2021 Cal Football Positional Preview: Inside Linebackers
Paster, Anzoulatos, Iosefa, evaN Tattersall: or PAIN
Editor’s note: This was written prior to the news that Blake Antzoulatos would be out for the season.
Ok, I tried a bit too hard on that acronym.
Ever since the Kunaszyk-Downes duo Cal has been blessed with very good ILB play, even 2020 which was allegedly a down year we still could rely on the steady hand in Kuony Deng and the emergence of Mo Iosefa.
With the movement of Deng to the OLB corps and the promotion of Granite Bay native Evan Tattersall to the ILB position, we have another refresh in the position.
During the Weaver/Kunaszyk/Deng era, the ILBs always stayed on the field with little rotation with the 2 deep. I believe is because Cal would have to enlist the services of a Minotaur to move Evan, Jordan, or Kuony off the field. In 2020 we could see Wilcox and co. trying to split snaps between Iosefa and Tattersall next to Deng, each of them showed different skills but Iosefa’s supernatural nose for the ball and the flow of the game really shined.
The Presumptive Starters
Evan Tattersall (#54) and Mo Iosefa (#55), both have complementary skillsets with Tattersall being the downhill run-stopper who can stack and shed guards in motion and have the thump to make any play through the middle of the LOS a painful experience for any opposing skill player. Iosefa knows where the ball is, I don’t know how, and I don’t know why, but against Oregon, there were some well-executed PA fakes that Iosefa was able to sniff out and be around the ball if needed. On both of the 2nd half turnovers, he was either the cause or a contributor to the key plays that sealed the only win for us.
Something worth knowing is that both of them gained 10 lbs each to further add some sturdiness up the middle and some heft to absorb impact in the ILB spot.
Blake Anzoulatos (#51) and Trey Paster (#27). Continuing the trend of complementary skills we have an Evan Weaver clone (someone makes sure he isn’t, call LVSB) in terms of play and attitude, and the most explosive ILB Cal has had since Mychal Kendricks. There isn’t much as much tape on either of them from the 2020 season, but the high school tape + athletic profile indicates a possible interesting contrast in the way the Cal ILB corps functions.
As we have seen from the Statsheet, the main Job of the Wilcox/Aranda tree ILB is to rack up tackles and make sure no big plays cross between the tackles. Otherwise, their jobs are often split by field/boundary responsibilities modified by the orientations of the skill player sets such as 3x1 sets or the location of the RB vis-a-vis the QB.
With Trey Paster, we have a tantalizing opportunity to be able to run pass coverages from base 3-4 alignments. It could serve as a hard counter to no-huddle teams that try to use the formation to dictate favorable coverages. Trey has the speed and length to cover split-out TEs or RBs in slot positions. With the emergence of the Fangio/Staley school of offense where the usage of lightboxes to invite runs plays to stop the RPO and deep crossing routes, having an athletic ILB like Paster can help the defense address any new schemes.
I think that there will be more rotation within the ILB corps as long as everyone is healthy. With Paster providing athleticism, Iosefa instincts, Tattersall run-stopping ability, and Anzoulatos hatred of the enemy for daring to play against him; there are 12 possible lineups that can emerge from the 4 and this is not to mention the guys behind them in Kyle Thor Smith, Andy Alfieri, and Ryan “Not a Magical Major” Puskas (bonus points for whoever figures out the reference).