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Football: Season review — linebackers

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

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.

  • milo

    Nice report JO. Looking forward to your analysis of spring football and in particular how the LBs develop.

  • Calduke

    Hasiak is a big-time recruit win for Cal.
    Too bad Cal couldn’t get one of the linebackers, Littlejohn or Clay. Oregon got both of them!!(?)

  • Jan K Oski

    Love the humor, JO! Keep it coming!

    Go BEARS!

  • Jeff

    No grade?

  • calfan1

    I’ll take it that the grade is an A.

  • Jonathan Okanes

    Oops, sorry, forgot to print the grade. A for the linebackers.

  • Damariea

    J.O, do u think our LB core will be better this year with our young core understanding the 3-4 scheme a lot better i know we lose game expierience but the knowlege of our scheme knowledge should help with that. what about robert Mullins does he figure to be in the mix.

  • covinared

    Barring significant injuries, I don’t think there will be a drop off at the LB position next year. Follett’s ability to run around the end and create havoc will be missed, but he basically was a one dimensional player, and on whole the group was just average. Mohammed was the best all around. There was little if any drop off when the guys coming back were in. The difference between 07 and 08 was better d-line play, and most of those guys are back as well.

  • Jonathan Okanes

    Damariea, that’s a good question. Cal definitely has some young linebackers that are talented, but it’s just hard to say until you see them get extensive playing time. It will be hard to replace the combination of skill and experience that Follett, Felder and Williams offered.
    But another year with the 3-4 should certainly help not only the returning linebackers, but the coaches as well. They may figure out new and different looks and schemes they can present.
    All that being said, it seemed to me that last season’s linebackers had a pretty good grasp of the scheme. That’s a credit to Bob Gregory and all the defensive position coaches, as well as the players themselves. It probably helped that they implemented the defense in a year where the linebackers already had so much experience and understanding of the game. That will help set the groundwork for guys like Devin Bishop, D.J. Holt, Mychal Kendricks, etc.
    As for Mullins, I think there are a few guys ahead of him but there definitely are reps for the taking. As of right now, I would think that Eddie Young and Mike Mohamed are locks to start and Devin Bishop is next in line. Holt and Kendricks are definite candidates, but I don’t think they are sure things if another younger separates himself in the spring or training camp.