Way Too Early Depth Chart: DBs

Now that National Signing Day is sewn up, we take the next step: How do the new players fit into the current roster? We start in the defensive backfield, where the Bears got deeper and more athletic on Wednesday.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
Left Cornerback
mcclure
Stefan McClure

The Favorites:
Stefan McClure (5-11, 200, RJr)
Cameron Walker (5-11, 180, So)
Darius White (6-0, 175)

Next Up:
Joel Willis (5-11, 195, RJr)

The Dark Horses:
Trevellous Cheek (5-11, 175, RFr)
Darius Allensworth (5-11, 175, RFr)
Caleb Coleman (6-0, 180, RFr)
Isaac Lapite (5-9, 190, RSr)
Key Addition: McClure (returning from injury), Darius White (JuCo signee)

The Skinny: The addition of McClure -- who went down with a knee injury after just five games -- is easily one of the most significant on a defense that was just plain awful -- the worst in California program history.

The question, though, is if McClure's knee -- which has now been injured twice -- will hinder him. We've already seen how a repeatedly injured knee can rob a player of his promise, in the person of Brendan Bigelow. McClure will be tested early and often as opposing teams try to ascertain whether his knee is truly up to the task of being the kind of elite corner he showed promise of being back in 2011. McClure's veteran leadership and football IQ will be valuable whether he's the player we remember or not, but the proof is in the pudding; if he can't perform on the field, he's just an extra coach.

We'll talk more about Walker later, but after his performance at safety as a true freshman, it's tough to count him out at either spot, particularly because sources say that McClure may wind up as a safety or nickel primarily in 2014.

Willis played in 10 games with one start, making 24 tackles, 0.5 TFLs, three breakups and one forced fumble.

Cheek is more suited to safety, and that's likely where he'll see most of his time, but we're putting him on here simply because he has experience and in the case of more injuries, he may have to slide over. Coleman was shifted from wide receiver to corner late in the season, and because of the sheer volume of receivers available, it's a good way to use his speed. He'll be a developmental player, though, until he really learns the position.

White will be in the mix immediately when he comes into camp in the fall. Sonny Dykes said that White will compete right away at both corner spots, and he has fantastic recovery speed, a good nose for the ball and is regarded by some as the best JuCo corner in the nation.
Strong Safety
sebastian
Avery Sebastian

The Favorites:
Avery Sebastian (5-10, 195, RJr)
Cameron Walker (5-11, 180, So)

Next Up:
Damariay Drew (6-0, 205, RSo)

The Dark Horses:
Jason Gibson (6-2, 205, RJr)
Junior Espitia (6-2, 210, Jr)
Quentin Tartabull (6-2, 200, Fr)
Key Additions: Sebastian (returning from injury), Tartabull

The Skinny: The importance of getting Sebastian back can't be understated. In just a quarter and a half of work against Northwestern, Sebastian tallied 11 tackles and an interception before tearing his Achilles. Sebastian is not only a veteran presence on the field, but an emotional touchstone for players on both sides of the ball. His head and neck injury during fall camp shook every player to the core, and when he hit the field again, the defense played with much more vivre and pep. Sebastian is a passionate player and a mature leader, something this defense was sorely missing last season.

Walker could net this backup spot simply because of his play at safety last season when he was thrown in the fire against Ohio State, and continued to play opposite Michael Lowe throughout the rest of the season.

Drew showed flashes of superior ability, and prove to be the most effective replacement safety outside of Walker, who figures to move back to corner this season. Things could get dicey during spring if Sebastian isn't 100% back, but that's what spring football is for -- to test Drew, Walker, Gibson and Espitia in a safe-to-fail atmosphere. Tartabull won't come in until the fall, and could be a wild card here, since he'll be coming in as a freshman safety with the frame to add plenty of good weight, and already a surplus of speed.
Free Safety
lowe
Michael Lowe

The Favorites:
Michael Lowe (5-11, 215, RSr)
Stefan McClure (5-11, 200, RJr)
Damariay Drew (6-0, 205, RSo)
Cameron Walker (5-11, 180, So)

Next Up:
Darius Allensworth (5-11, 175, RFr)
Jason Gibson (6-2, 205, RJr)
Junior Espitia (6-2, 210, Jr)
Quentin Tartabull (6-2, 200, Fr)
Key Additions: Tartabull, McClure, Allensworth (coming off a redshirt and an injury)

The Skinny: Lowe sought an evaluation for the NFL Draft, but he did not declare. That means he's coming back, and is the starter by default, given his experience, playing in 33 games during his career. With Walker likely moving back to cornerback, Drew would seem to be the next man up at the position, and last year, he got better with each game and each practice. Drew is a heavy hitter in the mold of Sebastian, and tallied 52 tackles in 12 games, with three starts. Drew added 1.0 tackle for loss, three breakups, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. He's more of a downhill run support type safety, which should mesh well with Sebastian's cover skills. Coverage is not a strength for either, but Sebastian proved himself much improved in that regard during his one quarter-plus of action before going down with an Achilles tear.

