A closer look at Jonathan Johnson

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

According to comments Sonny Dykes made at Wednesday's presser, Brennan Scarlett is very close to receiving full clearance from his hand injury. His return would give the Bears one new weapon at defensive end for next season. With Sione Sina coming off of ACL rehab, that makes two.

But it does get a little bit better. You can add at least one more to that list, thanks to the surprise addition of Pierce College's Jonathan Johnson.

Now, it goes without saying that fixing Cal's mess of defensive problems will rely on a myriad of solutions, but even so, it is hard to see improvement in 2014 coming without an actual, existing pass rush, or at least the illusion of one.

That's where this trio comes in -- they will be the primary players trying to supercharge a positional group that produced just six sacks in 2013. That number rockets up to seven if you count the one Johnny Ragin had against Washington in the NASCAR package, but that doesn't make the end result look much better, does it?

The situation is pretty damned dire, and whether or not Jonathan Johnson can help the defense isn't really up for questioning -- the coaches recruited him obviously because they feel he can be an asset.

What we're going to try to find out here is how, by looking at some of what he's bringing as a recruit.

[Aside: I have seen his name spelled both as Jonathan and Jonathon, but an official correction by Cal Athletics says it's Jonathan. As you may expect, he is a remarkably difficult person to search for on Google.]

[This is also to remind you that I am also not a professional talent evaluator.]

The tape

Sophomore year hudl highlights here.

Weighing in at 6'3, 240, Johnson is still a bit light for a 4-3 defensive end. You'd like to see that number somewhere upwards of 260-265, but this is not a red flag necessarily, since a year of strength and conditioning can do wonders for a recruit.

It's been a while since Cal had an effective edge setter, though, and weight and strength can make a huge difference in that regard -- our starting ends did the best they could last season, but regularly struggled to hold their ground at the 255-260 range, lacking a bit athletically. Chris McCain was also on the skinny side for most of his time here.

The good news is that explosiveness may be less of an issue for Johnson than either of Camporeale or Kragen.

For more on what he means by that, check out the first play of this tape, and specifically for Johnson's first two steps. It's played twice from two different angles, but the second replay is better for noticing his speed. What you'll see is Johnson taking an initial one forward, but when he recognizes he'll be unblocked, he kicks into gear, pushing hard off his left and darting through for a sack. There's a lot of this going on in his highlight reel -- Johnson tends to set one way, then shoot quickly in against linemen too stone-footed to stop him.

His game revolves pretty much on speed off the edge, something potentially handy against read-option looks, as it makes Johnson more capable of cornering a quarterback who has chosen to run ball. [Everyone thinking back to the Ohio State game against Kenny Guiton is nodding right now at the memory of Kragen and Camporeale trying to corral him in space.]

4:07 gives a good glimpse at how much teams feared his speed at the JUCO level. Despite the offense's best efforts to roll the QB away from Johnson, he still chases him down for a sack. There's also a fun moment at 1:13, where Johnson times the snap better than the offensive linemen, getting a sack before most of them even realize play has started.

When speed alone isn't enough, you'll see him rely on the rip move, part of some good, active hand-play on Johnson's behalf. :50 and :58 are a couple instances of that, but that's about it as far as his bag of displayed tricks goes. He doesn't show a spin, a swim, a bullrush or any of that other stuff.

Another plus with Jon Johnson is that he consistently uses those hands to disrupt passing lanes, something we didn't get enough of until too late in the year. This is good -- he knows how to use his 6'3 frame, and although we don't have a measurement, I would think his wingspan is a bit longer than someone normally of that size.

There are two or three plays that show him adequately dropping back into coverage, but in such a small sample size, I find them inconclusive of his true ability to do so. I am noting this mostly because it could add a potential wrinkle down the line -- we didn't see much of it this year, but Eugene has told me in the past that Andy Buh favors dropping ends into coverage.

Pierce College seems to play Johnson primarily from a stand up DE position, so there isn't that much I can tell about how he'll hold up against as a run defender from this tape. I hope that Rugbear or Scott or someone more knowledgeable can speak on what implications that might from a more technical standpoint.

Concluding thoughts

Some question marks remain about whether or not he can play three downs, but we will get a better look at that come spring ball. At the very least, Johnson looks strongly positioned to help our desperate need for impact pass rushers, and particularly in the NASCAR package.

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