Young Bear DL Looking To Improve in '07

Coming into the 2007 season, there's no unit on the Cal Bears with more question marks than the Bears defensive line. With that in mind, the Bear Insider spoke with Cal defensive line coach Ken Delgado for an assessment of the Bear dl outlook coming into the season.

Coming off a season with an uninspiring 26 sacks on defense and only 12 by the dl, the Bears are looking to step up their defensive line production with a combination of youth and depth in the upcoming campaign.

"We have a lot of guys that are somewhat inexperienced and every day we're covering things they haven't practiced yet or weren't familiar with and with veterans, they know what to expect," said Delgado.

"We have young guys who have had a good camp but we don't really know how they'll fair till we line them up against Tennessee. We don't have the luxury of breaking them in against a lesser team.

"But they've done a lot of good things against our offense and they'll have pretty much seen everything by the time we get to our game. The game will actually get simpler in some ways when they're out there just playing."

Senior defensive tackle Matt Malele has seen playing time since his freshman season and is being counted on to fill the sizeable void left in the middle with the departure of Seattle Seahawk DT Brandon Mebane last year.

Malele was hampered by injuries all of last season and a healthy return could be the key component of the Bears defensive line in ‘07.

Malele started camp strong, consistently performing well in 11 on 11's and 1 on 1 drills. However, with a little bit of soreness in his knee, the staff is limiting his play in practice to keep the big DT fresh.

"Matt's injury is not the type where he has any type of instability in his knee, just a little irritation that we'll just closely manage. But we've got some young guys that can play and we need to have a collaborative effort because the more guys you have that you can trust to play in games, the better."

Another of the question marks coming into camp is where soph DE/DT Tyson Alualu will play in 2007, with the big Hawaii native spending time at both positions.

"Tyson is playing both positions, said Delgado. "It depends what the final combination of starters will be.

"The key man in there is Mika Kane, who's having a really good camp. So as far as where we'll be in the Tennessee, I'm still not completely sure. We may go until game day before making the final decision.

"It will be a combination of Tyson working inside and outside and combination of Cody Jones and Tad Smith working inside and outside. They've worked inside and out all camp. That gives us great versatility, where we'll have situations where we'll have essentially a third defensive end in the game and that gives us much more mobility.

"We have some big, rugged defensive ends so we're kind of top-heavy at defensive end and a little light at tackle, so the fact that those guys can go inside, too, will be really beneficial for us. It has a lot of benefits to it."

One of the pleasant surprises for Bear fans in camp has been the outstanding play of redshirt sophomore defensive end Tad Smith, who spent the last season attempting to recuperate from knee surgery. But don't count Delgado amongst those surprised at Smith's fall camp impact.

"I'm not surprised," said Delgado. "The reason I say that is because of him missing last year he was behind everyone but he's worked very hard in the spring and summer and off-season. He's probably had of all the players on the dl one of the best off-seasons training-wise. He's stronger, he's in better shape.

"A big sign of how well you train is how you respond to injuries or avoid them. Guys that train really well can usually overcome all the muscle pulls and soreness. There's no question that Tad's training has put him in the position he's in now, vying for a number one spot. He'll be a key factor in whatever evolves."

Another pleasant development is the improved play of junior defensive end Rulon Davis, as the big de seems to be catching on to the defensive scheme and refining his technique.

"We've seen improvements from Rulon, not just from a technique standpoint but from an assignment standpoint," said Delgado. "He came in last year with very little football experience and all of the sudden, he's thrown into a very complicated scheme compared to what he was used to so that kind of overwhelmed him along with technique issues.

"It was rough for him last year, but he's become a more polished player and that will become more and more apparent through the season. Right now he's running with our first team."

On the youth side of the ledger, incoming freshman defensive end Cameron Jordan has made the biggest splash on the DL. The big 6-4/260 frosh from Arizona has used his size, strength and athleticism to make a surprisingly early impact on the line.

"Of all the freshmen, Cameron Jordan has been the most impressive as far as what he brings to the table physically and with his speed," said Delgado. "We think there's a place for him in our rotation because he's a true speed end. He's one of the faster guys on our line. He's very athletic, very fast, very rangy but he's very green.

"We're looking at not so much what Cameron's role will be vs. Tennessee but what his role will be as the season progresses and we'll look to develop him. It looks like he has some tools that he brings to our group that are undeniable."

Commenting on the rest of the talented frosh dl class, Delgado had this to say:

"Scott Smith will probably redshirt. He's a fine talent but like a lot of the freshmen, he's a little overwhelmed right now. He's going to be a good player.

"Solomona (Aigamaua) is going to be good. When we recruited Mona, I understood he'd get bigger and he did (now over 230). He went 215 in high school but I know that Polynesian kids have the ability to get bigger and that guy's going to develop. He'll continue to get bigger and stronger.

"The same thing with Ernie Owusu -Ernie's going to be a big man.

"And all those guys can run. The future's bright on our defensive line. It's as bright as it's ever been as far as our future's concerned."

While the Bears will likely rotate more than they have in the past because of their increased depth of players able to contribute, Delgado stopped short of declaring a full-scale platoon system.

"I'm kind of from a different school of thought," said Delgado. "You never know what play a game will turn on so the thought is to always have your best players in the game. When they're not available you put in the next best guy. But if you have parity of talent, it makes sense to play them all so that the energy level stays up. When you have the energy level, guys make plays and it takes a lot of trust. But I think we're approaching that point where we have a lot of guys that I feel confident will get the job done.

"I'm not ready to tag this group as our best defensive line only because we have to go out and do it. But as far as ability and range and athleticism, there's no question we have the ingredients to get it done," concluded Delgado.


