California had a few players returning on defense that were expected to do well, cornerback Syd'Quan Thompson, outside linebacker Zack Follett, and inside linebackers Worrell Williams and Anthony Felder. Those players played up to their expectations.
Follett and Thompson earned first team all-Pac-10 honors. Felder, who led the Bears with 93 total tackles, and Williams garnered honorable mention all-Pac-10. The linebackers and the 3-4 scheme was the strength of the team in 2008.
"[Feels] good!" said Golden Bear defensive coordinator Bob Gregory of the success of the 3-4 defensive scheme this season. "We felt like we had the personnel to do it [in 2008.] Coach [Jeff] Tedford has been preaching all year is our turnovers – points after turnovers – it's been good for us all year."
Not many teams in college football run the 3-4 defense. As a result, not many offenses are prepared to block effectively against that front. It is hard for a defense to determine where the extra pass rushers will come from.
What made California's defense so hard to stop was that the defensive line was able to apply a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Defensive end Tyson Alualu finished with six sacks and earned second team all-conference honors. Defensive end Cameron Jordan brought the quarterback down four times as did end Rulon Davis. With the d-line causing so much havoc, it was hard for Cal's opponents to key on Follett, who led the team with 10.5 sacks.
"He's a tenacious player, he goes hard all the time," Gregory said after Follett earned the Defensive Most Outstanding Player award of the Emerald Bowl.
"[Follett] is dinged up a lot during the week, and he can't always go all the time. But he plays very hard on Saturdays. He's the guy all the guys look to. He does it by example; we are going to miss him.
Heading into next season Cal could have a number of players returning on the defensive line that could result in the Bear's defense being among the best in the Pac-10. However, replacing Follett will be focal point.
"We're recruiting the personnel now," said Gregory. "And we think we have some good young guys. It's what we are going to be from now on is a 3-4 defense that's for sure."
Cal already has verbal commits from three impact junior college transfers – all of which can play Follett's spot – Jarred Price, Jerome Meadows, and Ryan Davis. Steve Fanua is another impact type player who starred at middle linebacker locally at Milpitas (Calif.) High School that the Bears plan to move to weakside linebacker. As well, Cal is still targeting the nation's No. 1 defensive end prospect, Devon Kennard, who will choose between the Bears, USC, and Texas. Cal is recruiting Kennard to play Follett's outside linebacker spot. If he commits to Cal, he will be expected to contend for a starting spot immediately.
Nonetheless, the Bears have an impact backer that has the potential to be a very good and cause offensive coordinators to lose a lot of sleep – Mike Mohamed. Mohamed finished the 2008 season with 87 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3 interceptions. He may have logged more reps than the starters because he was the primary backup for each of the four starters.
If Cal returns with the majority of their defense in place – assuming no one leaves early unexpectedly for the NFL – and healthy, with a few underclassmen playing solid football, the Bears can be dominant on the defensive side of the ball. The emergence of defensive leaders, however, will be the difference if the 2009 defense is better than 2008.
"You expect your [top] players to make plays," said Gregory. "Just like offense, you expect Jahvid [Best] to make plays, you expect [your defensive players] to make plays. Those are the kind of guys you win games with."
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