By Jonathan Okanes
Tuesday, January 13th, 2009 at 3:04 pm in off-season stuff.
The main expectations of Cal’s linebackers this season were to stop the run, create turnovers and solve the nation’s financial crisis.
OK, so maybe it only seemed like they were expected to do everything for the Bears. The truth is they just what they were supposed to do, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given the experience and talent level at the position.
Cal’s linebackers were so good that the coaching staff essentially decided to overhaul their defensive scheme because of them. The Bears simply had too many good linebackers to have only three on the field at one time, so they went from the 4-3 to the 3-4 to get at least one more out there on a consistent basis.
The shift in philosophy worked almost flawlessly. The Bears finished ranked 26th nationally in team defense (315.2 yards per game) and 23rd in scoring defense (19.9 points per game). The linebackers clearly were a big reason why.
Outside LB Zack Follett finally played just like a lot of folks thought he could after a breakout sophomore season. Finally healthy — or, at least healthy enough to play consistently — Follett tied for second on the team with 87 tackles, led the Bears with 10.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles.
Anthony Felder led the Bears with 93 tackles and made his share of plays, including 5.5 tackles for loss. Worrell Williams quietly had 64 tackles and broke up six passes.
Then there was Mike Mohamed, the subject of one of the quotes of the year when defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said “Mike is so good that we can’t start him.” Instead, Gregory used Mohamed to back up all four linebacker positions and actually probably got more playing time than anyone. He finished with 87 tackles, three sacks, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries and will be one of the best returning linebackers in the Pac-10 next season.
Throw in 40 tackles from Eddie Young, and the Bears certainly had just the kind of production they expected from their linebacking corps.
The Bears lose Follett, Felder and Williams next season, but Mohamed and Young should be mainstays. Gregory was really excited about the way Devin Bishop finished the year and he should become a major impact player next season. With other young players like D.J. Holt, Mychal Kendricks and Charles Johnson returning, Gregory seems confident that the linebacker position is in good hands.
2008 LINEBACKERS GRADE: A