©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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\r\n","mobileBody":"Coming off a season with an uninspiring 26 sacks on defense and only 12 by the dl, the Bears are looking to step up their defensive line production with a combination of youth and depth in the upcoming campaign.

\"We have a lot of guys that are somewhat inexperienced and every day we're covering things they haven't practiced yet or weren't familiar with and with veterans, they know what to expect,\" said Delgado.

\"We have young guys who have had a good camp but we don't really know how they'll fair till we line them up against Tennessee. We don't have the luxury of breaking them in against a lesser team.

\"But they've done a lot of good things against our offense and they'll have pretty much seen everything by the time we get to our game. The game will actually get simpler in some ways when they're out there just playing.\"

Senior defensive tackle Matt Malele has seen playing time since his freshman season and is being counted on to fill the sizeable void left in the middle with the departure of Seattle Seahawk DT Brandon Mebane last year.

Malele was hampered by injuries all of last season and a healthy return could be the key component of the Bears defensive line in ‘07.

Malele started camp strong, consistently performing well in 11 on 11's and 1 on 1 drills. However, with a little bit of soreness in his knee, the staff is limiting his play in practice to keep the big DT fresh.

\"Matt's injury is not the type where he has any type of instability in his knee, just a little irritation that we'll just closely manage. But we've got some young guys that can play and we need to have a collaborative effort because the more guys you have that you can trust to play in games, the better.\"

Another of the question marks coming into camp is where soph DE/DT Tyson Alualu will play in 2007, with the big Hawaii native spending time at both positions.

\"Tyson is playing both positions, said Delgado. \"It depends what the final combination of starters will be.

\"The key man in there is Mika Kane, who's having a really good camp. So as far as where we'll be in the Tennessee, I'm still not completely sure. We may go until game day before making the final decision.

\"It will be a combination of Tyson working inside and outside and combination of Cody Jones and Tad Smith working inside and outside. They've worked inside and out all camp. That gives us great versatility, where we'll have situations where we'll have essentially a third defensive end in the game and that gives us much more mobility.

\"We have some big, rugged defensive ends so we're kind of top-heavy at defensive end and a little light at tackle, so the fact that those guys can go inside, too, will be really beneficial for us. It has a lot of benefits to it.\"

One of the pleasant surprises for Bear fans in camp has been the outstanding play of redshirt sophomore defensive end Tad Smith, who spent the last season attempting to recuperate from knee surgery. But don't count Delgado amongst those surprised at Smith's fall camp impact.

\"I'm not surprised,\" said Delgado. \"The reason I say that is because of him missing last year he was behind everyone but he's worked very hard in the spring and summer and off-season. He's probably had of all the players on the dl one of the best off-seasons training-wise. He's stronger, he's in better shape.

\"A big sign of how well you train is how you respond to injuries or avoid them. Guys that train really well can usually overcome all the muscle pulls and soreness. There's no question that Tad's training has put him in the position he's in now, vying for a number one spot. He'll be a key factor in whatever evolves.\"

Another pleasant development is the improved play of junior defensive end Rulon Davis, as the big de seems to be catching on to the defensive scheme and refining his technique.

\"We've seen improvements from Rulon, not just from a technique standpoint but from an assignment standpoint,\" said Delgado. \"He came in last year with very little football experience and all of the sudden, he's thrown into a very complicated scheme compared to what he was used to so that kind of overwhelmed him along with technique issues.

\"It was rough for him last year, but he's become a more polished player and that will become more and more apparent through the season. Right now he's running with our first team.\"

On the youth side of the ledger, incoming freshman defensive end Cameron Jordan has made the biggest splash on the DL. The big 6-4/260 frosh from Arizona has used his size, strength and athleticism to make a surprisingly early impact on the line.

\"Of all the freshmen, Cameron Jordan has been the most impressive as far as what he brings to the table physically and with his speed,\" said Delgado. \"We think there's a place for him in our rotation because he's a true speed end. He's one of the faster guys on our line. He's very athletic, very fast, very rangy but he's very green.

\"We're looking at not so much what Cameron's role will be vs. Tennessee but what his role will be as the season progresses and we'll look to develop him. It looks like he has some tools that he brings to our group that are undeniable.\"

Commenting on the rest of the talented frosh dl class, Delgado had this to say:

\"Scott Smith will probably redshirt. He's a fine talent but like a lot of the freshmen, he's a little overwhelmed right now. He's going to be a good player.

\"Solomona (Aigamaua) is going to be good. When we recruited Mona, I understood he'd get bigger and he did (now over 230). He went 215 in high school but I know that Polynesian kids have the ability to get bigger and that guy's going to develop. He'll continue to get bigger and stronger.

\"The same thing with Ernie Owusu -Ernie's going to be a big man.

\"And all those guys can run. The future's bright on our defensive line. It's as bright as it's ever been as far as our future's concerned.\"

While the Bears will likely rotate more than they have in the past because of their increased depth of players able to contribute, Delgado stopped short of declaring a full-scale platoon system.

\"I'm kind of from a different school of thought,\" said Delgado. \"You never know what play a game will turn on so the thought is to always have your best players in the game. When they're not available you put in the next best guy. But if you have parity of talent, it makes sense to play them all so that the energy level stays up. When you have the energy level, guys make plays and it takes a lot of trust. But I think we're approaching that point where we have a lot of guys that I feel confident will get the job done.

\"I'm not ready to tag this group as our best defensive line only because we have to go out and do it. But as far as ability and range and athleticism, there's no question we have the ingredients to get it done,\" concluded Delgado.


©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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