California has a problem in the secondary. Well, six, to be precise. The Bears go into the 2016 season without their two starting safeties from last season -- Stefan McClure (signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts) and Damariay Drew (tore ACL at the end of spring practice). They will be without another safety with starting experience, in Griffin Piatt (injury retirement), an experienced cornerback in A.J. Greathouse (out for the season; shoulder) and a veteran nickel back in Caleb Coleman (injury retirement; concussions). They will also be without starting corner Darius White, who also signed with the Colts.
Amidst all that pressure, all that hand-wringing, is Antoine Albert, squawking, jawing, trash talking and barking out adjustments, clear as a bell.
"It's all love. We talk trash out here, offense and us, we're at it all the time," Albert said.
That trash, though, that jawing, isn't schoolyard taunting. No one says anything about Albert's stutter.
"No, no, no. It ain't schoolyard [trash talking]. It's more, 'I'm about to blow you up, I'm about to have a pick, or I'm about to run past you.' Yapping, yapping, yapping, then boom," Albert said.
Albert has suffered from a severe stutter since before he can remember. It's genetic. His mother, he said, also has a speech impediment. When he gets nervous, or flustered, his words are locked behind his teeth. When he tries to wrap his mouth around a complex concept, his jaw tightens. His tongue freezes.
But when he gets on the field, the strictures on his tongue and jaw fall away. He's fluent in football.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1693461-day-six-in-depth-d... "It's a flow," Albert said. "I'm in the zone. Out here is where I feel like myself. There's nothing bad that you could possibly say to ruin my day. Out here, running, perfectly, injury free, I'm blessed."
As soon as he pulls on the helmet, Albert transforms. Then the lips start flapping.
"Oh, yeah, quick, yeah," he says without a whit of difficulty. "You know, you know. Out here, it's smooth, boom, boom, boom, on it."
In the meeting room, Albert is a motormouth.
"Very talkative. At first he had trouble, with everything, but now, he's in and out, in and out, gets the plays down," said one of the only certainties in the Cal defensive backfield, starting corner Darius Allensworth. "Coach asks him where he lines up, and he tells him. I feel like it was just him getting comfortable."
It took a while for Albert to find his voice. He had intended on coming to Cal early out of Diablo Valley College, but he had to take one more class. By the time he got to Cal in the fall, he felt overwhelmed.
"When I came out, the whole scheduling thing, it's fast-tempo, on it all the time, and I wasn't used to it," Albert said. "Coming in late, that played a part. I came in, and boom. As soon as I signed, it was time to go. Honestly, I wasn't really ready. I was ready, intellectually, but in the weight room, the legs weren't there. Now, I'm faster and stronger."
The physical part wasn't nearly as complex as the mental aspect of the game. For much of last season, Albert relied too much on his physical gifts. He slipped back into his comfort zone, relying on his natural speed and athleticism, and instead of using his head, he played with his heart. Cornerbacks coach John Lovett noticed. This spring, after a particularly big day by Albert, Lovett said that, for Albert, the biggest problem is "between the ears."
"He's figuring out, making sure he can play at a consistent level," Lovett said. "What I mean by that, is that he's very emotional. Sometimes, his emotions get the better of him. He's got to learn to deal with that. If he learns to deal with that, he'll play a lot better, consistently. Having a good day today, and a bad day tomorrow, is not what we want. We want consistency. You can't be up-and-down out there, because then, you give up big plays. We don't want to do that ... Sometimes, what he wants to do is a lot more than what he needs to do. That will get you in trouble. He got away with that in junior college, but we can't do that here. He's got to consistently take care of business."
Albert played in just eight games, with seven tackles, no interceptions and no pass deflections -- not exactly the contribution you hope for from a junior college signee.
http://www.scout.com/college/california/story/1693178-camp-film-wr-db-on... Albert took Lovett's criticism to heart this offseason.
"It says I should really focus on each play: What's the assignment I have to do on each play? It just means keep on working on what he wants," Albert said. "He says that I just have to be more into it, each play. I tend to go back into my old ways. Out here, shoot, everyone's fast and strong. You really have to focus on what the situation at-hand is."
With White now gone, Albert is neck-and-neck with Marloshawn Franklin in the race to replace him, and once the pads came on this fall, Albert came alive. Gone was Albert's mercurial play. Gone was the stutter. He was upright, confident.
"I feel like it's just being comfortable," Allensworth said. "It's all about being comfortable. You're out here, all of these coaches are yelling at you, and you see that, coming in from JC, you're the man in the JC. You come here, you're not the man. Just getting comfortable, settling down, knowing what to do, once you get comfortable, he's performing pretty well. He has times where he doesn't do as good, but he's performing better than he did when he got here, so I think that's the comfort factor."
Add that comfort to Albert's straight-ahead speed, physicality and the edge that he plays with, and the fact that his flexibility and change of direction have vastly improved, and there's every chance that Albert could be a difference maker as a senior.
"I'm way more comfortable," Albert said. "Way more comfortable. It took a while for me to get used to the whole system, but I'm feeling like my old self, now."
He's ready to make his voice heard, loud and clear.
"The stutter," Allensworth said, "is gone."