Today’s look is at the outside linebacker, or Sam and Will positions.
Justin Moye started as the Sam position starter last season and eventually gave way to Mickey Pimentel, who has graduated. It was interesting that Moye held off Pimentel so long because of Pimentel’s tremendous athletic talents. However, former linebackers coach Bob Foster was a huge fan of Moye’s savvy. New linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson understands Foster’s trust in Moye.
“Justin is very smart and solid,” Thompson said. “He is great with his execution.”
However, the Sam position is one that requires great explosion and quickness off the snap. The ability to change directions on a dime is of tremendous importance. Moye’s task in the spring will be to show he can match any of his competitors’ explosiveness.
“Not all the fastest athletes are the fastest football players,” Thompson said. “You have to make a decision and then go. There can be a lot of maturity involved with making those decisions.”
Moye, who will be a senior, certainly has the maturity. He will have his hands full, however, with junior Anthony Felder, who was nagged by injuries last season that limited his time. Felder will be working at both the Sam and the Will positions. The Sam linebacker lines up as the outside linebacker on the strong (or tight end) side of the field. The Will lines up at the other outside linebacker position. Of course, the Mike is the inside linebacker.
The Sam tends to be an edge rusher or blitzer. Felder appears to be well suited to that role. He is very quick and long. “We are real excited about his athletic ability,” Thompson said. “His change of direction is excellent and he has that explosiveness. He brings a lot athletically to the position.”
Of course, he has to be healthy to win a spot. “Up to this point, he is recovering well,” Thompson said. “Of course, all injuries worry you.”
Felder had shoulder and neck injuries last season and those are the kind of injuries that often plague players throughout their careers. “At this point, he feels healthy,” Thompson said. “But some questions can’t be answered until you have contact. He feels he is going to be able to compete.”
Whether or not he is completely healthy, Felder will have his hands full with the challenge coming from both Moye and sophomore Eddie Young. “Eddie is a tall, rangy guy,” Thompson said. “The biggest thing for him is to grow into his body. He is going to be a big player. Last year, he flashed some things to us.”
Thompson said Young isn’t just fighting for a backup spot, he is pushing to be the starter.
The Will linebacker position appears to be in the capable hands of returning starter Worrell Williams, who is one of the most athletically gifted players on the team. At 255 pounds, he is a huge linebacker and yet he has the speed to cover backs on a passing route. “He is a great athlete,” Thompson said. “He’s just needs to work on his consistency. He has very explosive speed and great size.
“He’s been around the block now. Athletically, he has the tools so it’s a matter of execution. It’s a matter of reacting to what you see. With experience, he will be seeing things better. I’m excited about working with him, trying to maximize his talent. He has been working extremely hard.”
After Williams, it appears to be wide open. Felder might play the Will at times and sophomore Shea McIntyre has performed well on special teams and might get some snaps. “Shea is an extraordinary hard worker,” Thompson said. “You should see him work in the weight room. He is smart and has a solid change of direction.”
Developing red-shirt freshman Michael Mohamed still needs more time, but he has been impressive. Thompson said he will continue to grow into his 6-foot-3 frame. “He is looking to mature physically,” Thompson said. “He is a smart football player.”
Desmond Bishop’s brother, Devin Bishop, transferred to Cal from San Francisco City College and eventually he will add depth to the Will spot. Thompson describes him as being very aggressive and athletic.
Junior college All American Alex Cook also joins the program after registering 27 sacks in 25 junior college games. Obviously, the Bears could use a pass rushing force off the edge. Freshmen D.J. Holt and Robert Mullins will join the program in the summer.