Monday, August 17, 2009

SF Chronicle: Starting Linebackers Different, Not New

By Tom FitzGerald


Losing three stellar linebackers may lead onlookers, and maybe even opposing offensive coordinators, to conclude that Cal is hurting in that one unit of an otherwise loaded defense.   The Bears say that would be incorrect. For one thing, there are several experienced backers, even if they might not have the credentials of the departed Zack Follett, a seventh-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions, Worrell Williams or Anthony Felder.

Mike Mohamed, for one, was second on the team in tackles last year despite bouncing around between the four linebacker spots. And Eddie Young started on the strong-side outside spot. Others saw action in reserve roles.  "A lot of these guys have been here, and the JC guys are fitting in well," Mohamed said after a training camp session Friday night. "I'd watch out for us. I wouldn't write off the linebacking unit. We're working hard to try to duplicate last year's success."  Coach Jeff Tedford summed up his new group as "excellent. I feel great about the linebackers. People think we're inexperienced there. A lot of those guys played last year."  Sophomore D.J. Holt, for example, is fighting for an inside spot and looked sharp Friday. In the span of a few snaps during an 11-on-11 drill, he stuffed a running play and intercepted a Kevin Riley pass.

Sophomore Mychal Kendricks looks like the other inside starter at this point, while the biggest battle is shaping up on the weak-side outside spot, which Follett vacated. Senior Devin Bishop, freshman Chris Little and junior college transfers Ryan Davis and Jarred Price are in the hunt, although Bishop may play on the inside as well.

"It might be certain guys on certain downs," defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. "We've got to put guys in the right positions and give them the right things to do."  He'll stick with the 3-4 defense because it's easier to recruit linebackers than defensive linemen, he said, plus it's easier to adjust to one-back offenses out of the 3-4. "We'll be in the 3-4 as long as I'm here," he said.

Bumps and bruises: Today is the first of double practice sessions, and many of the Bears are already beaten up. "It's been physical," Tedford said. "We practice at a high tempo all the time, whether we have full gear on or just shoulder pads. It's that time of camp. You get some tweaked muscles."

Anger's fake: Sophomore punter Bryan Anger, already one of the best in the nation, recalled a punt fake that backfired against Oregon State last year. He was supposed to pass the ball, but the snap went instead to the up back. Maybe Anger will get to work on his passer rating this year. "Mainly I'm working on my consistency," he said.

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