Allensworth is more suited to safety than corner, given his size and strength, but he practiced mainly at corner last season. Gibson may wind up moving back to linebacker given the depth situation there, but he did see some snaps at safety last season in six games, making four tackles. Espitia was moved to the defensive backfield from his inside receiver position midway through the year for depth, and, again, given the additions of Trevor Davis (who's now eligible after sitting out a year due to transfer rules) and freshman Erik Brown -- both of whom could be speed options on the inside -- it's unlikely that Espitia moves back.

It's tough to say exactly where McClure woudl fit as a safety -- either at free or strong -- but both he and Sebastian can play both, and their skill sets compliment one another quite well. If both are on the field together, that's a very, very heady and savvy pair for opposing offenses to contend with.
Right Cornerback
walker
Cameron Walker

The Favorites:
Cameron Walker (5-11, 180, So)
Darius White (6-0, 175)
Joel Willis (5-11, 195, RJr)
Cedric Dozier (5-11, 175, RSo)

Next Up:
Darius Allensworth (5-11, 175, RFr)
Trevellous Cheek (5-11, 175, RFr)
Adrian Lee (5-11, 200, RSr)

The Dark Horse:
Caleb Coleman (6-0, 180, RFr)
Key Loss: Kameron Jackson (declared for the NFL Draft)

Key Addition: Darius White

The Skinny: After a rash of injuries decimated the defensive backfield in the first two weeks of the season, Walker jumped into the Ohio State game with just three days of training as a safety, and spent the rest of the season playing alongside Michael Lowe, and boy, did he make his 10 games count.

Walker was the second-leading tackler on the team behind Lowe, tallying 65 stops to Lowe's 67, and added 0.5 TFL, three pass breakups and one forced fumble. With Jackson declaring early for the NFL, and both Walker and Sonny Dykes saying that the sophomore-to-be will be moving back to corner (where he was recruited to play), Walker doesn't have to shuttle around the defensive backfield anymore. Walker adds rare experience to the cornerback group, and the Bears will need it.

Last season, Willis, Dozier and Lee all filled in for the injured McClure opposite of Jackson, and had uneven results -- at times encouraging and at times maddening. Dozier played in all 12 games, with four starts, making 17 tackles and breaking up two passes. Lee was the most mercurial, playing in just six games with two starts, making 15 tackles, one tackle for loss and breaking up one pass. Lee was in the doghouse of defensive backs coach Randy Stewart for his inconsistent play, and the redshirt senior-to-be will likely fall behind his younger compatriots, particularly if Allensworth continues his trajectory from the end of the season. Before going down with a noggin-knocker that shelved both himself and Cheek, Allensworth was well on his way to rounding back into form from an ACL injury he suffered during his senior year at Menifee (Calif.) Heritage.

Nickel
atoe
Sam Atoe

The Contenders:
Sam Atoe (6-0, 205, Jr)
Stefan McClure (5-11, 200, RJr)
Cameron Walker (5-11, 180, So)
Key Additions: Atoe, McClure (returning from injury)

The Skinny: If McClure doesn't have the get-up-and-go that he used to, his run support strength adn eye for the game could be utilized at nickel, and given how porous the defensive backfield was this last season, teams will try to go hard in the passing game to try and test whether those holes still exist. Having McClure as an extra man back there could help to alleviate some of the stress.

Apart from that possibility, Atoe was brought in specifically to be a nickel back, and it's hard to think that he won't get right into the thick of things this spring.

"I think Sam Atoe is one of the better players I've watched play all year. We really love the way he plays football. I'm excited about him," said Dykes. "I felt like, watching the film, this recruiting cycle – specifically, junior college players – I felt like he was as good as anybody, just the way he played the game, the passion he plays with, his versatility. He's a runner, he's a hitter. When we met the kid, I thought he was a perfect fit. He's very mature, he's very focused. He has a passion for football. He's one of those guys that grew up in the Bay Area, and playing at Cal means a lot to him."

With Walker's experience last year at safety, and his pedigree as a corner, nickel seems to be a perfect fit for him, as well, so there are several options the Bears can turn to, depending on the situation. Walker has more speed, Atoe is a big hitter and McClure brings veteran savvy. Any way Cal goes, it should have a strong nickel back.

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