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With new staff, health, Cal 'D' will improve

3/12/2014

If there is one iron-clad guarantee in the Pac-12 next season it is this: California's defense will be better this fall than it was in 2013.

That can be typed with confidence, but it has nothing to do with Sonny Dykes remaking his defensive staff this offseason, a process that was completed with the hiring of Fred Tate as defensive line coach Tuesday.

Yes, most Cal fans should view Art Kaufman as an upgrade over Andy Buh at defensive coordinator because Kaufman's résumé includes more success running defenses, including the nationally ranked unit he oversaw at Cincinnati last season. But our certainty is arrived at for more mundane and probably less inspiring reasons.

The 2014 Bears defense can't be any worse than it was in 2013.

Well, it can, but what are the odds the Bears produce their statistically worst unit in program history two seasons in a row? At some point in 2014, we suspect that Cal will allow fewer than 30 points, thereby ending their present streak of 14 consecutive games surrendering at least 30 points, which already is the longest streak ever -- EVER -- by a power conference team.

But there are more than flippant reasons to believe Kaufman and company will produce dramatic improvement in 2014, and it's the best one: Talent. Cal actually has some on defense.

Here's a bet that no FBS team's 2013 post-spring depth chart was more different than what Cal sent onto the field on defense in November, a motley crew of players who were too young, too small and too slow. Couple that with questionable schemes, poor adjustments and often uninspired play, and you get a defense befitting a 1-11 finish.

Buh has been the scapegoat, and not without reason. But he would have seemed a lot smarter with MLB Nick Forbes, DE Brennan Scarlett, DT Mustafa Jalil, CB Stefan McClure, SS Avery Sebastian and LB Nathan Broussard, among others, on the field. Kaufman will benefit from having all or even most of them -- knock on wood, Cal fans -- back, other than Forbes, who was forced to retire from football due to a recurring back injury.

Scarlett and Sebastian should be full go when spring practices start March 31, and they could be the Bears' two best defenders. McClure, who is moving to safety, is a bit more iffy coming back from a second ACL injury. Jalil and Broussard also figure to be limited this spring.

While depth is questionable, and the Bears lost several players with remaining eligibility who left the program for various reasons, including odd entries into the NFL draft, such as underachieving defensive tackle Viliami Moala, Cal will trot out a pretty salty starting 11 next fall.

If healthy.

I mean, there's no way that the injury situation will be as bad in 2014 as it was in 2013, right?

(Cal fans, pull out your lucky rabbit's foot).