Saturday, August 1, 2009

Overestimated Weaknesses - 2009

Though there are high hopes for this season, there is also the normal contingent of hand wringing. It is the Cal way. And for good reason. As good a run as Tedford has had, there always seem to be weak links that rear their head every season.

While this team, like any, has its flaws, there are certain things that folks seem to be seizing on that I am not so sure will end up being liabilities this season. Two of them are fullback and linebacker.

1. Fullback.

Many seem fixated on how Tedford is going to replace Ta'ufo'ou, and how much of a dropoff there will be at the position. There is no question Ta'ufo'ou was great, and it is unequestionable his backup will not play at his level right out of the gate. The guy was a special player, and was even selected honorable mention all conference, which is saying something for a fullback who combined for just over 50 all purpose yards and 1 TD.

But think about it for a second: who was the last starting fullback under Tedford who was a liability or held the offense back? Seriously, other than tailback, is there any other position where Cal has been more consistent under Tedford than at fullback? And that is almost exclusively due to one constant: Ron Gould. In fact, you could argue that fullback, more than tailback, is really the greatest testament to Gould's coaching. Unlike the talent that he's had at tailback, his starting fullbacks have been mostly walk-ons. Yet they consistently play very, very well.

Maybe Holley (or whoever gets the nod) doesn't take out two guys with one block or clear out huge paths the way Will T did. But that doesn't mean he's going to whiff on blocks, make costly bungling errors, and get mowed down in pass protection by a blitzing linebacker. I would submit that a Ron Gould-coached fullback (or tailback) is pretty much as sure a thing as there is in Cal football right now. So I am not too worried about the fullback position.

2. Linebacker.

Starting with the middle, I loved watching Felder and Williams over the years, and the team is going to miss their leadership. But the team is not going to miss their play as much as people think. Felder and Williams' greatest asset was their experience. But last year was both guys' first year in the 3-4, mitigating their experience somewhat. More importantly, both guys had good, but not great seasons despite being senior multi-year starters. That should tell you something.

Mohamed wasn't even a starter last season, and he made more noteworthy plays and put up better numbers: 3 sacks, 3 picks, 1 fumble recovery, 3 hurries, 1 forced fumble, and 3 PBUs. Those are ridiculous numbers for a non-starter soph. Felder and Williams only surpassed him in 1 category each, total tackles (Felder by 6) and PBUs (Williams by 3). And perhaps the most important number for LBs, solo tackles, Mohamed was second on the team with 51 (behind only Follett at 58). Felder had 37, Williams 25. So Mohamed will be an upgrade.

Kendricks is young, but if you watched him last season, you know he will surpass Felder and Williams before too long. He has tremendous closing speed, covers a lot of range, and has a natural sense of where the play is going. He has the same intangibles Follett did. Neither Williams nor Felder had that combination. Kendricks will initially be a push, but after a few games, I expect him to be an upgrade.

In terms of the outside, Young will almost certainly be better than he was last year, entering his second year as a starter. So that's an upgrade.

It is safe to say Bishop and the JC players will be downgrades from Follett. Enough said.

But that's three upgrades and one downgrade. Not exactly cause for worry.

There are two other reasons I do not think LB will be as big a dropoff as people think. First, the rest of the defense is stacked. In terms of areas where weakness can kill you on defense, secondary and defensive line are more critical than linebacker, especially in the 3-4. This team's secondary and defensive line are very good (at least the starters are -- depth will be an issue). That will give the linebackers some protection.

Second, as many have pointed out, this is year 2 in the 3-4, which means these LBs are going to be in full attack mode, much less hesitant, creating more opportunities for sacks, turnovers, and blowing plays up. That can allow this defense to be the aggressors, which will give the linebackers an edge by keeping offenses off balance. For those reasons, I am just not that worried about this position.


calpac10fan said...

Please expand on your concerns regarding the depth at the defensive line and secondary positions.

SD said...

Calpac10fan -

You're in luck. I already expanded on it just below. See the immediately previous post just below this one, "Underestimated Weaknesses," where I discuss defensive end and strong safety depth concerns.

dmgobears said...

Solid stuff as usual SD. I am one of those who worry about replacing Will T, as I give him mucho credit for our running game the past couple of years. Having said that, I won't be surprised if Gould is able to find an able replacement in Holley/Kapp/Tyndall. I also think with Smith and Miller we have blocking TE's that will also allow different running sets that may compensate for Will's graduation.

Re DL lack of depth, I guess I am a bit more sanguine. Hill finally seems healthy, and both Alualu and Jordan have generally enjoyed good health. Since we rotate so much, esp on passing downs, I do not make a lot of distinction between DT and DE in assessing depth. Thus we have, as you have noted Guyton,Payne, Owusu, Tipoti and Browner as reserves, without mentioning Costanzo and Bemoll. Clearly there is a lack of experience, but the positive is the general level of athleticism of our reserves; after seeing most of spring practice I am confident that Payne and Tipoti will be major contributors to our DL in years to come. Guyton is solid and both Owusu and Browner have talent, but need improved consistency which I expect starting this year. Incoming freshmen Kaufusi and Coleman are impressive on film, and either could provide help if disaster struck our top 8 guys.

Re safety depth, please note that in Cal's scheme, "free" and "strong" disticntions are not made. Rather our safeties play right or left and thus are safeties are somewhat more interchangeable. Whether we open with Ezeff and Johnson at safety, assuredly Conte and Cattouse will play plenty. Campbell and Nnabuife provide additional depth, permitting newcomer Moncrease time to adjust to D1 ball and school.

SD said...


Good points on all three fronts.

Re safeties, I am aware of the right/left distinction in Cal's scheme, and to the extent Ezeff goes down, I do think that will mitigate his loss a bit, since guys will know how to play both.

However, the right-left is only truly interchangeable if they go 2 deep. If you watch in games, whenever they do not go 2 deep, the same guy is always up (Ezeff) and the same guy is always deep (Johnson). That is where the "strong" and "free" distinctions come into play, and where they cease to become "interchangeable."

Similar to USC with Mays and Ellison last year - cover 2, but if they go 1 deep, it's always Ellison in the box and Mays deep.

In that case, I am not sure I want Sean Cattouse or Brett Johnson taking on offensive guards with a full head of steam. That's where Ezeff getting hurt could be a factor.

I think with his size, Moncrease is right now the best answer if he can get comfortable with the defensive sets. And I think that's exactly why they brought him in this year.

dmgobears said...


As of today, Ezeff, Cattouse and Conte are all donning the red jerseys signifying injuries. And I think Brett Johnson is also suffering from aches and pains. Looks like Moncrease, Campbell and Frosh Alex Logan will get plenty of work. Nnabuife appears to be strictly a corner this year, which is a change from last year, but perhaps this rash of injuries may see him taking reps at safety as well.

SD said...

uh oh.

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