Final impressions: Cal defense

If Deandre Coleman and Mustafa Jalil provide a pass rush equivalent to their sheer physical presence, Cal's defense will perform better than last season's misleading numbers might have suggested.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Before the 2012 season begins Saturday afternoon, Cal Sports Digest takes one final look at the Golden Bears unit by unit before predicting California's final record.

Big bad Bears, or the statistical disconnect
Mustafa Jalil and Deandre Coleman are imposing. Big arms, big chest, big legs, to the point they reduce most, if not all, of their equally athletically-gifted teammates seemingly to the status of mere mortals simply by appearance.

Jalil, the sophomore, is 6-foot-2 and weighs 280 pounds, while fourth-year junior Coleman is a mammoth 309 pounds and is three inches taller. Put the defensive ends in pads, it adds another few inches and pounds.

Then imagine the plight of an offensive lineman, tasked with keeping your quarterback upright from these two charging rhinos. Oh, and you have to do it while moving backwards and trying to keep your balance and leverage.

It is the stuff of nightmares. For Cal, it could be the stuff of dreams. If this defense is to push the Bears back to the top of the Pac-12, it will be because Coleman and Jalil match appearance with performance, delivering the nasty, disruptive pass rush that can change games and seasons.

From a standpoint of numbers, Cal did a very good job in getting to the quarterback last season, ranking 19th nationally and averaging 2.62 sacks per game. But look closer and nearly two-thirds of those hits came in four games, as Fresno State, Presbyterian, Utah, and Washington State saw their signal-callers dropped 21 times.

That is the recurring theme of how Cal performed in 2011. When they were on, they delivered in dominating fashion. When they weren't, oh boy.

In six losses, they allowed nearly 32 points per game, a mean that doesn't look that much worse only because Texas was so offensively inept in the bowl game. That was with the conference defensive player of the year, perhaps testimony to the lack of imagination from Pac-12 coaches (or more likely, their sports information directors).

They also led the league in total defense, pass defense, and tackles for loss, believe it or not.

So the question becomes can a defense replacing both inside linebackers, both safeties, and two linemen actually improve? Probably not, considering the Utes, Cougars and Oregon State should have dramatically increased scoring prowess this year.

But if Jalil and Coleman deliver that reliable pressure that can constantly disrupt an offense, a veteran secondary and athletic group of linebackers will take advantage. Consider as well the potential of outside linebacker Brennan Scarlett coming off the edge after a strong fall camp.

On sheer physicality alone, Coleman and Jalil look like NFL draft picks in the next few years. If they can tap into that ability, expect Cal to turn once-deceiving stats into real victories.

Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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