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Cal football transfer portal review: Did defense and special teams improve or downgrade?
Cal landed a whole new secondary and will have a new punter and kicker, but might be slightly thinner at linebacker for the 2023 season.
Cal’s defense didn’t experience the incredible level of remake that the Bears offense dealt with, but there are definite changes and it seems the talent is on the right side. The special teams changes were a little bit wilder.
Let’s take a look at each position group and see how the Bears stack up.
There was not a ton of attrition or addition for the Bears up front, so it’s basically the same unit as Cal put up last year. It’ll all come down to health whether the defensive line improves or stays the same. The return of Stanley McKenzie (after a year off due to personal reasons) and “third time’s a charm” opportunity for BRETT JOHNSON will be the real difference between a stalwart front or another uneven campaign—Cal’s remaining defensive linemen had their struggles last season.
Two Power 5 linebackers came in and are projected to be potential bench players alongside former transfer Jackson Sirmon. Allen and Reese don’t have as much experience as some of the starters who left, but talentwise they are among the best linebackers out here. Tidiane Jalloh could also be a late pleasant surprise, transferring in from the junior college ranks.
There’s no sugarcoating the losses here. Losing their second leading tackler in Oladejo is a tough one, particularly to UCLA. Patu and Ikahihifo had significant snaps as well. It’s hard to say if Cal is better off linebacking-wise. Sirmon, Xavier Carlton, Myles Jernigan, Nate Rutchena, Myles Williams, Mo Iosefa, Blake Antzoluatos, Kaleb Elarms-Orr are all back. With Sirmon locked, you have to feel Cal will be able to find three regular midline defenders to line up beside them.
Shocking: Justin Wilcox can find and land quality defensive backs. Williams was a quality cornerback in the Mountain West, and McMorris could be one of the best safeties in the Pac-12 when all is said and done. Moore and Scott got rotation snaps in at Power 5 programs. Add in Citrus College transfer Matthew Littlejohn, and you could see half the transfers grab potential positions in the starting lineup.
Neither Higgins nor Iosefa were significant contributors, so you’re left with a logjam in the secondary. Jeremiah Earby, Lu-Magia Hearns, Isaiah Yuong, Tyson McWilliams all saw plenty of time at cornerback. Craig Woodson, Dejaun Butler, Miles Williams have seen time at safety. Collin Gamble will be trying to hold onto nickelback spot.
In: Punter Lachlan Wilson (Tulsa)
Wilson is the likely starting punter to follow up Jamieson Sheahan after a stellar year at Tulsa, with Thomas Lee also brought in as an emergency replacement. Wilson had an outstanding year with the Owls. JUCO transfer Wesley Brown will duel it out with one of the best high school long snappers in David Bird.
Longhetto’s departure feels tough, but now the kicking responsibilities entirely belong to Michael Luckhurst. Luckhurst handled the kickoffs last year and is ready to follow in his father’s footsteps in Berkeley in his sophomore campaign.
Cal fans, thoughts on what you think of the 2023 defense and special teams? Let us know what you think in the comments.