Disrupting the passer, forcing fumbles and wrecking overall havoc on the quarterback are all aspects of the defensive end and nose guard positions. Here’s a look into Cal’s upcoming defensive ends and nose guards, who will look to obliterate the offenses of their opponents.
At the defensive end position, the projected starters are redshirt sophomore Zeandae Johnson and redshirt senior James Looney. The ends have nearly identical builds, both weighing in at 280 pounds with Johnson standing just an inch taller at 6’4’’ versus Looney’s 6’3’’.
Looney was unable to participate in 2017 spring practices due to injury but in 2016, he totaled 54 tackles, 8.0 tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Looney can force pressure on the quarterback and come up with some big hits, but also possess the ability to break up the run and force fumbles.
Johnson has some big shoes to fill as DeVante Wilson, one of Cal’s top defensive ends, graduated and junior Cameron Saffle transitioned from defensive end to outside linebacker. Johnson is listed ahead of six other potential defensive ends and the Bears’ new 3-4 defensive scheme could be advantageous to his play.
“When the line looks at (our formation), it’s going to be like okay, ‘I don’t know what this guy is going to do,’” Johnson said in a CalBears interview. “It’s going to help me in my rush because now I have the offensive lineman guessing and I’m focused on what I’m doing.”
The second-string defensive ends are redshirt freshman Chinedu Udeogu and redshirt senior Rusty Becker, both of whom have very little experience playing as Bears.
In Udeogu’s two starting years on Georgetown Prep’s varsity team, he totaled 81 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 11 quarterback hurries, seven pass deflections and three forced fumbles.
Becker was a mid-year enrollee in January 2016 and partook in his first season during his junior year, but he did not see much of the field and only played in three games throughout the season. These second ends are likely to see time on the field to provide relief for the starters, but because both backups lack experience in comparison to their counterparts, it is unlikely that they will have an overpowering impact on the field.
Redshirt senior Tony Mekari is the projected starter at the nose guard position. Mekari played defensive tackle last year, but with Cal’s change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 came a change in Mekari’s position. The change is not a drastic one, but he will have more responsibility on the line as a nose guard, including commanding the double team and occupying more than one blocker.
Mekari had 33 tackles at defensive tackle last season, including one sack and 4.5 tackles for loss of yards. Mekari had a solid go around in spring workouts and his size is favorable for a nose guard; he has gained 10 pounds since last season which may be in part because of the demand for a large presence at the nose guard position.
Redshirt junior Chris Palmer is projected as the second string nose guard, coming in at 6’2’’ and 320 pounds. Palmer, a former defensive tackle, played five games in 2016 and totaled only two tackles. As a junior, he has played very little and has dealt with injuries in his career.
“He’s a good example of a guy that early on we questioned a little,” said defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter in a CalBears interview. “He’s a big-bodied presence at nose guard which you need. We’ve got to get him to develop a little bit more, but I like the progress he’s made.”
Christie Aguilar is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].