RETURNING STARTERS: Sean Cattouse, Bryant Nnabufie.
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Steve Williams
POSSIBLE SURPRISE: Alex Logan
THE BREAKDOWN: No position on the field needs to be made over more than the secondary. Cattouse is the only steadying influence among the defensive backs, as the Bears try to rebuild a secondary that heavily contributed to a pass defense ranked 111th nationally last season.
Cal essentially is starting over at cornerback. Syd’Quan Thompson provided a sure thing at one spot last season, but he is now preparing to take his talents to the NFL. Considering the other cornerback spot was a revolving door last year, both corner positions are up for grabs.
Nnabufie ended the season as the starter opposite Thompson, but he is far from a lock to retain that spot. The Bears have about six candidates competing for the two spots, and the spring will go a long way in positioning the depth chart for fall camp.
The best thing that could happen to the Bears is for Darian Hagan to regain his form of 2008, when he was a rising star who paired with Thompson to form one of the best cornerback duos around. Hagan fell out of favor last season and ended it buried on the depth chart. He didn’t play at all in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Knee tendinitis in training camp contributed to Hagan’s disappointing season, but he also didn’t do eInough of what the coaching staff wanted on and off the field to see consistent playing time. The good news for Cal is Hagan apparently has turned the corner this offseason. Coach Jeff Tedford says Hagan is growing up and expects big things from him as a senior.
“I think the light has gone on for Darian to be more consistent,” Tedford said. “I think he’s grown up a lot. I think he sees his senior year. He’s learned the things you have to do to be consistent week in and week out. Everything he’s doing off the field, he’s really grown. He’s more consistent with everything in his life.”
If Hagan were to nail down one corner spot, all bets would be off with the other spot. Nnabufie and Josh Hill each started there last season, but each also will be pushed by young up-and-comers Steve Williams and Vachel Samuels, each of whom Tedford said “I am fired up about.”
Cattouse replaced Marcus Ezeff as a starter at safety midway through last season and was solid, but perhaps even more important emerged as an inspirational leader of the defense. Along with linebacker Mike Mohamed and nose tackle Derrick Hill, Cattouse should be one of the respected leaders of the 2010 defense.
Who plays alongside him at safety remains to be seen. Senior Chris Conte figures to be first in line. Conte has been shuffling between safety and corner throughout his career and by far has the most experience of any other safety on the roster. That being said, D.J. Campbell, Chris Moncrease and Alex Logan should all compete with Conte this spring to play that other safety position.