Spring practice preview: defensive line

Well, now that the delayed start of spring practice is just a few days away, I’m resuming my position-by-position preview. We finished off the offense last time so we’ll move over to the defense today and take a look at the defensive line.

There’s no question this was a weak spot on the team last year. The Bears ranked last in the Pac-10 last season with 22 sacks, and only 10 of those came from defensive linemen. Word is new defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi is already making that a point of emphasis this offseason.

The 3-4 look that worked wonders against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl gave the coaching staff much to think about. The Bears always have had the 3-4 as part of their package, but generally used it sparingly. Cal employed it against the Falcons specifically to stop their option offense, but the Bears will consider using it more regularly in the future.

It makes a lot of sense because while the defensive line may be a position that is somewhat lacking, the linebackers clearly are the strength of the defense. That being said, the three linemen defensive coordinator Bob Gregory lined up against Air Force provided some encouragement for Cal fans. With Derrick Hill manning the middle and Rulon Davis and Cameron Jordan on the ends (with Tyson Alualu also rotating in), the Bears featured a fast line. If Davis proves he can stay healthy for a full season and Jordan bulks up a bit, that could give the Bears a pretty good nucleus. Plus, Alualu arguably was the Bears’ best down lineman over the course of the whole season last year.

Assuming the Bears still primarily play a 4-3, Davis and Jordan (or Alualu) figure to play the ends with Hill as one tackle. The other tackle spots likely would be either Cody Jones or Mika Kane.

But there are several other young players in the mix. Solomona Aigamaua, Ernest Owusu and Scott Smith all redshirted last season and all look like promising prospects. Cal still is waiting for highly touted prospect Michael Costanzo to break out, and he’s listed on the second team on the spring depth chart. Keith Browner also could be in the mix.

Spring will be an important time for Lupoi and Gregory, as they experiment more with the 3-4 and get a gauge on the development of their younger players. Hill, meanwhile, is expected to practice but could be limited as he is coming off minor offseason knee surgery. 

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.