BERKELEY -- In a surprising move, California redshirt junior Steve Williams declared himself for the NFL Draft on Tuesday.
"I want to thank the University of California and all of the terrific people I met during my four years there," Williams said in a statement. "I had a tremendous experience at Cal and was given a wealth of opportunities both in football and in life. This was a difficult decision to make, but my family and I felt it was in our best interest and that this is the right time to take advantage of another set of opportunities we feel will be presented to us in the NFL."
Williams played in all 37 games during his three-year career in Berkeley, with 28 starts. His 25 career pass break-ups rank sixth in school history.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound corner out of Dallas Skyline becomes the second Bear to declare for the draft early, following wide receiver Keenan Allen, but this declaration is a good deal more surprising.
Williams departure likely means that Stefan McClure -- who sat out last season rehabbing a severe knee injury suffered against Arizona State at the end of the 2011 season -- will be the No. 1 corner come next year. With Williams leaving and senior Marc Anthony graduating, there is now just one cornerback with starting experience on the roster in Kameron Jackson, who also has designs on a starting job.
Last season, McClure paced the sideline along with the coaches, as he continued to rehab a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus. The staff gave him the unusual honor of wearing a headset, a job normally reserved for coaches and backup quarterbacks. McClure was able to learn the ins and outs of the defense -- which, granted, will be different this coming season -- and become familiar with the application of defensive concepts from the other side of the white line, an attribute that will make him invaluable in replacing Williams.
As a true freshman, McClure played in 11 games with one interception and 24 total tackles, including 1.0 tackle for loss. He also defended three passes and recovered one fumble.
Jackson has played in 18 games over the past two seasons, recording three interceptions and a total of 33 tackles, with six passes defended and one fumble recovery.
Junior Adrian Lee came into Cal as a safety in the 2010 recruiting class, but quickly switched to cornerback, and has played in 14 games over the past two seasons, recording one tackle. Lee is still a bit raw, but is a solid tackler. He still does have some work to do in coverage, however, and that could wind up being the aspect of his game that puts him behind younger players like Jackson and McClure.
Joel Willis and Cedric Dozier -- a redshirt sophomore and a redshirt freshman, respectively -- both came in as receivers and switched to the other side of the ball, and both are very athletic with good vision and ball skills, but no college playing experience. There is also the possibility that Dozier -- who made the decision to switch to the defensive side of the ball last year -- could go back to being a wide receiver, as Sonny Dykes's new system will require quite a few wide outs. The Bears intend to take five or possibly more receivers in the 2013 class, which already includes mid-year JuCo transfer Drake Whitehurst, Caleb Coleman, early enrollee Dannon Cavil, athlete Torry McTyer (who could also play elsewhere in the offense) and -- for now -- A.J. Richardson.
With no defensive backs, period, in the 2012 class (both Raymond Ford and Willie Fletcher did not make it to fall camp), this move puts even more pressure on new defensive backs coach Randy Stewart to bring in a fresh crop in 2013.
Last weekend, Stewart had in-home visits with Tyler Foreman and Brandon Arnold of Encino (Calif.) Crespi, three-star corner Patrick Enewally and commit Darius Allensworth.
Williams leaves Cal with career totals of 150 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss (-22 yards), 1.0 sack (-2 yards), six interceptions that he returned for 45 yards, 31 passes defended and three forced fumbles.
2012 was Williams's best season at Cal, as he was named the team's Most Valuable Back on the defensive side of the ball and also earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 recognition from both the league's coaches and Phil Steele.
Williams started all 12 games at corner, and shared the team lead with a career-high three interceptions, while his 10 pass breakups and career-high-tying 13 passes defended were both team highs, with the latter ranking fifth in the conference with a per-game average of 1.08.
He was also third among all Cal players with a career-high 80 tackles and tied for 15th in the Pac-12 with and an average of 6.7 stops per game. Williams added a career-high 7.5 tackles for loss (-18 yards) to rank fourth on the club and had one forced fumble. He was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week for the lone time in his career after recording a career-high and game-high four pass breakups, an interception and a team-high six tackles in a victory at Washington State.
Williams became a full-time starter as a sophomore in 2011 when he made all 13 starts at cornerback and posted 44 tackles to rank sixth on the club. He also tied for first on the team with two interceptions and a career-high-tying 13 passes defended, while ranking second with 45 interception return yards and a career-high 11 pass breakups, tying for ninth on the school's all-time single-season list in the latter. He was fifth in the Pac-12 with a per-game average of 1.00 passes defended per game.
Williams made his debut at Cal in 2010 when he played in all 12 games with three starts, totaling 26 tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss (-2 yards), 1.0 sack (-2 yards), an interception, four pass breakups and a forced fumble.