Cal football has a total of 25 safeties and cornerbacks listed on its 2017 depth chart, including 16 players who are listed as interchangeable, but only two safeties and two cornerbacks will own starting spots come September. Get your popcorn ready, because with a hefty load of talent at these positions, players will have to battle it out to earn first string.
At safety, redshirt sophomore Evan Rambo and redshirt junior Derron Brown are in contention for one of the starting positions. Rambo was listed as starter at safety during the 2016 preseason but only played in four games and did not participate in spring workouts due to injury. In 2016, however, he was a solid tackler who could make a move on the ball and even recorded an interception.
Rambo is in competition with Brown, who played at linebacker last season. Brown saw minimal time on the field last year and only played in three games, but in those three games, he showed he has potential, totaling six tackles and forcing a fumble.
Senior Luke Rubenzer and redshirt junior Quentin Tartabull are in contention for the other first-string position. Both Rubenzer and Tartabull are in contention with redshirt sophomore Jaylinn Hawkins for second or third string as well.
Rubenzer, who played in the first nine games of 2016 at safety, showed that he is very capable at the position. He racked up 58 tackles and lead the team in both interceptions and fumble recoveries at two apiece.
His competition is former nickelback Tartabull, who played four games in 2016. Tartabull dealt with injuries early in his career at Cal but snagged an interception in the recent spring game. Between Rubenzer and Tartabull, the former seems like a safer bet with his history of producing on the field, whereas the latter is more of a wild card.
At cornerback, redshirt junior Darius Allensworth and freshman Elijah Hicks are in the running for one of the starting positions. Both Allensworth and Hicks are also in competition with sophomore Traveon Beck for the second- and third-string spots. Allensworth proved he’s a lethal pass reader in the six games that he played in 2016, totaling four pass breakups and an interception.
But Hicks, who was widely recruited in high school, has shown he has serious talent early on. During the spring game, he led the Bears with three pass breakups and recorded an interception.
“He’s about his business,” said defensive backs coach Gerald Alexander in a CalBears interview. “He’s doing a really good job in practice and taking the details from the classroom to the field.”
At the other starting spot, senior Marloshawn Franklin Jr. and redshirt freshman Camyrn Bynum are the two favorites. Franklin led the team with seven pass breakups in 2016 and is a quick guy who tackles well. Bynum has yet to take the field as a Bear, but in high school he had a knack for disrupting passes and was also an apt tackler.
In the spring game, Franklin recorded two pass breakups and Bynum led the team with six tackles.
Both competitions for the starting cornerback spots put the seasoned player against the new, young talent. Allensworth and Franklin have experience under their belts which bids well in their favor, but they have no room to sleep as the newbies are looking to steal their spotlight.
Safeties and cornerbacks alike will have to earn every minute on the field and prove that they are worthy of moving up in the rankings.
Christie Aguilar is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected].