In the case of Sam Atoe and Trevor Kelly, though, this is especially true. Being JUCO transfers, they come with the additional plus side of being able to play right away, thanks to several years of experience and physical development already.
Let's see what we can learn from tape, shall we?
If you watched any Cal ball this season -- and you're here on CGB, so you probably did -- then you know that consistency at safety went out the window with Avery Sebastian's injury. The Bears were so depth strapped in the defensive backfield they had to start a converted 175 pound cornerback in his place most of the season, and never really settled on a full-time replacement. They even switched Maximo Espitia over there at one point, as well.
We'll start with the fact that Atoe is listed as a full 30 pounds heavier at 6'0, 205. By the time next season rolls around, he could be a bit bigger than that, something that will help immensely if Atoe sees the field in 2014; that weight will make him more effective at fending off blockers and in the run game, something that Cam Walker repeatedly -- and understandably -- struggled with last year. This is clearly on display during the play at :36, when he reads run, quickly comes up to engage the right tackle, pushes him back two yards, and then tackles the ballcarrier in the backfield, all in one motion. Similar plays happen throughout the video, but two of interest are at 1:27 and 3:17.
Most of the tape here is of him playing at outside linebacker, but there are a couple of moments that flash safety skills, like at 1:04. Here, Atoe's initial assignment appears to be to cover the running back, but when the running back stays in to block, he drops back into the middle of the field in zone coverage, reading the slant the entire way. Interception.
You'll also want to check out 4:15, where Atoe -- in zone -- is aware enough to switch off the slot receiver running away from him, sees the drag coming his way instead, and then tips the pass for his teammate to intercept. To me, that shows a solid understanding of route concepts and receiver assignments, something we too often mixed up this season. Thinking back on it now, there's at least one play that I can recall where this happened, which I described a bit in the Oregon State postgame thoughts column.
Another plus side of him having LB experience is the fact that he can come off the edge or up the middle on blitzes, since that's something already clearly in his skill set [0:41, 2:04, 2:55]. He's also timing the snap count very well on those blitzes as well, although that could be as much a function of staff preparation as it is instinct or intelligence.
If you want to see more of him at safety, there's this video, taken primarily from what I assume is offseason practice. He's a work in progress there, but there's some good moments, including correct decisions on run fakes, reverses and quarterback runs. They have him lined up in cover 3 a lot.
Atoe's also decently athletic -- I don't see much that pops out at spectacular, but it's never a bad sign that a guy returned kicks at the JUCO level, plus he has a pretty good closing burst on opposing ballcarriers.
I'm interested to see what he will show in the spring and fall, with more work from Stewart. Right now, I think he will be in the mix for playing time, but I wouldn't say it's definite or guaranteed that he takes a spot away from Sebastian or Lowe. Could definitely play special teams, though, obviously. Solid player.
Marc Tausend loves this kid. That's the first thing you oughta know. Yes, you should know that even before you get to the film itself, which is below this.
The commitment of CSM DT Trevor Kelly to Cal today has me beyond fired up. Destroyers in the middle of the D-line are my favoritest thing.— Marc Tausend (@ManBearCal) December 16, 2013
Watching DT tape and repeatedly seeing a guy just fuck shit up is the best. You want a bully. A bulldozer. A force. Kelly fits the bill.— Marc Tausend (@ManBearCal) December 16, 2013
Add the fact that Kelly is an ex-wrestler and a gym rat (400+ pound bench, 500+ pound squat) and my heart grows even fonder. Yessiree.— Marc Tausend (@ManBearCal) December 16, 2013
Okay, with that framing and information in mind, here's the link to Trevor Kelly's Hudl tape.
Annnnnnd the first play is him throwing a right guard to the ground. With one hand.
That kind of sets the tone for the rest of the video, which a four minute montage of him tossing people around, pulling guys down by the jersey single-handedly, so on and so forth. There's a part of me that wants to remind him -- big fella, you got two of those.
I'm actually mostly impressed by a play that has nothing to do with his strength. Check out 1:56, where he is cut blocked by the opposing right tackle. It's a perfect cut block, and it gets him down on the ground, which is what the offense wants. Kelly, however, has no plans to stay there, regaining his feet with surprising quickness for someone who is supposed to be 305 pounds. He gets a nice tackle for loss for his efforts, and shows the same again at 2:23 to ruin a halfback screen.
Unlike Atoe, I think we'll definitely see Kelly out on defense this year, whether next to Moala as a starter, or in rotation with Jacobi Hunter and possibly David Davis. Damon will make him stronger, Damon will make him faster, and if his work with Moala and Coleman is any indication, Sacks will make him better.
Marcus Griffin remains very much on the Cal wishlist and would be a huge addition if we could lock him down. For what it's worth, Marc -- a recruiting guru -- likes our chances.
For now, though, Kelly will be just fine. He should be an impact player right away.