1. How badly has this season's record affected Cal's perception among recruits? Is there danger of any more decommits?
Frankly, as far as the offensive side of the ball goes, it hasn't. Cal and Jalen Harvey parted ways, but that was more due to academic and behavioral issues than the Bears' record. In any event, Cal wound up upgrading at the wide receiver position with the commitment of Erik Brown. When you look at the offensive numbers, there are still a lot of players who'd like to play in that system. The trouble, obviously, is defense, where the Bears and Jeremy Winchester parted ways (he wasn't even a full-time starter on his own team this past season) and four-star Jaleel Wadood flipped to UCLA. At this point, Cal still has a lot to sell, particularly when it comes to early playing time on defense, and especially along the defensive line and in the secondary. The issue is that the high-level high school prospects are going to be subject to a bit of peer pressure, with fellow high-level recruits essentially shaming those who would want to choose the 1-11 Bears over any other school. That means Cal has to head to the JuCo ranks, as we'll talk about a bit later.
At this point, I don't think you'd be wrong to worry about Tre Watson. The Bruins not only had a strong finish to the regular season, but the speculation that Jim Mora would be bolting for Seattle came to naught, so I think that one will be a battle down to the end.
I think there's a bit of concern with Vic Enwere. The kid has 27 offers, and Cal was one of the early ones in on him, so that's a small point of pride, I think, for the staff, but they're going to have to fight a little bit - not as much as for Watson, but a bit.
2. Prior to the season, many recruits spoke about how excited they would be to play in Sonny Dykes' offense. Is there still any excitement about playing in this offense?
As I said in the previous question, there's still excitement surrounding the offense. No, the yards didn't translate into points this season, but the offense was still far more productive than it was over the last six seasons, measured in first downs and total yards of offense. Yes, most of those 5,443 yards came between the 20s, but red zone execution and third down conversion are elements of offense that get better with age and experience, and when you have a true freshman quarterback, a true freshman tailback, two redshirt freshman offensive linemen and one true freshman offensive lineman, well, there's not exactly a surplus of either. That said, as the current players get more experienced, it will allow for younger players to get playing time surrounded by an offense that's finally really clicking, and I have to think that's one of the reasons that the tailbacks I've spoken with still express a ton of confidence in the system, regardless of the results we saw on the field last season.
Cal Football: 2014 California Football (via Cal Bears)
3. Now that Cal has several more scholarships to hand out thanks to retirements/transfers/dismissals, how do you see the staff using these new scholarships?
Defensive line, defensive line and defensive backs, oh, and more defensive backs. This went from a class of about 15 to a class up around 20, so it's not a big bump in numbers, but it does change the dynamics as far as positional balance.
The attrition allows Cal to take an extra offensive lineman, which they were considering doing before all the transfer news came down. The Bears were going to take a lineman over another position, but only if that lineman was good enough. That lineman turned out to be Kolton Miller. Zach Yenser loves him. He's a "no-brainer," in the staff's mind. With depth an issue at tackle, Miller is a solid solution, and while he won't play immediately, he'll push guys like Aaron Cochran and Erik Bunte a bit as a redshirt. He had an in-home with Tony Franklin and Zach Yenser on Monday (Dec. 9), which lasted three hours. Miller was going to be a big target of the class anyway, but now they can take him and not feel bad about skimping on another spot.
Those other spots are going to be reserved for JuCo defensive backs, and one of the most intriguing of those prospects is Sam Atoe. I absolutely loved Atoe coming out of Santa Rosa (Calif.) Maria Carrillo, and he was a monster in camps, but he just didn't get much traction among BCS-level conferences and wound up at San Diego State. Back then, he was a physical - but a bit slow -- running back. Now, he's a smaller, quicker linebacker/safety, who could find his way on the field as a nickel and has three to play two. The Cal staff absolutely loves him. He's got a tremendous work ethic, is a great attitude guy and hits like a truck. I don't think he was really on the radar until the attrition started in the late spring, but now he's become a big target, and knowing the kid, I couldn't be happier. He'd be a real steal. In 2013, he tallied 41 tackles, 11.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 blocked punt and averaged 29.7 yards per kickoff return.
As for the defensive line, that's the spot that's really expanded given the realities the Bears faced during the season, with the need to bolster a unit which lost Gabe King (who wanted to focus on academics), Keni Kaufusi to academics before the season began, Chris McCain to discipline during the season; Sione Sina, Mustafa Jalil, Brennan Scarlett and Austin Clark to injury; and Dan Camporeale, DeAndre Coleman and Harrison Wilfley to graduation (not that Wilfley contributed, but he was at least a warm body).
We don't know if Scarlett will heal completely from a bone graft in his hand, but let's count him as back, for now, along with Clark. That still leaves Jacobi Hunter, Todd Barr, Antione Davis, Ray Davison (redshirted in 2013), Viliami Moala, Jalil, Sina, Puka Lopa, Marcus Manley (did not play in 2013) and Tony Mekari (redshirted in 2013). Of those, Hunter, Moala, Barr and Lopa had significant experience last season. Beyond that, it's a crapshoot, though Clark could be a very welcome addition to a team that had an on-field leadership vacuum this past season. That's why the Bears need depth, and that's why they're going after all the JuCo defensive linemen they can find.
One new name is Delroy Steele, out of Golden West in Huntington Beach, Calif. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound end is coming in during the last visit weekend, and wasn't really on the radar until recently.
Another is Jaylen Johnson, a former Boise State defensive end commit. Johnson will take all five official visits, and recently scored an offer from Washington after Chris Petersen moved to Seattle. The three-star defensive end is long and rangy, and given how up-in-the-air the entire defensive line is, his official visit in January could prove to be big in convincing him that he'll be able to see early time.
One DL spot has already been sucked up by David Davis, and after visiting Colorado before taking a gander at Cal, Trevor Kelly would be a solid pull as a JC defensive tackle, giving the Bears three defensive linemen in a class that had originally been slotted for three, until recent attrition pushed that number probably closer to five.
The prospective transfers of Chad Whitener and Johnny Ragin make it all the more important to get linebackers in a class that originally wasn't slated to have any single spot reserved for a linebacker. If one came along that blew their hair back, or was local and playable, the staff would take him (i.e. D.J. Calhoun and Michael Lazarus). Andy Buh and Barry Sacks were scoping out Bakersfield's Grant Campbell as far back as three months, so with the loss of several linebackers a very, very strong possibility, that scouting will pay off big-time if Campbell pulls the trigger soon. He would be a one-for-one switch-out if indeed Chad Whitener follows through with his plans to transfer. Also the beneficiary of a new run on backers is Aisea Tongilava, who has said that Cal is his dream program.