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Tuesday, April 6, 2010
Opening the mailbag: Is Cal changing defenses again?

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

On the ground in Portland, now heading to Seattle (sure there will be no traffic) to check in with Steve Sarkisian and his Huskies, but wanted to get up a quick mailbag.

To the notes.

Ty from Land of Oaks, Calif., writes: I have a question about California's defense. There has been a lot of talk in the media about the new coordinator going back to the 4-3. Some reports are claiming Cal will play a "hybrid" 3-4. What's the deal? Does [new Cal defensive coordinator Clancy] Pendergast think he doesn't have the personnel to stick with the 3-4? What does it mean for Cal's strong LB recruiting class? It seems to me that the LB commits were related to the opportunity to play in a 3-4 and showcase their skills in an "NFL" system. What is your take?

Ted Miller: I think folks are getting bogged down in football terms on this one. This story is a good explanation of what folks mean when they talk about "hybrid" defenses, but it's likely a stretch to say that's what Pendergast plans to adopt.

Pendergast is a long-time 3-4 guy. So my hunch is the base D will remain a 3-4. But coach Jeff Tedford wants more pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- just like many fans, he wasn't keen on the three-man rush. That could mean more blitzing from linebackers. It also could mean lining up a fourth big body on the line of scrimmage from time-to-time.

What Pendergast most wants to do is figure out how to best use his front-seven talent. It is far easier to recruit linebackers than dominant defensive tackles. That's why Tedford pushed the switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 in the first place. Considering the Bears recruiting focus of late, I'd be shocked if you saw a whole bunch of 4-3 this fall.


Jason from Oakland writes: Two questions about expansion, given that we take Utah and Colorado and split the two divisions up like a zipper (the only logical way to expand): 1) How will they decide who will go into which division? 2) What will the divisions be named?

Ted Miller: There are no givens with the expansion talk, but I know what you're saying.

The "zipper" split -- the idea of putting traditional rivals in opposite divisions -- does make sense because it ensures regular visits to California for the non-California teams -- critical for recruiting -- which wouldn't happen with a North-South divide.

My guess is the divide would be random, and controversy would ensue when one division ended up with, say, USC, Oregon and Cal. Or would folks be more bent, a few years into the future, getting stuck with UCLA, Oregon State and Stanford?

As for the division names... heck if I know. Should we have a contest here?

Pacific and Western? Ocean and Mountain? Stones and Beatles? Aniston and Jolie? Gates and Jobs?


Christopher from Midvale, Utah writes: Where do you place Oregon heading into the 2010 Season with all that has happened? Do you think they are still a preseason favorite for the Pac-10 and perhaps preseason top ten team in national rankings?

Ted Miller: With Jeremiah Masoli, Oregon was a clear Pac-10 favorite and top-10 team. Perhaps a top-five team. Without him, the Ducks are still a top-20 team and will get plenty of votes for first in the conference, though I'd rate them behind USC at this point.

I'm going to see some of Nate Costa and Darron Thomas this week. Considering how well coach Chip Kelly has done with his past quarterbacks -- Dennis Dixon and then Masoli -- I'm certainly not ready to write Oregon out of the Pac-10 or even national picture.

Oregon has a vast majority of the key pieces back from its Rose Bowl team. Masoli was a key piece, perhaps critical, but don't expect the Ducks to tumble in the conference standings. I'd be shocked if, when the smoke clears on the 2010 season, Oregon isn't at least in the top-three.


Gary from Portland writes: Yes, the fan and media tumult about Jeremiah Masoli continues...I am reading Jon Krakauer's book on Pat Tillman, "Where Men Win Glory." He recounts Tillman's life in great detail, including the startling account of Tillman being involved in a brawl his senior year of high school. He was charged with felony assault. Eventually, the charge was dropped to a misdemeanor, and he was found guilty and sentenced to 30 days in jail and 250 hours of community service. He served the entire sentence. Had the charge not been downgraded, he never would have been eligible for a scholarship from ASU. Tillman was so changed by the experience, he vowed to not only excel on the field -- but excel in the classroom as well. He graduated with a GPA just a tick below 4.0. And became a successful college and NFL player. Of course, this story has a sad ending, but it is a perfect example of how important second (or event third) chances can be to young men still grappling with the steep curve of maturity.

Ted Miller: Thanks for the note, Gary. Good point.


Jacob from Nashville writes: I came across a mixtape that Cal receiver Alex Lagemann just released a month or two ago. Check it out, it's pretty legit.

Ted Miller: It is. Here's a story on Lagemann's budding music career.