California Golden Bears Position Preview: Linebackers


Before the football season starts, lets look at how the California Golden Bears are doing at each position entering the spring, and see where there are potential position battles. With a squad that’s returning 17 of 22 starters from a year ago, we might not see a lot of new faces in the starting lineup, but it doesn’t hurt to know who’s new, and who’s backing up those 17 returning starters.

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A Year Ago…

A more consistent bunch than most people thought, Cal’s linebackers did their jobs pretty well throughout the season. Whether it was plugging up the running game, playing adequate pass defense against tight ends, or covering the occasional slot receiver, the Golden Bears’ linebackers group was a little better than average in 2014.

While the pass defense struggled all season long, this unit slowed the running games of opponents, and for the most part, prevented big plays in the run game. If there was one knock on this unit, it was that they could not help get consistent and sustained pressure on the quarterback.

The Cal defense was one of the worst pass rushing units in college football. Many saw that the linebackers needed to help get pressure through the use of multiple blitz packages. While it wasn’t necessarily their job to get to the quarterback, the Bears defense would take a big step forward if the linebackers could get more pressure on the quarterback in 2015. The regulars included Devante Downs, Michael Barton, Hardy Nickerson, and Jalen Jefferson.

Saying Goodbye:

New Faces:

  • Cameron Saffle, 6-3, 221
  • Trevor Howard, 6-4, 232

Current Roster:

2015 Preview:

As the most consistent of their defensive units last season, large expectations have fallen upon the Bears’ linebackers in 2015. With pretty much every returning player coming back, and a defensive secondary that should be much improved, this unit will be key in the success of the Cal defense.

Sep 27, 2014; Berkeley, CA, USA; California Golden Bears defensive tackle Austin Clark (54) and California Golden Bears linebacker Michael Barton (8) combine against Colorado Buffaloes quarterback Sefo Liufau (13) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

If they can continue to stop the run, and start to get pressure on the quarterback with promising sophomore, Downs, and the senior, Jefferson, the Bears would have a shot at a Pac-12 North title.

Juniors, Barton and Nickerson, will also look to make an impact this season by stopping the big gains surrendered against the run when they played Oregon and Stanford. They will also be asked to continue improving and helping a struggling pass defense.

The key to this unit however, is its ability to help the defensive line by getting sustained pressure and sacks on the quarterback. Being in the pass happy Pac-12 conference requires teams to have a good secondary. And if they do not have a good secondary, then they must get pressure on the quarterback.

The Bears didn’t do either last season, and the results revealed that. With questions in the defensive backfield again this season, it is imperative that the Golden Bears attack opposing teams’ offensive lines so quarterbacks like Kevin Hogan, Anu Solomon, and Cody Kessler don’t pick apart a struggling secondary, as they did last season.

But there is hope for the Cal’s defense this season, as Downs, Jefferson, and Barton look to be the stalwarts of an experienced group of linebackers for the Bears.

Next: California Golden Bears Position Preview: Running Backs