Aug. 16, 2011
As 2011 Cal football camp marches on, a lot of things become second nature for seniors like Sean Cattouse and D.J. Campbell, as they get closer to finishing their final collegiate training camp. One thing that is new for these players and the rest of the veterans in the Golden Bear secondary is breaking in new defensive backs coach, Ashley Ambrose.
Ambrose came to Berkeley in the offseason after spending the last three campaigns at Colorado. He and current Cal passing game coordinator/wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau left Boulder for Berkeley following the 2010 season. After seeing the Bears last fall when Cal defeated Colorado in Berkeley, Ambrose knew he was getting a talented group when head coach Jeff Tedford asked him to come on board.
"I had seen these guys play last year, so I knew they were talented," Ambrose said. "One thing that was impressive to me was how big and how fast they were. As a group, even the younger guys coming in, they have some pretty good size on them. They're smart and intelligent players, and they have the opportunity to go to the next level."
In some cases, the transition for a senior to take on a new assistant coach can be an unwanted or difficult challenge. This is not the case with Cattouse, Campbell and the rest of the veterans, though. Both Bears said the addition of Ambrose to the coaching staff has been nothing but great thus far.
Campbell said the fact that Ambrose had a 13-year playing career in the NFL really helps the players listen to what he preaches.
"It hasn't been a tough transition," Campbell said. "A lot of guys have taken to him really well. A lot of guys are willing to learn about new things, especially since he has a background in the NFL. So a lot of guys who are aspiring to get to that level are taking to him really well. He really relates to us because obviously he's been a player before. We just have a good relationship."
The Bears lost a key component of last year's tough secondary in Chris Conte. Cattouse will move over to free safety and assume the role Conte had in 2010. A third-team preseason All-American, Cattouse has all the tools to be a leader on defense, and while he knows that a leadership role is one that he must take on this season, he is aware he is just one of many leaders on the team.
"I think I've definitely been a leader for some years here," Cattouse said. "As far as leadership from the whole defense, we have more guys than I can count on one hand. There are a lot of guys that are taking it upon themselves to lead. I'm definitely a leader, but not `the' leader."
Cattouse is Cal's active leader in both career interceptions (5) and pass breakups (15) as well as third in tackles (109). Last year, he had career highs of 59 tackles and seven pass breakups, with the latter also tying for the team lead.
Campbell is no slouch either, breaking out in 2010 with career highs of 21 tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two pass breakups. He moved into a starting spot with his strong play last spring.
Another senior safety who has really jumped out at Ambrose with his development and play is C.J. Moncrease.
"At safety, I like what [C.J.] Moncrease is doing," Ambrose said. "He came out of nowhere. He dropped some weight; he's running around and doing the right things. I have to give our strength guys some props on that because he's really moving well, being where he has to be and understanding what we're doing on defense."
Through his first two years on the squad, after transferring from Laney College, Moncrease has played in 24 of 25 games, mostly on special teams and garnering some playing time as a reserve safety.
Avery Walls, a freshman from McDonough, Ga., had the benefit of enrolling early in school last January and was able to train with the team during spring practices. The early time with the team was nothing but an advantage for Walls. Entering fall camp, he is much more comfortable with his game, and now he has the comfort of being surrounded by the rest of the freshmen.
Just like Ambrose, Walls is settling into his first season in Berkeley.
"It was definitely huge," Walls said of playing in the spring. "Last spring, I was practicing with the team, and I really didn't know anything, so I was just trying to do my best to make any plays that I could. Now it's more of a structured deal. I know the plays, Coach Pendergast and Coach Ambrose. They expect a lot out of me. It's more technical, not being so much physical. I know I have to run up and make tackles and make athletic plays, but it's more about knowledge and seeing how I perform under pressure."
In addition to Ambrose, Walls also gave credit to defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi for being an inspirational mentor to him. Walls said he has frequently sought advice from Tedford, Ambrose, Lupoi and the team chaplain, Kevin Knox.
Besides Walls, Ambrose also singled out fellow freshmen cornerbacks Stefan McClure and Kameron Jackson for having strong camps. Walls and McClure are the most decorated, ranking as the nation's No. 17 and No. 18 defensive back recruits, respectively, by Athlon. Both played in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl following their senior season in high school.
Marc Anthony, Josh Hill and Steve Williams are the experienced returning cornerbacks, with Anthony and Williams the projected starters and Hill the likely nickel back. Hill has played in 23 games with 14 starts over the last two seasons and posted 78 tackles along with a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. Anthony totaled 48 tackles and a pair of interceptions while starting 11 of 12 games in 2010, and is Phil Steele's No. 34 draft-eligible cornerback heading into the 2011 campaign. Williams was named Cal's Most Valuable Freshman on defense a year ago.
Ambrose likes what he has seen so far, but he will constantly raise the bar.
"I think we're coming around," Ambrose said. "We still have to work on techniques, but they're making plays, getting their hands on balls, forcing turnovers and that's going to be a huge thing for us. If we want to be the best secondary in the nation, we have to keep on working, pushing it and doing the right things. As a whole group, I like what we're doing, but there's always room for improvement. If we cause 10 turnovers, I want 11 the next day. That's what I want these guys to understand."
The Cal football team is currently in the midst of training camp to prepare for the 2011 season. Single-game tickets for the season-opening TicketCity Battle by the Bay at San Francisco's Candlestick Park against Fresno State on Saturday, Sept. 3 are on sale now. The neutral-site season opener for both teams is not part of the Bears' season-ticket package.
Tickets are also on sale for Cal's five home games this season at San Francisco's AT&T Park. Cal will host Pac-12 opponents USC (Thu., Oct. 13), Utah (Sat., Oct. 22), Washington State (Sat., Oct. 5) and Oregon State (Sat., Oct. 12) at the venue after playing Presbyterian in its home opener on Sat., Sept. 17.
Cal football tickets can be purchased online at CalBears.com or by calling the Cal Athletic Ticket Office at (800) GO BEARS.
After playing the last 88 seasons and every home game at Memorial Stadium since the facility opened for the 1923 Big Game, Cal will host its home games outside of Berkeley for the first time in 2011 while Memorial Stadium undergoes an extensive renovation and retrofit. For updates on the progress of the renovation and retrofit of Memorial Stadium as well as the Memorial Stadium webcam, visit stadium.berkeley.edu.
2011 CAL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Day, Date - Opponent (Time, TV)
^Sat., Sept. 3 - Fresno State (4 p.m. PT, CSN California)
Sat., Sept. 10 - at Colorado (1:30 p.m. MT/12:30 p.m. PT)
Sat., Sept. 17 - Presbyterian (TBA)
*Sat., Sept. 24 - at Washington (TBA)
*Thu., Oct. 6 - at Oregon (6 p.m. PT, ESPN)
*#Thu., Oct. 13 - USC (6 p.m. PT, ESPN)
*Sat., Oct. 22 - Utah (TBA)
*Sat., Oct. 29 - at UCLA (TBA)
*Sat., Nov. 5 - Washington State (TBA)
*Sat., Nov. 12 - Oregon State (TBA)
*Sat., Nov. 19 - at Stanford (TBA)
*Fri., Nov. 25 - at Arizona State (8:15 p.m. MT/7:15 p.m. PT, ESPN)
!Fri., Dec. 2 - Pac-12 Championship Game (TBA, FSN)
Home Games in Bold at AT&T Park, San Francisco, Calif.; ^TicketCity Battle by the Bay at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Calif.; *Pac-12 Game; !Pac-12 Championship Game at Home Site of Regular-Season Champion; #Homecoming