HELPED HIS CAUSE: Aaron Tipoti. The redshirt freshman-to-be emerged from a group of young down lineman this spring to put himself in the mix at either end or nose tackle. On Cal’s post-spring depth chart, Tipoti is listed as sharing a second team spot with Ernest Owusu. Defensive coordinator Bob Gregory went into the spring looking for depth because of Derrick Hill’s knee issues, and he can feel better about things with the emergence of Tipoti and Kendrick Payne.
WORK TO DO: Keith Browner. Browner was seeing regular time as a reserve near the beginning of last season but fell out of the rotation, then missed most of the spring because of a neck injury. The Bears are set at defensive end with the duo of Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan. If Browner wants to get on the field in a reserve role, he will have to contend with the likes of Trevor Guyton, Tipoti and Owusu.
WHERE WE STAND: There weren’t many questions to answer this spring, at least on the end where Alualua and Jordan may form the best bookends in the Pac-10. Both had solid springs, and Jordan could be ready to emerge as an All-Pac-10 caliber player. Jordan’s combination of strength and athleticism makes him as talented as anyone in the conference, but he’s also now taking the game more seriously. Jordan is a fun-loving guy but he’s learned to narrow his focus at practice, which could help him turn into a dominant player this season. The nose tackle position is a little more fluid because Hill didn’t practice during the spring. The Bears expect him to be fine for fall camp, but the spring probably made Gregory feel better about the depth there, especially with Payne as the primary backup.
MOVING FORWARD: The primary issue will be the health of Hill, who has been hampered by injuries ever since he arrived in Berkeley. His knee and shoulder have been recurring problems, and the Bears need him to anchor the line, if nothing else because of his experience and maturity. Hill talked about becoming more of a leader this season, which is a little tougher to do from the bench. When healthy last season, he became a very good nose tackle, doing a good job in the 3-4 of taking up space, eating up blockers and letting Cal’s linebackers make plays.