Notebook: Forbes looks natural in the middle

Linebacker Nick Forbes says he is taking to his new role at middle linebacker quite well, even without a formal background in a 4-3 defense.

BERKELEY, Calif. – Nick Forbes couldn't help but be a little apprehensive when new California head coach Sonny Dykes announced his intention to use an even front.

The redshirt junior had grown incredibly comfortable in a 3-4 defense. Forbes posted 85 tackles, second-most on the team, last season in the most extensive action of his college career. Now he had to learn a whole new approach.

"Change is scary at first," Forbes admitted. "Not seeing the playbook and not knowing where I am going to fit, you kind of question how is it going to work."

But after meeting new defensive coordinator Andy Buh, seeing his playbook, and now going through the first two days of spring practice, Forbes is convinced it is all for the best.

"I feel like it is a great fit," Forbes said. "I like it a little bit better because I got two big hosses up front clogging things up for me so it gives me a lot more time to be patient and make my reads."

Forbes has settled in well at middle linebacker, a position regarded as the quarterback of the 4-3. Whoever starts there is tasked with making all the defensive calls and ensuring everyone is lined up right. It also comes with an inherent leadership role, something that he has tried to emphasize.

"I've worked really hard to earn the respect of the guys out there," Forbes said. "They are confident in me to control it. Coach Buh has looked to me to get the linebackers together. It's not a position that I feel was forced upon me. It just naturally came. I'm excited to be that guy."

Head coach Sonny Dykes has certainly taken notice of those attributes.

"He's what you are looking for in a middle linebacker," Dykes said. "He is a guy that wants to do well. It is very important for him to do well, and he loves to come out and compete every day.

"He is a good teammate and good guy, the kind of guy you want to build your program around."

While it highlights his intangible skills, Forbes doesn't have any formal training in the new system. During his high school career at Frederick (Md.) Governor Thomas Johnson, Forbes played in a 5-2 alignment, which shares similarities to the scheme the Golden Bears used to run.

With that in mind, Forbes has been leaning on his roommate Khairi Fortt, who has been working next to Forbes at outside linebacker. Fortt has an extensive knowledge of the new system from his time at Penn State.

"He has taught me a lot," Forbes said. "There is a lot of knowledge of the concepts and communication he has been helping me with."

Buh has also gone out of his way to make the 4-3 relatable in many ways, from emphasizing the similarities to the previous defense to providing a refresher course on the fundamentals of the game.

"Coach Buh was telling us it is really a disguised 3-4, so a lot of the principles of it will show up," Forbes said. "There are minor differences, but it is going to take some time.

"The guys are patient and we're really eager to digest it. Approaching the same coverages in a different mindset in a different scheme is challenging, but we got a lot of smart guys here."

Forbes is there in the middle, leading the way.

Goff's First Go
As promised, redshirt sophomore Kyle Boehm and freshman Jared Goff received their opportunities in the quarterback competition with significant reps Wednesday.

For Goff, who was playing at Kentfield (Calif.) Marin Catholic just a few months ago before enrolling early and said he weighs just 188 pounds right now, it came with one of those quintessential "welcome to college" moments.

On his second snap of the team period, Goff came under heavy pressure and tried to spin away. Instead, he ran right into junior defensive lineman Mustafa Jalil and was ripped down to the Memorial Stadium turf.

The exact details were a topic of conversation well after practice.

"He goes, ‘I didn't touch you.' You threw me in the air," Goff said, recounting their exchange.

"He grabbed me by the waist and just kind of tossed me. It wasn't a big deal, he added."

While Goff remains a long shot to win the starting job, he delivered several standout plays and came away generally pleased with his performance.

"The speed of the game is definitely a lot faster, but I was ready for it," Goff said. "I thought I did pretty good for the first day. I definitely have a lot to improve on. I'll watch the film tonight, it will probably look terrible, but out here it was all right."

"Goff has got a lot of talent," Dykes said. "There were times he looked like a guy that should be going to the prom. There were other times he looked like a Division-1 quarterback."

Quick Hits
Dykes said the competition to find a new starting placekicker will likely not be settled until fall camp. … Cal will hold its first practice in pads Friday.

Dan Greenspan writes about the Pac-12 for Fox Sports Next. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.


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