BERKELEY -- Safety Michael Lowe met new Cal defensive backs coach Greg Burns for the first time back in January after spending a month at home in Maryland during the holiday break.

"I made a bad first impression," Lowe said. "He said he didn't think I was taking it seriously."

That's because Lowe returned to school 20 pounds over his playing weight. "Mom cooks very well," he explained.

Burns, hired by new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman, said Lowe had been described to him as a player with "potential." He admits he wasn't sure what to think about him.

"He was a little out of shape initially," Burns said. "We told him the things he needed to do. By the end of the summer he had accomplished everything that we asked."

That includes absorbing the new defensive playbook, demonstrating the leadership the coaches sought from the senior, and shedding 20 pounds.

At 5-foot-11, 203 pounds, Lowe has been good enough that no one has wrestled away his position during a competitive fall camp. So Lowe will be in the starting lineup Aug. 30 at Northwestern?

"That would be safe to say," Burns said this week. "Haven't made that official decision yet, but right now Lowe has clearly said it loud and clear that he's ready for it."

The coaching staff added motivational fuel last spring by switching Stefan McClure from cornerback to safety. From the outside, it appeared coaches expected McClure (recovered from a knee injury) and Avery Sebastian (coming off an Achilles tear) would be the starters.


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Lowe, a starter in 10 games last season, admits he felt like an afterthought.

"It was a shock," he said of McClure's move to safety. "They tried to move people around for what was best for the team. It was very motivating, just putting an extra guy back there who's obviously capable of handling the job."

Sebastian, still not 100 percent healthy, has practiced on a limited basis so far. McClure has made a smooth transition to a new position. And Lowe has retained his job.

  • Junior defensive tackle Mustafa Jalil, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will "for sure" be in the starting lineup against Northwestern, coach Sonny Dykes said.

    The 6-foot-3, 295-pounder has been held out of some drills for the sake of caution but is showing no effects of offseason surgery. "He hasn't been sore," Dykes said. "He's responded pretty much to everything we've asked him to do, and looked pretty good doing it."

    During an 11-on-11 live session early this week, Jalil was double- or triple-teamed by Cal's first-team offensive line.

    "Moose is a beast," said wide receiver Chris Harper, referring to Jalil by his nickname. "I can't wait to watch him play against other teams, because I know he's going to destroy them."

    Sixth-year senior Austin Clark currently is the leader for the other defensive tackle spot, although Dykes said he expects to rotate as many as six players at the two interior line positions.

  • Senior James Langford, who played three years ago at Cal Poly, appears to have won the place-kicker job after a camp battle with Noah Beito. "I'll be surprised if that's not how it ends up," Dykes said. "His consistency has been better, and he has a big leg."

  • JC transfer Darius White, at one-time projected as a starting cornerback, practiced without a red jersey Thursday for the first time since jamming his shoulder on Aug. 4, the first day of fall camp. Dykes said he anticipates White will play some at Northwestern.

  • Asked how the Bears can improve on the meager 57 yards of punt returns they totaled all last season, Dykes quipped, "We've got to make 'em punt more, to start with."

    Cal opponents actually had more touchdowns (72) than punts (62) a year ago.

    For more on Cal sports, see the Bear Talk blog at ibabuzz.com/beartalk. Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

    AUG. 30 OPENER
    Cal at Northwestern,
    12:30 p.m., ABC or ESPN2