This is Part 2 in a two-part series of Q&A with Sandy Barbour, LB Coach Kenwick Thompson, and recruiting reporter Jim McGill. For those who missed Part 1 of the recap, click here.
Part 1 started off with an overview of the recruiting process, whereas Part 2 shifted to questions asked about specific recruits including one of the best player-by-player reviews of each recruit that you'll get anywhere heading into spring and summer workouts. Both Jim McGill and Coach Thompson gave insights into the newest members of the family, and position battles in the near future.
Recruit question #1: How does the class of 2011 compare to previous classes in the Tedford era?
McGill's response: This is the best class, to a man, since the class of 2005. The class of 2007 had a lot of promise, but never quite materialized. This is the first year that, across the board, there are guys who can step in right away and compete.
Coach Thompson's response: Our approach this year, in addition to targeting the right kids, was to target kids who could play right away because of our immediate needs at certain positions. In contrast to other years where we’ve gone after guys who we could mold and develop, we went after guys who were maybe a few months away from making significant contributions.
Recruit quesiton #2: Can you give us a breakdown of each of the incoming recruits, from your standpoint, and how far away each one is from readiness to see the field?
Answers by Coach Thompson, by position (most of the observations and subjective comments are his, unless in parenthesis):
Linebackers: Jason Gibson is explosive and mean, one of the most explosive in the country; Jalen Jefferson is going to be a future Mike Mohamed; Nathan Broussard was recruited because of his 6’4", 240lb frame, as a specific replacement for the departed Keith Browner. Each of these guys was recruited for a specific role, and how soon they see the field depends on how urgently that role needs to be filled. Of these, Broussard may see playing time sooner than the other two just because there’s a gap in that role.
Offensive Line: Matt Williams has 3 to play 2, and he’s an agile athlete but may need a year to work on his technique against tougher opponents than what he faced in JC; Jordan Rigsbee is talented, with quick hands, and is used to pancaking opponents at the high school level (reminds me of the comments about Alex Mack), and like Williams may need a year to work on his technique.
Running backs: Several of these guys will look to compete right away. In particular, CJ Anderson, Darren Ervin, and Daniel Lasco. The comments about Lasco and Ervin were really insightful: Ervin is a Vick-type, who plays QB in high school and has a really excellent arm, yet is shifty and agile, and powerful enough to play RB; he will likely be used in place of Keenan Allen or Isi Sofele at the Wild(bear) position. Lasco is tall, at 6’2" and has the frame to be a 215lb back; he has long strides like a greyhound. If he can bulk up, he’ll be a very special back with the combination of long strides, top end speed, and power to run over safeties. Anderson fits an immediate need, and adds depth.
What about Brendon Bigelow? Coaches are prone to exaggeration, but Coach Thompson said that if Bigelow can stay healthy, he has the potential to be…One of the most special running backs Cal has ever had, period. McGill added some details about Bigelow’s rehab: he had a cadaver tendon inserted to replace the damaged tendon, and there is no similarity between his first ACL injury and the second (which occurred on the same knee because he wasn’t rehabbed properly the first time around). Doctors indicate that his new tendon is going to be much stronger and healthier than even before his first ACL injury. As for when he’s going to see the field, coaches are cautiously optimistic about his recover, but because of his huge upside potential, they are in no hurry to rush him onto the field, especially with Anderson, Lasco, and Ervin capable of adding depth to Sofele, DeBoskie-Johnson, and others (they did mention that neither Yarnway and Briggs will be in spring practice, as they are rehabbing their injuries).
Defensive Backs: The theme for sourcing and recruiting defensive backs in this years class, more so than in past years was….no, not guys who "get it"….but guys who "get at it", guys who are "hands guys" who aggressively seek out and get after the ball. Stefan McClure will play immediately, and he looked really good in person. Avery Walls is another guy who will play immediately and not only has great hands, but "will not hesitate to put his face on you". The other DBs, will likely redshirt, and include Jordan Morgan who has a Chris Conte-like size and agility with the hands of a Cattouse, and Joel Willis who is a multi-way athlete and if anything may find himself on special teams as a gunner or return man sooner than as a defensive back. Kameron Jackson doesn’t need to play right away, but also has great hands and like Willis may find a way onto the field in some capacity or another.
