Cal Football 2020 Positional Preview: The Defensive Line

A unit that has more than meets the... Brett Johnson

This is arguably one of the more intriguing groups on the roster this season. The addition of true freshman Stanley McKenzie and Ricky Correia allows players like Brett Johnson to move freely around the line and back into his more natural position at DE. It also means that the production on run defense will not drop off when Aaron Maldonado is not available for the Bears. So with that, let’s take a look at what this room led by Andrew Browning has to offer on the field this season.

Position Breakdown

I think it’s fair to say that Brett Johnson is the star of this room. He demands the most attention on the field, and is arguably the most talented Defensive Lineman to play for Cal in the last 10 years. The last player that had as much hype and impact is probably Cam Jordan, who last played for the Bears in 2010. The interesting part here is Brett Johnson is the only player listed as the whole group at DL while everyone else is listed at a specific position. I am fully expecting this to mean that he will play everywhere along the line. I even made a bold prediction on the Golden Bearcast Prediction Episode this week, that we could see him line up at OLB as well. After moving to NG/DT and playing the whole season as a true freshman there, he ended on the third-team Freshman All-American and also third-team All-Pac-12 honors from PFF. It’ll be interesting what he can do from the other positions in creating havoc at more open field position. Even while playing inside he had 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks while playing all 13 games last season. For some fun comparables, Aaron Donald had 3 tackles for loss and 2 sacks in 13 games his freshman season at Pitt.

The more pressing concern is regarding the experience and depth on the line. With the loss of Luc Bequette and Siu Fuimaono, the likes of Stanley McKenzie and Ricky Correia will be called upon early in the season. We know what Aaron Maldonado will bring and is cemented as one of the starters, if not the starter on the inside, depending on odd or even fronts. The backups behind him were the question and whether or not either of them could provide some production right away. The two freshman actually give us some bowling-ball-offensive-line-eating body types that we have not had since the departure of Chris Palmer. The Bears have struggled to stop runs up the middle while also creating pressure on the opposing center and guards. This rotation of NGs have the potential to change all of that. Stanley McKenzie in particular has been drawing praise and looked good in the snippets we get on social media, as seen below.

Even star OLB Cam Goode saying that McKenzie and Corriea look to play the NG role for the Bears this season.

Zeandae Johnson is the elder statesman in the room and provides some much needed consistency and leadership with a huge influx of youth the last two seasons. We know what Zeandae gives and and helps cement the floor for production from the DE position. Tevis, Roberts, Rask and Saunders are the biggest wildcards here. There are snaps available to them and a void that someone is going to have to step up into. If someone is able to step in and produce at or past the expectation of a rotation player, the Bears may have better production along the whole line.

Honestly speaking this is the most optimistic I have been about the DL under Coach Wilcox and probably the most talented. I fully expect them to take a bit of a step back to start the year with so much youth being introduced into the squad, but by midseason, this line could be rounding out into one of the more balanced rotations on the team.

If you have any thoughts on the group or questions, feel free to drop them in the comments! Our writers will offer their answers and thoughts throughout the week!

A few quick plugs as we rumble towards the first game of the season:

  • If you’re not doing so already, you should follow the @writeforcal twitter account, where Owen Kaminski has been doing a great job of collecting all of the limited info coming out of fall camp.

  • We’ll have gamethreads up each weekend for folks to hang out and discuss college football games around the nation, and we’re having fun experimenting with commentary live streams. This past weekend we watched a shockingly dull Sonny Dykes game and talked Cal football. This is all a build up to our ultimate goal of live streaming watch-a-longs for Cal games this year. Since we can’t gather together to watch Cal football, why not take the opportunity to gather online to watch? We’re also planning to have guests and other surprises during our watch-a-longs. So make sure to follow and subscribe to our @writeforcal twitter account, YouTube page and Facebook page to watch with us and talk to us!