Summing Up the Bear Backfield

In the second installment of a three part interview, Cal defensive backs Coach Todd Littlejohn discussed position moves and upcoming challenges for the 2007 season.

One of the biggest challenges facing Littlejohn and the Bear defense as a whole is replacing All-American cornerback Daymeion Hughes and his leadership, not to mention his 8 interceptions in the 2006 season.

"That's always a challenge replacing a guy like Donte, but the difference to me personally is that you're replacing one player instead of three, like we had to do with Donnie McCleskey, Harrison Smith and Tim Mixon," said Littlejohn.

"This year it's a little different for us because you've got some more experience coming back –guys who have had experience playing in crucial situations. I'm not saying that you can "hide" a guy easily but it's a lot easier situation than when you're replacing three guys. I think we have the talent to put a very good player out there to replace Donte. Whoever it is won't have a lot of experience, however those kids will continue to battle and they'll grow up fast, just like Syd did.

"Last year was a compliment to Syd, the way he was able to be prepared to play when Tim went down," continued Littlejohn. "No one thought he'd be a good player after the Tennessee game but then you saw how he played after that game and he proved them wrong.

"I think we have a group of kids that have a similar makeup so my expectations are the same for this year. With Darian Hagan or Charles Amadi or Brandon Hampton or Brandon Jones, there are several talented guys that are going to compete for that spot. When you're a national contender, you have to have competition at every position."

One of the most interesting depth chart questions will be determining which of the talented young corners will eventually fill Hughes' big shoes. With all the injuries during spring practice, making a firm decision was a tricky endeavor.

"I would say that Darian Hagan made some tremendous strides," said Littlejohn. "Part of the strength of his showing could have been by default since so many other players were injured, but I would say that overall, Darian had a bit of an edge, not for any big reason. He did some good things and he did some immature things. But he does have tremendous athletic talent.

"On the flipside, I think it's very important for whoever's at that position -and Syd as well -that each of them need to be pushed to truly see how good they are. I think sometimes as a starter, you can have a false sense of security if no one's pushing you. You can sometimes get complacent. So you have to have that competition because what happens if something happens to Syd? Then you have to have that next person ready and who is that going to be? We're asking these guys to grow up right now. They don't have the luxury of a little bit longer maturity process."

One thing the prospective young future starters have in their favor is a few camps under their belt to learn the intricacies of the Bear defense.

"I think all of those prospective corners will be more ready in fall camp because of their familiarity with the defense and participating in it's installation for at least a third time so some things may begin to click even faster," said Littlejohn. "And some players really rise when it's game time.

"You also have a situation where the freshmen –Chris Conte, Sean Cattouse and DJ Campbell to come in with their size and their ability to learn and come in and compete at their spots. Whoever wins that job will have definitely earned it."

Many Bear fans are wondering where the talented and versatile Robert Peele will be lining up in 2007 and where his hard-hitting skills are best suited.

"Robert primarily played safety this spring because when Bernard went down in the middle, we needed him in there," said Littlejohn. "But he's been cross-trained and a lot of people forget that he's played three positions against Oregon State, playing corner, nickel and rover. He's a very intelligent football player. The good part is his flexibility to play all those positions and the bad part, I guess, is you want him to have the ability to be real good at one thing. But he's still a guy that can be flexible. He was one of the best db's this spring, period, and he was healthy. The irony is, he's still just a redshirt sophomore next season. It's easy to forget that with some of these guys. My expectations are so high for those guys and sometimes I need to stop and remind myself that a lot of these guys are really still young."

After last year's debacle, where a pair of indecisive plays made by redshirt frosh Syd'Quan Thompson resulted in short completions turning into long td's in the 2006 season-opener, many fans wondered if Thompson could recover from such a strong early-season blow. Thompson's play following the nightmare first game put those doubts to rest quickly.

