The Year That Was
Cal was statistically the best defensive team in the Pac-10 last season, and that had a lot to do with its secondary. The Bears ranked first in pass defense, giving up just 187 yards per game in the air and 15 touchdown passes, both tops in the conference.
Chris Conte made the switch from cornerback to safety and was a star, starting every game and finishing third on the team in tackles. He earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors and was selected in the third round of the NFL draft, something unthinkable just a year prior. Darian Hagan and Marc Anthony were solid at the corners, combining for 11 passes broken up and three interceptions.
Josh Hill was the other primary starter in the secondary, a versatile athlete who played both safety and nickelback. Sean Cattouse started at safety in six of the 12 games, and had a standout game against Arizona State.
For starters, Cattouse should move seamlessly back into the starting rotation. Though the senior might be best known for this non-tackle, he is a hard-hitting safety who has been named All-Pac-10 honorable mention for the last two seasons. At cornerback, speedy Steve Williams will see even more time as a sophomore, taking Hagan’s place in the lineup.
The biggest change will be a group of ferocious freshmen patrolling the secondary. Avery Walls, a four-star recruit from Georgia, leads the pack. ESPN ranks him as the No. 6 safety in the 2011 class. Stefan McClure is a top-25 cornerback from Vista, Calif., while fellow corners Kameron Jackson and Joel Willis could see time as well.
Also of note is the addition of defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose. A three-year assistant at Colorado, Ambrose also had a 13-year career in the NFL, including a Pro Bowl selection in 1996 with the Bengals.
Keep an Eye
The highly-touted Walls chose Cal over Michigan and Oregon. An explosive player, Walls will likely play major minutes, if not start, from day one.
Cal was solid in the secondary last season and next year could be no different. The Bears lose two starters, including the stalwart Conte, but have veterans like Cattouse and Williams to take their place. Not to mention the youngsters. Walls could be a star but for now he and at least one other freshman, perhaps McClure, should have no problems breaking into the rotation.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains. The unit is relatively young and the freshmen in particular will have their ups and downs in a conference loaded with elite quarterbacks. However, the secondary could nonetheless be one of the Bears’ most talented corps.
Image source: Allyse Bacharach/Daily Cal