Sack leader defensive end Nick King has graduated.
Gone, too, are D-line granite chunks Colin Kelly and Anthony Kaspar.
Safety Aarynn Jones and cornerback Jonathan Perkins have earned their diplomas and moved on.
So why is UC Davis defensive coordinator Bert Watts all smiles these days?
“We have a lot of athletic, young guys to go with our veterans,” says the former Denver Broncos assistant. “Our goal from the beginning has been to get better each day. I think, for the most part, our defense has done that. I am pleased with their progression (as a unit).”
Ask 100 college coaches in America, and 99 will tell you that their defenses are ahead of their offenses in camp. Such appears to be the case in Aggie Nation.
“We still have to do a lot of evaluations,” Watts reported after a brisk Wednesday scrimmage brought the team a step closer to thinking about next week’s season opener at Stanford (Aug. 30). “This (workout) was big for us as far as seeing … how the group as a whole is competing.”
In the past two scrimmages, the Aggies have held themselves to just one touchdown (a 3-yarder by quarterback Ben Scott).
Going into 2014, word around the Big Sky Conference is that UCD has the most depth at linebacker, a position that Watts hopes will be a seek-and-destroy unit that takes pressure off the secondary.
Last season, Aggie corners and safeties made up three of the squad’s top five tacklers. With Perkins and Jones gone, UCD is looking for solid replacements. Summer workouts indicate the Aggies have them.
Introducing freshmen Isiah Olave (Eastlake High of San Ysidro) and Robert Taylor (Deer Valley of Hayward) …
Cornerback Olave had a goal-line interception during Wednesday’s scrimmage. In a game, it would have been a 99-yard touchdown. During the first week of camp, Taylor recorded a couple of picks.
With safety Charles Boyett — UCD’s leading tackler in 2013 — and cornerback Shamawn Wright picking up where they left off in 2013, both Olave and Taylor have added intrigue to the competition for the other two defensive backfield starting positions.
“We’ve been very pleased with their development as true freshmen,” Watts said. “Being able to come out and make plays like they have … it’s been impressive.”
However, Wright, a junior from Antioch, and Napa High’s Boyett have a lot of veteran company, too. Patrick Wells (Taft High of Woodland Hills), Quinn Harris (Moorpark High), L.A.’s Nate Walker (Crespi) and Zach Jones — also of Napa — are players with varsity experience.
Also experienced is sophomore Keleen Culberson, a safety out of Corona’s Santiago High who intercepted a pair of errant passes in an impressive display during the first week of Aggie camp. Competition gets deeper when considering Penn transfer Ade Jackson and De Anza College newcomer Mitch Casas, a pair of DBs with bones earned elsewhere.
Pleasant Grove High freshman Desmond Lewis joins first-year backfield candidates Jordan Robinson (Gilbert, Ariz.) and Sean Johnson (Burbank High) in hoping to break through.
While going 5-7 after losing their first four games in Gould’s rookie campaign, the Aggies picked up the pace by beating five of eight Big Sky foes. However, the locals managed only 14 takeaways in their 12 outings and Watts thinks the defense will improve markedly on that stat.
And there’s no time like the present when UCD calls on No. 11 Stanford a week from Saturday.
“As a staff, we’ve been evaluating (the Cardinal) all season,” Watts explained. “Now our players get to focus on Stanford in practice. Now, we’ve got to get to know them; who they are; what they do.”
Notes: “Charles Boyett is doing an outstanding job. He’s having a great camp,” Gould told The Enterprise. “But I could be here all day talking about the strides a lot of the players are making.” … In addition to defensive first-teamers Boyett and Wright, 2013 starting linebackers Steven Pitts, Ryan Dimino and Jonathan Bias return to the Aggie defense, as does tackle Kyle DeVaughn.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.