Cal has eight starters returning from a defense a that was a top 25 unit in overall scoring and against the run, and fourth in total turnovers (34).
But while the Bears' success on defense shouldn't be a surprise to anyone in 2009, there are still plenty of players who are ready to step in and become household names in Berkeley this upcoming season.
Mychal Kendricks (Soph.) LB (pictured above)
Cal and Pac-10 followers may have heard about the departed Worrell Williams' praise for Kendricks, who will be manning the inside with Mike Mohamed.
The opener against Maryland will be the sophomore's first big shot to prove his former teammate right.
He only had 15 tackles last season, but the limited playing time is understandable, considering Williams and Anthony Felder were the starters on the inside in Cal's 3-4 scheme.
Even so, Kendricks made appearances in all but one contest, recording a sack against Washington State and blocking a punt on special teams against Colorado State.
While he doesn't have elite size (at 6'0''), he has added more strength (now at 230 pounds) and has the athleticism, blitzing ability, and acceleration at the snap to be a formidable force on the inside [ESPN.com/Scout.com].
Opponents and fans alike better watch out when his talent meets playing opportunity this season.
Devin Bishop (Sr.), LB
Bishop is probably known best for his genes (he is the brother of former Cal stud and current Green Bay Packer Desmond Bishop) and his tough assignment this season: taking the place of the departed star Zack Follett on the outside.
Bishop appears up to the task, mentioning that the role is "...like a size 11 shoe, I'm like a 10 1/2 right now, but by the time the game comes around it should be a perfect fit."
The former four-star junior college transfer out of San Francisco CC recorded 13 tackles games last year playing behind Follett. And while he might not have No. 56's skills, Bishop is not short on experience after appearing in 12 games.
Word has it that Bishop has become a vocal offseason leader for the defense, so the players are certainly aware of him. In time, the fans will be, too.
D.J. Holt (Soph.) LB
Like Kendricks, Holt has a young player looking to combine great potential with playing opportunity.
The former four-star recruit and SuperPrep All American saw action in 12 of 13 games, and even started against Colorado State. He recorded 14 tackles on the year, including a career high four in his debut against Washington State.
His experience playing defensive end in high school gives him great edge-rushing ability, though it means he will need to improve his coverage skills.
Either way, with offenses having to account for Cal's defensive line (which returns all of its starters intact), look for Holt to make a significant impact this year when he gets the chance.
Bryant Nnabuife (Jr.), CB
Not a whole lot of people know Nnabuife's name (even less can spell it), but the junior college transfer from Blinn College recorded the first score of Cal's season, returning a blocked punt for a touchdown against Michigan State.
He did it again against Colorado State, becoming the only player in the Pac-10 to return two blocked punts for scores.
And if starting cornerback Darian Hagan (the team leader in pass breakups) and safety Brett Johnson (two picks in '08) are any example, good special teams performance can be open the door for a more prominent defensive role.
Nnabuife will fight for time with juniors Chris Conte and Charles Ahmadi for time at cornerback behind Hagan and Syd'Quan Thompson (or alongside them in nickel packages).
At 6'2" and about 200 pounds, he has good size to match up with some of the conference's more physical receivers.
Sean Cattouse (Soph.), S
Cattouse did not start until the final two games of 2008: the regular season finale against Stanford, and the Emerald Bowl against Miami.
But he did his best work under the radar—and when it mattered most. He was quitely tied for second on team in interceptions in 2008, and all three of them came when opponents were driving deep in Cal territory.
He had a fourth quarter pick against ASU at the Bears' six, an interception in the end zone against Oregon, and one at the Cal three versus UCLA. Cattouse was also a solid contributor on special teams.
He is currently listed behind Brett Johnson on BearTerritory's depth chart, but look for him to see increased action and make the Cal secondary even more dangerous in 2009.
D.J. Campbell (Soph.), S
Rated as the No. 3 prospect out of Nevada by Rivals.com, he will compete for time at the safety/rover position (currently listed behind starter Marcus Ezef) after making appearances in 11 games last year and recording four solo tackles.
Campbell brings even more depth to a ball-hawking secondary that should be one of the better units in the country this fall.
The Bears safeties had a nose for the ball, with the top three (Ezef, Cattouse, and Johnson) combining for eight picks last season, so don't be surprised if Campbell gets his hands on a couple this year, too.
What really excites me is that all of these players on this list have had some valuable playing experience last season, which should make transitions easier for the up and coming starters (particularly at linebacker).
No one is being thrown into the fire, like Syd'Qyan Thompson was against Tennessee his freshman year.
Hope you enjoyed the list; if there are any you feel I left out, please comment.