Ultimately, National Signing Day contained no big surprises for the California Golden Bears. No Marqise Lee pulling a rabbit (or a Cal hat) out, instead heading to USC. No massive shakeup in the Pac-12, other than the Black Mamba heading to Eugene. No theatrics, no five-star guys, just a solid third/fourth place conference class that adds on last year's successful recruiting haul.
And you know what? That's fine. The less drama in Cal recruiting, the better. As wild as a ride as last year's LOI day was, it ultimately felt like hauling on a rodeo bull--you began to wonder why you got on the ride in the first place. It extends back to the idea of stability for Jeff Tedford and Cal football to take to win the recruiting game--take care of business, do the right things, and reap the rewards.
The only number I ultimately cared about was zero. Zero decommits. No last minute repudiations. Almost every other successful school had to deal with a varied number of players going in and out. Cal found its guys and stuck with them. In a sport where coaches often oversign, refuse scholarships to athletes, negatively recruit, press after kids long after they've closed their recruitment, that number is telling.
So let's start taking a look at the biggest things to harken on in this class, starting with keeping those pesky points off the board.
Defense, BEARS, Defense! Never will you be more enthusiastic to utter those words. Cal's 2011 class is so packed on defense, and it wouldn't be out of the question to think half of these guys could be starters in a year (and perhaps even more in two years).
Nose tackle: Vei Moala
Defensive ends: Todd Barr, Mustafa Jalil (might not be a bad backup NT either) and Puka Lopa
Inside linebackers: Jalen Jefferson, Nathan Broussard
Outside linebackers: Brennan Scarlett, (could also be DE)
Cornerbacks: Stefan McClure, Joel Willis, Kameron Jackson
Safeties: Avery Walls, Jordan Morgan
Thirteen guys. Six defensive linemen, although two are versatile enough to play linebacker. The two linebackers in this class are pretty versatile themselves. And also five defensive backs, at least two to three who could immediately contribute. Holy wows.
Of course, it only gets more exciting when you add in last year's class to the equation.
Nose tackle: Vei Moala
Defensive ends: Gabe King, Todd Barr, Mustafa Jalil, Puka Lopa
Inside linebackers: David Wilkerson, Nick Forbes, Jalen Jefferson, Nathan Broussard
Outside linebackers: Cecil Whiteside, Chris McCain, Brennan Scarlett, Jason Gibson
Cornerbacks: Adrian Lee, Stefan McCLure, Joel Willis, Kameron Jackson
Safeties: Michael Coley, Avery Walls, Jordan Morgan
That isn't just a starting unit. That's almost enough to fill a two-deep. That's a foundation for 2012. If even two-thirds of these guys can acclimate themselves to the rigorous Cal sports lifestyle, watch out for them to make their impact felt early and often.
Don't underestimate the offense either. They're not as notable as the defense, but there are guys here who will be very valuable to us down the road. Kyle Boehm will probably have two years to learn while Allan Bridgford, Austin Hinder and Zach Maynard duke it out. is too far back on the wide receiver depth chart to make an impact. Daniel Lasco will need that year of conditioning, and Brendon Bigelow still needs time to recover from his high school injuries. Darren Ervin could also fit into the puzzle as well.
Matt Williams looks like a bit of a project, although his early entrance gives me optimism he'll see the field earlier than expected. Jordan Rigsbee is a guard, and Cal has decent depth at guard, so he'd have to make a huge impression the moment he steps into summer workouts. Richard Rodgers would be fifth on the tight end depth chart next season, so he's going to be doing his workouts.
The only guy who sticks out as an immediate impact guy is C.J. Anderson. We rarely go after junior college running backs because of the lack of years they get. Thus, even with so many tailbacks on our roster, it's clear running back is still a concern, even with Ron Gould's steady development.
Don't expect immediate impact players. I said this last year, I'll say it this year--it's sheer folly to assume that these guys will come in and make contributions. There are rare exceptions (Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, Jahvid Best, Keenan Allen) but redshirts exist for a reason--most high school athletes need them. There was a lot of talk from Tedford that frosh would see the field last season, and in the end it was only Allen that ended up burning it for sure (Forbes, Wark and Wilkerson are still waiting to hear back on their medical redshirts).
So looking at these guys, it's hard to see who will play. Cal loses their stud defensive end, their dominant nose tackle, their leader in the linebacking corps, their strong safety, as well as two more defensive backs, two more outside linebackers.
But the guys left aren't going to be pushovers.
Defensive ends: Deandre Coleman, Ernest Owusu, Trevor Guyton
Nose tackles: Kendrick Payne, Aaron Tipoti, Keni Kaufusi
Inside linebackers: D.J. Holt, Steven Fanua
Outside linebackers: Mychal Kendricks, Kameron Krebs (Oregon St. transfer)
Cornerbacks: Marc Anthony, Steve Williams
Safeties: Sean Cattouse, Josh Hill, D.J. Campbell
I'd imagine a lot of them will have the heads up on conditioning and D-I experience, regardless of whether the young guns have them beat on raw talent.
If I were to make bets on who'd play as freshmen, I'd rank from most likely to least likely (and anyone not listed I doubt will play at all).
1. C.J. Anderson (there's a chance that Isi Sofele and Covaughn Deboskie-Johnson assert themselves as every-down backs. I doubt it though. We recruited Anderson to play now.)
2. Stefan McClure (Cal has only two cornerbacks with significant PT, then Lee, then probably no one. McClure will find himself in the rotation, particularly against spread teams).
3. Vei Moala (too good to leave off the field. Neither Payne nor Tipoti are particularly built for the nose guard position; it showed last season when Hill left the field. Moala will get his chances.)
T-4. Joel Willis/Kameron Jackson/Avery Walls (This'll depend a lot on whether Cal decides to shift Hill around. If they don't, Willis and/or Jackson will be occupying that second part of the cornerback chart. It wouldn't be a stretch to think both of them could be on the two-deep if they can beat out Lee. If the Cal defensive coaches think Hill will be part of the cornerback rotation, Walls could contribute immediately and move into the safety rotation. Also Walls being an early entree should help his cause.)
7. Matt Williams (we need tackles right now. He does have three years to play two, so this is a wait-and-see situation).
8. Todd Barr (I really think Barr will be special. But there are a LOT of guys in front of him right now who have seen plenty of playing time and have shown to be at least average to above-average players. Tosh Lupoi's coaching development are just as impressive as his recruiting abilities, and Barr will have to compete with Coleman, Owusu, Guyton and King. Someone will have to get injured for Barr to get his shot.)
Cal Football 2011 will be bumpy; hang in folks. Still, the fact that we could be putting THIS many frosh in the rotation is pretty exhilarating and terrifying. Add in the unfamiliar environment for the old guys, the likely diminished home field advantage away from Memorial, and the brutal road schedule, and the Bears will be scrambling to compete game in, game out in the new Pac-12.
Jeff Tedford has earned a bit of a reprieve. Although his teams have struggled on the field, he has managed to thrive off of it and give us reason to hope. Ultimately, he can't expect to keep on repeating this cycle, because he'll end up struggling in both aspects (see Rick Neuheisel at UCLA this year), and the shades will close. Hopefully in this upcoming year, he can do a little bit of both, and keep things moving in a positive direction.
Everyone knows the tough situation our team will be in the next few seasons. So as a fanbase, we must be ready to adjust our expectations and get ready to handle what will hopefully be an abbreviated period in the middle of the conference. The destination all of us seek might seem pretty far-off right now, but the journey promises to be very rewarding if we're willing to hang in through the dark times. Many have waited a long time; we can hopefully wait a little longer.
Besides, where's the glory without the struggle?