With a tip of the cap to the NFL's Bill Barnwell, who assembled the team triplet rankings for pro football, we decided to do the same with the Pac-12. Here are the parameters: We’ve selected a trio of skill defensive players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the defensive version of this series features a player from the defensive line, linebacker group and secondary. We then ranked each program’s troika against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling each in reverse countdown order. We continue with the California Golden Bears.
DT James Looney
The defensive tackle was a big reason that now-departed defensive end Kyle Kragen thrived last season. With 35 stops, including three for a loss and a sack, he’s a bulky presence on the inside and difficult to move. He posted his strongest statistical games in back-to-back weeks last season, tallying three stops (one for a loss) and a fumble recovery against Washington State. A week later, he had a career-high eight tackles against Utah.
The entire corps is a huge question mark for the Bears, who were already dealing with the graduation of Jalen Jefferson before leading tackler Hardy Nickerson and backup Michael Barton opted to transfer. Not to mention that Jake Kearney medically retired and Nathan Broussard opted not to return for his final year of eligibility. The Bears have lost six of their top seven leading tacklers with safety Damariay Drew (71 tackles) as the top returner. That leaves Downs, who missed some time last year because of injury, as the headliner with 29 stops.
With 41 tackles and a team-high 12 passes defended last year, Allensworth steps in to fill the role of Stefan McClure as leader of the secondary. Though he missed a lot of the spring with a sprained ankle, he’s been around the program long enough to know the ropes. He started all 13 games last season, snagged an interception and forced a pair of fumbles. Of the three levels of defense, secondary is probably Cal’s most stable with Drew providing another veteran presence.
As noted above, the Bears have a lot of different holes to fill. And that’s from a group that was 11th in the league last year in rush defense (209.8 yards per game) and yielded almost 31 points per game. That said, they made huge strides when it came to forcing turnovers. In 2014, Cal was at minus-3 with 17 takeaways and 20 giveaways. Last year, they got back in the black with a plus-four ratio (27 forced, 23 given). They also were in the upper half of the league (5th) in passing turnovers allowed with 21. But the run defense remains a concern. They’ll face six 1,000-yard rushers from last season. Buckling down the front end of the defense has to be a top priority. We’ll know how well it’s coming together in the first third of the season. Three of Cal’s first four games feature 1,000-yard backs.