"Syd's motivation last year was that he never wanted to be embarrassed again like he was during the Tennessee game," said Littlejohn. "He vowed for that never to happen again. So he has an inner fire burning in him. Although I know he'd never say it publicly, I'd bet Syd not only wants to be as good as Donte but better. He wants to be the very best at what he does, period. If that means surpassing a friend, so be it. He just has that demeanor and personality to be the very best. He just has that twinkle in his eye. His work ethic says the same, as well.

"If you look at the rest of the year after the Tennessee game, no one really attacked Syd. It kind of makes you wonder, ‘Why didn't other offenses try and attack him?' Were they looking at film and seeing, ‘Hey, this kid's pretty good after all?'

"He didn't back down against any of the big SC receivers. He was physical in the run game against Arizona and Minnesota and other teams. These things kept showing up. I think it's just a testament that when people really watched, they saw that, hey, this guy's a pretty good player. He's a playmaker, too. I expect him to continue to grow and get better. He's been really good this spring because he's taking on the leadership role, especially as far as the corners are concerned. He's actually the veteran of the group, even at his young age and he's embracing that role."

Thompson played right corner last year but will make the switch over to the left side vacated by Hughes' departure for this weekend's draft.

"Sometimes we'll have the flexibility to line up Syd with the other team's best wideout. And sometimes moving from one side or the other just gives you the flexibility to play either side equally well. I don't think there was a big plan in moving Syd over. It just worked out that way.

One of the main switches occurring in the defensive backfield last year will be the move made from starting safety Brandon Hampton back to corner.

"Brandon's going to get some time at corner," said Littlejohn. "With the development of Thomas (DeCoud) and Bernard (Hicks), in order to keep those two guys on the field at the same time, the transition was to move Brandon out to the corner spot and really improve his skills out there. Now with the emergence of Robert Peele and Marcus Ezeff at the safety spots, it just gave us the opportunities to make some more moves."

The Bear Insider will be back with the final installment of the three part interview with Littlejohn later this week.


©Copyright 2007, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


BearTerritory.net Top Stories

\r\n\r\n","mobileBody":"One of the biggest challenges facing Littlejohn and the Bear defense as a whole is replacing All-American cornerback Daymeion Hughes and his leadership, not to mention his 8 interceptions in the 2006 season.

\"That's always a challenge replacing a guy like Donte, but the difference to me personally is that you're replacing one player instead of three, like we had to do with Donnie McCleskey, Harrison Smith and Tim Mixon,\" said Littlejohn.

\"This year it's a little different for us because you've got some more experience coming back –guys who have had experience playing in crucial situations. I'm not saying that you can \"hide\" a guy easily but it's a lot easier situation than when you're replacing three guys. I think we have the talent to put a very good player out there to replace Donte. Whoever it is won't have a lot of experience, however those kids will continue to battle and they'll grow up fast, just like Syd did.

\"Last year was a compliment to Syd, the way he was able to be prepared to play when Tim went down,\" continued Littlejohn. \"No one thought he'd be a good player after the Tennessee game but then you saw how he played after that game and he proved them wrong.

\"I think we have a group of kids that have a similar makeup so my expectations are the same for this year. With Darian Hagan or Charles Amadi or Brandon Hampton or Brandon Jones, there are several talented guys that are going to compete for that spot. When you're a national contender, you have to have competition at every position.\"

One of the most interesting depth chart questions will be determining which of the talented young corners will eventually fill Hughes' big shoes. With all the injuries during spring practice, making a firm decision was a tricky endeavor.

\"I would say that Darian Hagan made some tremendous strides,\" said Littlejohn. \"Part of the strength of his showing could have been by default since so many other players were injured, but I would say that overall, Darian had a bit of an edge, not for any big reason. He did some good things and he did some immature things. But he does have tremendous athletic talent.

