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2018 Cal Football Preview: Defensive Backs

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The fledgling legion of bears looks to take flight in its second year under Coach Alexander

California v Stanford Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

COFFEE ME.

It’s the slogan of Coach Gerald Alexander, once a DB with the Boise State Broncos and in the NFL; he returns to lead possibly the deepest and most exciting position group for the California Golden Bears. He has been connected with HC Wilcox since Wilcox coached in him in Boise, so knows what the HC wants from his DBs. The position group shined with PBUs and INTs week in and week out with standouts Camryn Bynum (Redshirt Soph) and Elijah Hicks (True Soph) being the cornerstones of the backfield.

DB statistics from 2018

Defense & Fumbles Table
Tackles Def Int Fumbles
Rk Player Solo Ast Tot Loss Sk Int Yds Avg TD PD FR Yds TD FF
5 Camryn Bynum 37 21 58 0.5 0.5 2 0 0.0 0 8
7 Quentin Tartabull 28 21 49 0.0 0.0 1 0 0.0 0 3
9 Jaylinn Hawkins 24 17 41 1.5 0.0 1 22 22.0 0 1 1
11 Elijah Hicks 28 10 38 2.0 0.0 3 2
13 Antione Davis 20 13 33 0.0 0.0 1 31 31.0 0 0
15 Darius Allensworth 16 8 24 3.0 1.0 1 0 0.0 0 2 1 1 1
16 Luke Rubenzer 12 9 21 0.5 0.0 3 1 0
17 Derron Brown 11 8 19 0.0 0.0 1 3 3.0 0 2
18 Traveon Beck 10 8 18 1.5 0.0 1
21 Marloshawn Franklin 12 2 14 0.0 0.0 2
24 Josh Drayden 4 5 9 0.0 0.0 1 13 13.0 0 2
28 Jacob Anderson 5 0 5 0.0 0.0
31 Matt Rockett 4 0 4 0.0 0.0
32 Malik Psalms 2 1 3 1.0 0.0 1
33 De'Zhon Grace 2 1 3 0.0 0.0
Provided by CFB at Sports Reference: View Original Table
Generated 8/1/2018.

Cornerbacks

In the incoming class, we have one key addition to the backfield in Chigozie Anusiem, who is an early enrollee who took significant practice snaps in the spring as Hicks was nursing an injury. At 6’2” and 185 lbs, his body type is the prototype that the Cal defense will seek in the future—long and athletic corners. This doesn’t mean the coaches will fail to build the coverages for the CBs we have now. Both Bynum at 6’0” and Hicks at 5’11” stand to benefit from another year under Alexander and look to build on a successful 2017 season (despite some hiccups by both, such as Bynum in the UCLA game).

Camryn Bynum was a revelation at the CB spot for Cal. After scoring two key INTs against Ole Miss, he solidified himself as a potential superstar for the Bears and a potential top-round pick in the NFL draft should he choose to enter the pros.

Elijah Hicks came in and within a couple of games overtook both Marloshawn Franklin’s and Darius Allensworth’s spots in the starting rotation at corner. He was one of the four true freshmen—and the only one on the defensive side—to play significant snaps for Cal and had the most starts (7) of them all. With him and Bynum on opposite ends of the field, Cal looks to have two—maybe three—years of top-flight corner play.

One thing to note is that the importance of the nickel corner has only risen in recent years. Some NFL and college teams have basically phased out a LB (or in the case of 3-3-5 or 2-4-5 defenses, a DL) for a slot corner in their starting line-ups and so will Cal. For this position, Cal has its two main options in Traveon Beck and Josh Drayden—both of whom have had experience in the nickel. Despite the spotlight on Bynum/Hicks/Anusiem, I think that this pass defense—especially on “move the sticks” yardage (i.e., passes of 1–7 yards)—will rely on how well our slot corners will play.

Safeties

One of the most—if not the most—underrated positions in football. One reason is the fact that on TV we do not see safety play all that often. This is due to their alignment being far away from the line of scrimmage. This also makes safety play hard to evaluate with only TV tape/replays in play. I have been a big fan of Evan Rambo; with his size, speed, and instincts he can be a game changer from the safety spot. Coming into fall camp healthy, I hope we can all witness a fully healthy season from our resident Stallone namesake.

The depth of the safety spot is impressive not just from a talent perspective but from an experience one. With Ashtyn Davis, Quentin Tartabull, and Jaylinn Hawkins having played significant snaps in their college careers, we will be assured of a high floor for the safety spot.