Post-Spring Review: Cornerbacks
With spring in the books, we're taking a look at every position group from the spring and where they stand going into the 2021 season.
Cal's cornerback position doesn't have Cam Bynum starting for the first time since 2017. They do have a couple players who have played plenty, in Josh Drayden and Chigozie Anusiem, but the biggest challenge will be building the numerous young players up to provide depth.
Josh Drayden and Chigozie Anusiem appear to be the top two corners for the Bears in 2021. Drayden will have a chance, due to the quirk of getting an extra year of eligibility, to have played in more games than any other Cal football player (having played in 43 games, starting 10). Anusiem saw backup reps in 2019, becoming a starter in 2020 (starting two of the four games), and will now be the full-time starter for the Bears.
Drayden can play both in the nickel and on the outside, something he has done well over his time at Cal. He has been solid at tackling in space, something he showed against Washington State in 2019. He's not the biggest corner, but he moves well and has solid technique. Anusiem is the prototype of a corner that Cal has only recently recruited well, a long DB who runs well and can match up against taller receivers.
When the Bears go to the nickel, expect Collin Gamble to play some for the Bears, as the second year defensive back impressed last fall and this spring. He moves similarly to Drayden, a quick defensive back with plenty of lateral quickness.
Adding Size on the Outside
Cal's gotten noticeably bigger at cornerback, with Anusiem, Jaylen Martin (3rd year), Tyson McWilliams (2nd year), and Kaleb Higgins (true freshman). All four are 6'2" or taller, with Higgins looking noticeably lanky during Cal's spring game. The latter three may not be as ready as Anusiem was, but may be called on to play this year, at the very least on special teams. Defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon noted that Higgins had some standout plays during the spring, and his growth will be worth keeping an eye on.
On the Inside
Aside from Gamble, the Bears return Branden Smith (who opted out in 2020), and Isaiah Young, all three guys who can play well laterally and tackle. Young notably had a takedown of Jermaine Terry in the spring game, as Terry has nearly 90 pounds on the second year DB out of Corona Centennial.
This group will also add Lu-Magia Hearns, who is having a fantastic senior campaign at De La Salle.
The cornerback position as a whole doesn't have the kind of experience it has had over the past two seasons. That's the nature of college sports, and it's up to new defensive backs coach Tre Watson to build back some of the depth lost at the position. Someone outside of Drayden and Anusiem is going to have become a bigger factor for the Bears. Judging by reports from practices, Gamble may be the guy to do it.