With the preseason practices getting under way and football players getting back to the full contact of the game, we often see a rash of injuries pile up in early August. The Cal Bears are experiencing that phenomenon first hand as they watch their defensive depth thin as players go down with injuries.
Sophomore cornerback Stefan McClure suffered a major knee injury last season on November 25 against Arizona State. The talented coverman was listed No. 2 at one corner behind Marc Anthony coming out of spring practice, but may be redshirted this season as his rehab has not progressed quickly and his knee is still far from being 100 percent. Having the injury late in the season likely hurt his chances of making it back this year, and the extent of the injury also made it difficult. McClure had both his ACL and MCL ligaments repaired and underwent microfracture surgery to repair his meniscus.
The Bears will hope that the year redshirting will give McClure enough time to come back at full strength. As a freshman in 2011, McClure saw extensive action and even started two games. He made 24 tackles, including one for loss, with an interception in nine games of action. He figured to be a prominent piece of the defensive rotation at Berkeley this year, and his absence will hurt the depth of the secondary, who also lost incoming freshman Raymond Ford for academic reasons.
In addition to the secondary, the linebackers are starting to look thin as well. Penn State transfer Khairi Fortt arrived on campus just days before fall camp started and the coaching staff was worried about getting him up to speed with a new defense on the fly. Turns out, they’ll have some time to have him watch and learn as Fortt is at least a couple weeks away from practicing as he continues to recover from knee surgery. That same knee surgery kept him out of spring ball for the Nittany Lions, but the team still sees Fortt as a major contributor this season. It may just take a little extra time for him to get into the rotation now.
Also at linebacker, redshirt freshman Jason Gibson broke his foot on Monday and will be out for about three months. Gibson wasn’t considered to be a major factor for playing time this season, but was making a push to get in the mix for some action despite not being included on the post-spring depth chart. While his absence won’t be directly felt right away, the coaching staff will miss having a warm body to throw out on special teams or in case of emergency at linebacker.
The Bears are looking to make some noise in the Pac-12 this season, and a big component of that will be the effectiveness of their defense. While Jeff Tedford and company have been fortunate to avoid losing any major contributors yet, the loss of a few key players who figured into their defensive rotation could put a major strain on the starters this season.
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