"Defense wins championships."
Yes, it is cliché. Yes, it is many times overused. But, it is fact.
In 2009, the Bears struggled mightily on defense, finishing seventh in the Pac-10 in scoring (25.5 ppg) and seventh in total defense (378.8 ypg). The main culprit – at least statistically – was the pass defense, which finished ninth in the Pac-10 and 111th overall in the nation. The problem was not just the coverage in the secondary, but also a lack of pass rush and a lack of discipline on the field.
To counter the disappointing performance of the 2009 defense, head coach Jeff Tedford hired Clancy Pendergast away from the NFL to run his brand of the 3-4 defense. Pendergast's credentials are solid, as he was the defensive coordinator for the 2008 Arizona Cardinals – a team mere seconds away from a Super Bowl victory.
Pendergast brings a more aggressive approach to the 3-4, bringing different blitz packages from all over the field in hopes of getting to the quarterback – something the 2009 team sorely lacked. But while more blitz packages can result in more sacks, more turnovers, and generally a more rattled quarterback, it also can leave the secondary a bit vulnerable at times in giving up the big play.
Cal fans must consider the talent on the field, and not think back too far to 2008 to remember how good the defense potentially can be. Even with the departure of All-Pac-10 players Tyson Alualu and Syd'Quan Thompson, the Bears have plenty of returning talent to field one of the better defenses in the conference.
The immediate strength of the defense is the defensive line, coached by Tosh Lupoi. Many players consider Lupoi to be the best motivator on the team and, as senior Derrick Hill put it, "I'd run through a wall for him."
|Jordan Needs to be Consistent|
In terms of personnel on the line, the Bears are led by the talented but inconsistent senior Cameron Jordan. The 6-foot-4, 283-pound senior has been everything from Pac-10 player of the week to completely quiet in games. In 2010, Jordan hopes to be more of the former, especially after the departure of Alualu. A shift in his mentality as a leader on the practice field earned him a starting spot early on in camp. With his focus, Jordan has a chance to wreak a lot of havoc in the backfield this season. For the Bears to succeed, Jordan will need to follow through, being the best pass rushing lineman on the team.
"I definitely need to be more consistent," said Jordan back in the spring. "When you have people like Tyson leave, you're waiting for that next person to step up. For the past three years, I was there to aid Tyson and his greatness. But I think it's definitely time for me to come on my own."
Owusu made a lot of noise in last year's season opener against Maryland, in which he compiled three tackles for loss. Deandre Coleman also came through with a very solid camp, enough to make a strong push up the depth chart and definitely be a part of the rotation. Junior Trevor Guyton, who has a highlight reel of his own, will also be a heavy part of the rotation at end. Under Pendergast's defensive scheme, the defensive ends carry more responsibility in getting after the ball. You can bet that with coach Lupoi's coaching, the defensive ends will be a regular guest of the quarterback in the backfield.
Nose tackle is no different, as the combination of sophomore Kendrick Payne, senior Derrick Hill, and sophomore Aaron Tipoti provide a solid rotation in the middle of the field. Payne was one of the players who really stood out during the spring, and promptly carried it over into the fall.
Hill was also right in the mix for starting, but a late knee injury and a curious case of gout set him back midway through fall camp. Hill is now close to 100% for the season opener, and that should mean plenty of playing time.
Tipoti provides great depth at nose tackle, and he will be a heavy part of the playing rotation. Like with the defensive ends, the nose tackles employ a new mentality to get after the ball, and you can hear the excitement in their voices when talking about Pendergast's schemes.
|Mohamed Leads Backers|
|Pendergast Expects More|
At linebacker, it all starts with senior Mike Mohamed, a preseason All-Pac-10 selection. The inside backer lead the Pac-10 with 112 tackles in 2009, but he expects even bigger things in 2010 under the tutelage of Pendergast.
"With a new defense from [Coach Pendergast], he expects higher standards," says Mohamed. "Everyday, we learn something new. He just has a higher standard."
Junior D.J. Holt, who started eight games in 2009, joins Mohamed inside. On the outside, juniors Mychal Kendricks will play the SAM backer, with senior Keith Browner manning the WILL position. Browner, the former Dorsey standout, who came to Cal as a defensive end, will be more at home, as he will play a role that will demand pressure on the quarterback.
Backing up the outside linebackers will be senior Jarred Price, junior Ryan Davis, and freshman David Wilkerson. Backing up the inside backers will be sophomore Robert Mullins and freshman Nick Forbes. Forbes and Wilkerson came into camp as part of a highly touted linebacking core that never really came to fruition for a variety of reasons. With that said, Cal fans have plenty to be excited about in regards to the potential of Forbes and Wilkerson, who are going to get heavy playing time.
The secondary suffered much of the blame for the defensive struggles in 2009. However, there is a sense of pride and optimism that the new defensive schemes will get them back on track.
|Hagan Earns Job Back|
|Needs to Regain 2008 Form|
The competition at cornerback was the story of camp, featuring four players who have previously started at cornerback, and one up-and-coming star from the spring. On one side, senior Darian Hagan won back his job as he looks to find his form and swagger from the 2008 season. On the other side, sophomore Marc Anthony had one of the best camps of everybody on the team, resulting in him earning a starting job.
"[Anthony] has done a great job ," said Tedford. "He has done a great job in all areas: the run game, tackling well, great cover guy. He has had a very solid camp."
Backing the corners up will be senior Bryant Nnabuife, who performed relatively well in 2009, and soon-to-be-star freshman Steve Williams. Williams opened eyes in the spring and carried it over early in fall camp, but Anthony ultimately passed him on the depth chart. No doubt, Williams will still get heavy minutes, as Tedford noted that he is the primary backup on the right side.
Safety was one of the positions that saw a bit of a transition in Pendergast's scheme, with the big difference being that there is a strong safety and a free safety as opposed to a safety and a rover.
Senior Chris Conte shifted back to his natural position of safety in the spring, and immediately earned the spot at strong safety as he naturally fit in. Typically, a strong safety will have heavy duties in aiding run support, and Conte's physical stature – 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds – allows him to do that. Junior D.J. Campbell, who impressed coaches with his play in the spring will back up Conte.
At free safety, preseason All-Pac 10 candidate junior Sean Cattouse suffered a hamstring injury midway through camp, allowing sophomore Josh Hill to pass him on the depth chart. Hill made the transition from cornerback early on, and Tedford praised his skills, which has him believing that Hill has potential at free safety.
"[Hill] does a good job," said Tedford. "He has a great understanding of what we are doing and, as much as anything, of directing traffic back there. He understands what is going on, and to get other people in the right position. A lot of communication goes on back there, and he's been really solid."
It should be noted that one reason the defensive coaches should like Hill at free safety is that it allows Pendergast to play more man-to-man defense to fit certain blitz packages. With that said, most people feel that Cattouse will ultimately be the guy at safety when he becomes 100%, as Tedford noted that Josh Hill is a leading candidate to be the primary nickel back.
All in all, the new defense under Clancy Pendergast will feature the same schemes with a very aggressive game plan that will look entirely different from 2009.
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