Defensive line: It pretty much will center around a big guy named Tiny! Coach Thompson indicated that Vei Moala is nothing short of amazing, and he’s one hamburger away from 360lbs, who already is working on getting stronger, likely being capable of benching….wait….for….it….450lbs by the time he hits campus! Tiny will likely play immediately. Also likely to play immediately is Brennan Scarlett, who plays much faster than his 255lbs would suggest on paper. Scarlett is "too talented to leave off the field", and coaches are very keen on finding a place for him to play, even multiple positions, until something permanent is open for him. Likely to redshirt is Puka Lopa (my favorite name on the team), though he and Todd Barr both would have played as true freshmen any other year due to their immense upside potential. Barr is just mean to offensive linemen, but a really nice guy off the field. Rounding out the group is Moose Jalil. Though he’s huge, and throws his weight around easily, he may benefit from a year of development on technique. At the end of the day, all of these guys are a high probability to make significant contributions, and a few will be getting jerseys dirty as soon as next year.
Tight end: Richard Rodgers has huge upside, and coaches didn’t bring him in just because of his name (though I’ll point out, his name is mentioned in the recruiting tape as there’s an audio overlay of "The Play" played over highlights of past years). Per Coach Thompson, Rodgers is "a WR trapped inside a TE’s body", and has some of the softest hands in this year’s class of TEs across the country. His hands are "huge", and he can catch almost anything thrown at him with one hand.
Quarterback: Kyle Boehm will likely redshirt, as coaches already have their hands full evaluating 5 other guys, and he’s not expected to push for a starting role so coaches will want to preserve his eligibility.
Wide Receiver: Maurice Harris is another guy who will play immediately, because he’s big, fast, has great hands, and is already up to speed on the playbook. Coach Thompson is really looking forward to seeing him develop, because he’s got potential to be really special, and fills the need of a big possession receiver. Given his potential role as a possession receiver, he probably isn’t an immediate big-play threat for us, but could be over time as he learns the playbook and develops (that said, I’d love to see him break off a 60 yarder in his first game!).
So what have we learned about how soon guys will see the field?
- Guys who should play immediately include: Harris (WR), Tiny (DT), Scarlett (DE/LB), McClure (CB), Walls (S), Anderson (RB), Lasco (RB), and Ervin (RB).
- Guys who could play immediately include: Broussard (LB), Rodgers (TE), Jalil (DT).
- Guys who will most likely redshirt include: Williams (OT), Rigsbee (OG), Boehm (QB), Jackson (DB), Willis (DB), Lopa (DE), Barr (DE), Bigelow (RB), Morgan (S), Gibson (LB), Jefferson (LB).
Other observations #1: Just sitting through this presentation taught me a lot about what goes through the coaches’ heads during the recruiting process, and a bit about what goes through recruits’ heads too. I feel like I understand each of these kids a bit better now.
Other observations #2: A funny story that McGill shared with us about a recruiting trip with the Rigsbee brothers and Tiny all on an airplane together down to San Diego: McGill was in the row behind Jordan and Tyler, with Jordan (younger brother to Tyler) in the aisle and Tyler by the window. Here comes Tiny down the aisle, sees the Rigsbee brothers and tells Jordan "hey bro scoot over". There they were, over 1,000 pounds of football players in the same row, with Jordan squeezed in the middle. Jordan asked his big brother "why do I have to sit in the middle", to which Tyler answered "because I’m older than you and he (Tiny) is bigger than you!" Good stuff.
Other observations #3: I’m sure there were other CGB’ers there, and some people were wearing name tags like "Hello my name is dballisloose". I saw "calbandgreat" and talked to "survivor". Most handles, though, seemed foreign to me. When I told people I was from CGB, the reactions I got from people ranged from "oh yeah, I’ve been to that board a couple times" to "oh yeah, I’m on there like every other day". I even got a "that guy Twist is such a jerk" and a "oh, CGB is YOUR person board?". Yes folks, yes CGB is MY board. At least for this post it is. So suck it.
Hope you enjoyed this recap, because I enjoyed writing it. It was worth the $30 and the 3 hours I spent shifting my bony ass around in a wooden chair to document it for you. Go Bears!