RETURNING STARTERS: Mychal Kendricks, D.J. Holt
WHO TO WATCH OUT FOR: Nick Forbes
POSSIBLE SURPRISE: Cecil Whiteside
THE BREAKDOWN: This appears to be the deepest position on the team this spring. The Bears have two pretty accomplished returning starters and a boatload of talented, albeit unproven younger players.
Kendricks evolved into a All-Pac-10 second team pick last season and should continue to improve, while Holt finally appeared to start realizing his potential and became a solid performer. You can assume they will both be starters next season, but given the amount of young players competing for playing time, nothing appears to be a sure thing.
Kendricks excelled playing the strong side outside position last season, but he could just as well be effective on the weakside given his pass-rushing skills. Kendricks finished second in the Pac-10 last season with 8.5 sacks. Holt got into much better physical shape last season and his speed and athleticism came to the forefront. He placed second on the team with 85 tackles.
The outside spots will be interesting to watch this spring. If Kendricks is on the weak side, can the Bears find a rush linebacker in the mold of Zack Follett this spring? Defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast likely will take a look at several candidates. Whiteside is an intriguing case. He was highly recruited out of Newport Beach but grayshirted last season to become academically eligible. Now ready to go, his biggest obstacle may just be his unfamiliarity with the program and schemes. There are a lot of players around him who have been in the program for awhile. He will have some catching up to do.
Who else will play in the middle? Forbes certainly is a consideration. Considered a top-10 prospect nationally at his position coming out of high school, Forbes redshirted last season but is ready to go this spring. And how about local product Dave Wilkerson, another top-10 recruit who may have been in the rotation last season but an early concussion led to him redshirting as well. Wilkerson is believed to be more suited for inside linebacker although he was taking reps at OLB early last year. That was more out of necessity as the Bears were suffering from a lack of depth there.
Then there are other players who actually have gotten significant reps at Cal — most notably Robert Mullins and J.P. Hurrell. Ryan Davis hasn’t gotten much of a chance yet since coming to Cal as a highly regarded junior college prospect. How much chance will he be given to compete? Andwhat about Steven Fanua or Oregon State transfer Kameron Krebs?
And then there is this to consider: What happens in the fall when highly recruited linebacker Jason Gibson arrives? All the competition that is bound to happen this spring will be good for the players who are here now, because there could be more competition to come in August.