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Defensive transition underway at Cal

3/6/2013

So much of the excitement around the Sonny Dykes hire at California was that he was going to bring an exciting, up-tempo offense to Berkeley that would, presumably, fit in nicely in the Pac-12.

After all, Dykes' former team, Louisiana Tech, led the nation in total offense last season. Then again, in a statistical anomaly, they were also dead last in total defense nationally.

Enter Andy Buh, formerly of Wisconsin, Nevada, Stanford and Cal among others, and the 4-3 defense. With all the chatter about the exciting new offense, it's easy to forget that the Bears are also transitioning from the 3-4 under previous defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. And for as much as the offense and quarterback battle are in the spotlight, Cal's defense could use a good re-tooling as well after the Bears allowed 33.1 points per game in 2012 -- ninth in the Pac-12.

However, it's the new offense that is actually going to make the defense better -- at least in theory. Well into spring ball, some of Cal's defenders are already noticing the up-tempo offense is pushing them to be better defensive players.

"It's a good offense, a really great offense," said linebacker Nick Forbes. "I tell people all the time, boys play offense, men play defense. The boys are out there having a lot of fun running around. But as a defense, we're doing a good job of stopping it and playing it really well. We're testing them and they need a good test to work out the kinks.

"The other thing it will do is make us really athletic on defense. As a linebacker when you're isolated on the slot, that's a worst-case scenario for some defenses. For us, we're doing it every practice so it's preparing us really well to face the talent we see in the Pac-12."

Buh's roots are in the 4-3. In a recent interview with Jeff Faraudo of the "San Jose Mercury News," he explained why in an era of 3-4 teams, he prefers the even front.

First of all, it's what I know -- that's probably the most significant reason. Any time you coordinate a defense, you want to be a master of it.

It can defend all the different types of offenses we're going to face. I believe in the way football has become where the quarterback is such a threat, both run and pass, that four defensive linemen are almost critical in terms of keeping linemen off the linebackers, having good pass-rush lanes, squeezing and constricting gaps and not making it such a space game. Those are all the principles of the 4-3. We'll sit more on our technique and our fundamentals than our scheme.

Obviously, the transition is a work in progress as ends and linebackers learn their new roles.

"It's still early," defensive lineman Deandre Coleman said. "We've only had four practices, but I feel like everyone is getting the hang of it and everybody is learning. I feel like we're moving fast."

Buh is already receiving rave reviews from his players -- particularly for his teaching style.

"We're starting off really simple to really learn the fundamentals and how it works and why we're calling some of the calls," said Forbes, who notched 85 tackles (45 solo) last season. "We're going to be a very smart defense and understand why we're doing what we're doing."