Vote Now