It’s obvious that R. Todd Littlejohn has his work cut out for him during spring. Cornerback is a scary position for a Cal team that seems suited to compete for a Pac-10 championship in just about every other area. Sure, the defensive line is somewhat of a question mark, but there seems to be an abundance of young talent there.
Cornerback, on the other hand, it somewhat of a mystery. Daymeion Hughes was such a lockdown corner and so durable that we never got to see what kind of depth Cal has at the position. Syd’Quan Thompson, who has all the tools to be a pro, is only in his second season. He played very well after the first game nightmare last season, but he still was the guy that opponents tried to pick on. Now, he is the man as a sophomore.
“He is now the leader,” said Littlejohn, who goes into his second season as defensive backs coach. “I knew he was special the day after the Tennessee game. He was extremely disappointed and he blamed himself. I didn’t really do anything magical at that point. I just said, ‘You are my starter next week.’ He got a vote of confidence and I think that was all he needed.”
As a side note, as a writer, I gained a lot of respect for the kid. He had been very difficult in terms of interviews and twice hung up on me after commiting to Cal. I kind of wondered if he was Cal material. But after getting burned by two huge touchdowns that cost Cal the game, he came out and did interviews. He never hid or tried to blame somebody else. You’ve got to love it. He worked his butt off all year so his previous mistakes wouldn’t happen again.
“They went after him a lot,” Littlejohn said. “But he worked even harder. His confidence started to take off. He is a young guy, and the sky is the limit for him. It’s hard to say exactly how fast he is if he lines up and runs straight ahead, but I know how fast he plays. When we played USC, nobody could run away from him. He does shy away from guarding the Dwayne Jarretts or the Patrick Turners.”
The other corner should be a free-for-all competition. Jesse Brooks is a three-year player who has seen only spot duty. Littlejohn said he understands the system well, and that gives him a slight edge over some of the newcomers who might have superior overall athletic talent. “He is a good sized corner and I have been telling him that now is his time to show what he can do. He’s not a real, real quick guy, but he has a sturdy body and he is a solid player. Nothing flashy.”
Hughes departure might have opened the door for redshirt freshman Darian Hagan, a highly recruited kid with talent on a par with Thompson. “You look at Darian change direction and you just go, whoooooaaa,” Littlejohn said. He has a cockiness that he brings to the position. He feels that you can’t beat him. I like that. He moves so well, changes direction, can jump.”
Charles Amadi red-shirted like Hagan. “He is one of the sleepers,” Littlejohn said. “His work ethic is outstanding. He has great feet, and chance of direction. He has exceptional quickness. He just needs to understand the defense. He needs to know that he can’t be afraid to make a mistake. He tends to hesitate on things.”
Another redshirt, Brandon Jones, is the strongest of all the corners, according to Littlejohn. “From a physical standpoint, he is not very tall or big, but he is very physical. He has good vision and quickness.”
No matter who wins the job, it’s a give that Cal is going to be very young and inexperienced at the corners. “I have told the guys, I don’t care what you look like or where you come from, if you show me what you can do, you have a chance to play.”
TOMORROW: Offensive line. The reason I am skipping away from the safeties tomorrow is that Coach Jim Michalczik said he is going to take a look at Alex Mack at tackle and I wanted to address that situation.