\"On the flipside, I think it's very important for whoever's at that position -and Syd as well -that each of them need to be pushed to truly see how good they are. I think sometimes as a starter, you can have a false sense of security if no one's pushing you. You can sometimes get complacent. So you have to have that competition because what happens if something happens to Syd? Then you have to have that next person ready and who is that going to be? We're asking these guys to grow up right now. They don't have the luxury of a little bit longer maturity process.\"

One thing the prospective young future starters have in their favor is a few camps under their belt to learn the intricacies of the Bear defense.

\"I think all of those prospective corners will be more ready in fall camp because of their familiarity with the defense and participating in it's installation for at least a third time so some things may begin to click even faster,\" said Littlejohn. \"And some players really rise when it's game time.

\"You also have a situation where the freshmen –Chris Conte, Sean Cattouse and DJ Campbell to come in with their size and their ability to learn and come in and compete at their spots. Whoever wins that job will have definitely earned it.\"

Many Bear fans are wondering where the talented and versatile Robert Peele will be lining up in 2007 and where his hard-hitting skills are best suited.

\"Robert primarily played safety this spring because when Bernard went down in the middle, we needed him in there,\" said Littlejohn. \"But he's been cross-trained and a lot of people forget that he's played three positions against Oregon State, playing corner, nickel and rover. He's a very intelligent football player. The good part is his flexibility to play all those positions and the bad part, I guess, is you want him to have the ability to be real good at one thing. But he's still a guy that can be flexible. He was one of the best db's this spring, period, and he was healthy. The irony is, he's still just a redshirt sophomore next season. It's easy to forget that with some of these guys. My expectations are so high for those guys and sometimes I need to stop and remind myself that a lot of these guys are really still young.\"

After last year's debacle, where a pair of indecisive plays made by redshirt frosh Syd'Quan Thompson resulted in short completions turning into long td's in the 2006 season-opener, many fans wondered if Thompson could recover from such a strong early-season blow. Thompson's play following the nightmare first game put those doubts to rest quickly.

\"Syd's motivation last year was that he never wanted to be embarrassed again like he was during the Tennessee game,\" said Littlejohn. \"He vowed for that never to happen again. So he has an inner fire burning in him. Although I know he'd never say it publicly, I'd bet Syd not only wants to be as good as Donte but better. He wants to be the very best at what he does, period. If that means surpassing a friend, so be it. He just has that demeanor and personality to be the very best. He just has that twinkle in his eye. His work ethic says the same, as well.

\"If you look at the rest of the year after the Tennessee game, no one really attacked Syd. It kind of makes you wonder, ‘Why didn't other offenses try and attack him?' Were they looking at film and seeing, ‘Hey, this kid's pretty good after all?'

\"He didn't back down against any of the big SC receivers. He was physical in the run game against Arizona and Minnesota and other teams. These things kept showing up. I think it's just a testament that when people really watched, they saw that, hey, this guy's a pretty good player. He's a playmaker, too. I expect him to continue to grow and get better. He's been really good this spring because he's taking on the leadership role, especially as far as the corners are concerned. He's actually the veteran of the group, even at his young age and he's embracing that role.\"

Thompson played right corner last year but will make the switch over to the left side vacated by Hughes' departure for this weekend's draft.

\"Sometimes we'll have the flexibility to line up Syd with the other team's best wideout. And sometimes moving from one side or the other just gives you the flexibility to play either side equally well. I don't think there was a big plan in moving Syd over. It just worked out that way.

One of the main switches occurring in the defensive backfield last year will be the move made from starting safety Brandon Hampton back to corner.

\"Brandon's going to get some time at corner,\" said Littlejohn. \"With the development of Thomas (DeCoud) and Bernard (Hicks), in order to keep those two guys on the field at the same time, the transition was to move Brandon out to the corner spot and really improve his skills out there. Now with the emergence of Robert Peele and Marcus Ezeff at the safety spots, it just gave us the opportunities to make some more moves.\"

The Bear Insider will be back with the final installment of the three part interview with Littlejohn later this week.


©Copyright 2007, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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