BERKELEY -- The California football team's final practice before Saturday's Pac-12 match-up with Utah saw several key players return to full, active duty, including linebackers Mychal Kendricks and Chris McCain.
"He's a pretty humble kid, and just comes in and he's very business-like about his approach, and that's one of the things I've said all along that I like about him, is how he handles himself during the week," Pendergast said of McClure. "You know what you're getting with him every day, and that was one of the unique things about scouting him and watching him play in high school and doing the due diligence on him, those are the kinds of guys you want in your program."
With McClure and sophomore Steve Williams starting at corner, Pendergast isn't concerned at all that he'll have a lot of youngsters on defense.
"I think we're progressing every week. I think we've been more consistent. The main thing is just eliminating the big plays," Pendergast said. "Against Southern Cal, we gave up two big pass plays and that's two too many. If we can continue to keep the big plays to a minimum -- and some of that has been match-ups and some of that has been just poor technique and some of it's been recognition -- we're trying to keep that very much at a minimum. But, I see us getting better every week, and I think we've identified who our guys are and who's going to be the main guys that are going to play for us to finish out the season, and like I've said all along, this is a different defense than we had last year. You're talking about playing four and five freshmen, you've got Mychal Kendricks playing a new position, you've got one and a half new safeties and one new corner -- two new corners now -- so it's a developing group that's getting better every week."
That 'half' safety Pendergast referred to is senior Sean Cattouse, who has two picks for 20 yards, 31 tackles (third on the team), two tackles for loss, one sack and one fumble recovery.
"He only played half the year last year," Pendergast said. "He started the Arizona State game, I think, that was his first start. We had Josh Hill and [Chris] Conte as our two safeties. He didn't play until late in games."
"Cecil Whiteside, it'll be interesting to see. We like the play of our outside linebackers that played last week against Southern Cal, so it'll be a mix of those guys," Pendergast said. "Cecil was rotating in there, but Wilkerson started the season as the starter and has been injured, so when he was healthy enough, he started again, and he played well last week against Southern Cal, except for a play here and there. But, Cecil is a guy that is making improvements, that will be more involved in passing-type situations."
Given the right situations, true freshman Brennan Scarlett could also see some time on early downs. Scarlett has played in two games with one tackle, but at 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, is a unique combination of speed, size and intelligence.
"He'd be a rotational guy behind McCain," Pendergast said. "Scarlett's a developing player. He'll be playing more now. He's a guy that I anticipate playing. He's playing better, he's got a better grasp of what we're doing defensively, and I feel more confident that he knows what to do, and his body type will fit some of these teams better, that we're playing coming up. More of a first and second down run type guy on the outside, because he's a pretty good anchor point outside to set the edge."
Scarlett - big enough to play defensive end - has plus speed, and that's allowed him to run with the defense during the first half of the season, rather than play on the scout team.
"It's just been getting comfortable and the transition and all those things, but I think he's now ready to take a jump," Pendergast said. "We want to keep him outside. He's got the ability to rush the passer, as well, but I think it just depends on how many snaps we get to get our rushers out there. It depends on how many third downs and what are they going to do grouping-wise, and so much of it is, you never know how somebody wants to attack you, and then that translates into maybe us having different guys out there more than maybe we anticipated or they may not, depending on their offense and how they feel they want to attack us."
Behind Williams and McClure, yet another true freshman -- Kameron Jackson -- is going to be in the mix at cornerback.
"[Scarlett]'s a guy that we want to get in the mix and I think him and Kam Jackson, those guys are guys that I want to get in there and play, to get them going. I think Kam, you guys haven't seen him out there. He's a talented young corner. He played against Fresno and Presbyterian late," Pendergast said. "I think they're both probably in the same boat. Kam is just a guy that, with our depth at corner, he's one play away from going in there. So, you're talking about losing Marc and then you've got your next best guy in Stefan starting, so one of those guys is a play away from potentially playing."
Redshirt freshman Adrian Lee, Pendergast said, "would be the next guy."
With increased disruption from the defensive line in recent weeks, Pendergast is content to stand pat with his top three of Trevor Guyton, Aaron Tipoti and Ernest Owusu, but true freshmen Viliami Moala and Mustafa Jalil will likely see time against Utah's powerful running attack, led by John White. Jalil has played so well as to pass up redshirt freshman Gabe King, who took the No. 2 reps in spring practice.
"Gabe's been progressing. He's worked, he's shown progress on the scout team, which we're happy with the strides he's made there. He's continued to get better, but at this point, we're going to play the guys we feel are the best right now, and right now, he's not in the two-deep," Pendergast said. "Jalil passed him up. For Jalil to do what he's doing as a freshman is pretty impressive. He's very active with his hands, he gets off blocks, he's a very good athlete, he's got very loose hips for a guy his size, so he's a good player."
Part of the Utes' increased reliance on the run has been due to White's emergence, but also to new offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who has instituted a more pro-style offense in Salt Lake City.
"It's a little bit different than the old Utah offense," said Cal head coach Jeff Tedford. "Norm does, he's got a few of those things, I mean, you have to remember, he was at UCLA last year. They ran all of that [spread], so it's not that they don't know any of it or they don't have any of it in the playbook. I'm sure they do. I think it probably depends on what, each offense is different on where they are in stages of preparation and who they're playing against and what they can pull off, but it's not that Norm doesn't know any of that stuff; he knows all that and he knows the pro style, so he's probably doing things that they're comfortable with, with their personnel."