It's another day, which means it's another opportunity to talk Cal football recruiting. I mean seriously, what else do you have to talk about with all your friends? The weather?
Ryan Gorcey of Cal Sports Digest (The California affiliate for Scout and FOX Sports) took some time out of his incredibly busy schedule to talk Cal football recruiting and provide us with an excellent insider perspective of all the happenings inside the Bears. And Ryan has plenty to share! Check out the link here to all of Ryan's Signing Day articles at his Central headquarters, which has plenty of good stuff from him and all the other national analysts in Scout.
Note: Some of the links below are paid and you'll need subscription to Scout to view the (click here to subscribe).
How would you grade the Cal recruiting class in terms of fulfilling needs?
They got what they needed, but nothing more. As Dykes said in his presser, Cal got a football team - they got an offensive line, a defensive line, a kicker, a handful of linebackers, a quarterback and a running back. What they didn't get were any defensive backs of note. Trey Cheek may still come through with his test scores - and from what I've heard from my sources, things are looking pretty good on that front - but the Bears couldn't snag Hatari Byrd early in the cycle and couldn't close on L.J. Moore. Granted, they were in the mix with Moore until the very end, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades; certainly not in recruiting. Overall, I'd give Cal a C+. The Bears didn't pull any big steals from other programs, although I love Tony Mekari's motor and Ray Davison's potential. The biggest battle they won was to keep Johnny Ragin III, and this new staff should be commended for having to fend off hometown dream school Oregon.
Who would you say is the most underrated recruit of this class and someone who will come out of everywhere to surprise everyone?
That's a thorny question, because on the one hand, I could say a guy like Vince Johnson, who has athleticism, yes, but is vastly undersized. It's like picking a stock. I could go high-risk, but I can't go sure-thing. The best balance of low value and high upside, for me, could be one of three guys. Edward Tandy is a man-child. Both Brandon Huffman and I were shocked he didn't get any more run than he did. Cal was his first offer - and only one, for quite some time - because I think other schools were a bit wary of his family situation, but once you talk with the young man, he's got his head screwed on straight, and he takes care of his body. He's just a pure athlete and a hard worker, and with the personality of this new staff, I think he'll really flourish.
Another guy in that mold is Ragin. Ragin is a freaking freakish freak, athletically. He was invited to The Opening based on his SPARQ rating alone, and proved it out up there, ranking in the top 20, I believe, among the nation's top 150 players. Not only was he a missile as a linebacker, but he was also a hell of a fullback. That tells me he's unselfish, because if you spend all your time on defense trying to knock someone's block off, and then volunteer to go back out on offense to get pounded yourself, you have to be either a masochist or one hell of a tough S.O.B.
The third guy is the guy who, if you put a gun to my head, would be my answer to this question, and that's Garrett Hughes. When I first met Hughes, he was a little dumpy and paradoxically on the small size for a defensive end. The weight he had was bad weight, and I frankly wasn't very impressed. His stats didn't do any much more for me, either. But, the more I talked with him, and the more I found out about his family (great set of parents, by the way; father went to Northwestern) and highly they value academics and hard work, the more I liked him. When I saw him at the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl practices, I didn't even recognize him. He was roughly the same weight he was when I first met him, but it was all shifted into the right places. In the recruiting biz, we say he has a "nice, thick power base," which is just a euphemism for "he's got a nice ass."
What that means is that he's got a solid foundation, a low center of gravity and good push from the lower half - all things that are essential for a defensive lineman. What I was most impressed with was how much he had gained in the technique department from what I had seen on tape. He played with consistently good pad level, could occupy two interior linemen, showed a variety of moves (not all refined, but the basics are there), did not rely on any single pass rush move all the time, and played with a lot of violence. He wouldn't hurt a fly off the field, but once the whistle blows, he's a stone-cold killer. We had him rated as a two-star forever, and I still think the three-star label is too low for where I see his ceiling.
Is there somebody we missed out on that Cal really needed?
Defensive backs. It would have been very nice to get Moore, who could be either a safety or a corner, particularly with the unexpected departure of cornerback Steve Williams. That is mitigated at least somewhat, though, by the return of Stefan McClure, who we'll be doing a video feature on, shortly.
Who do you see contributing immediately in 2013?
Khalfani Muhammad. Simply put, he has to. The Bears don't have any other choices. In order for Brendan Bigelow and Daniel Lasco to be effective in this offense, there's going to have to be a three-man rotation, and Sonny D has said as much. Bigelow's injury this spring isn't too serious, but it's enough to give anyone pause, especially the coaching staff. The great thing that I've gotten from this staff, though, is that they're fearless. Pierre Ingram has told me that he doesn't care if he has one 1,000-yard rusher; he just wants to win games. That, and the fact that Bigelow will be able to pick up the offense in three or four days, show me that any back in this offense - with sufficient base talent - can be an effective weapon, at any age. Running back is typically where you see youngsters make the biggest, earliest impact, and in this offense, where, as Dykes has said in side conversations, you really just have to know your left from your right, that's a recipe for Muhammad to get rolling early.
Who on the new coaching staff really impresses you as a recruiter from your personal conversations with them?
I have to give props to my man Rob Likens, if only because he's almost as big a baseball junkie as I am. Likens may not be the youngest cat on the block, but he is full of energy, open to criticism and advice, and isn't afraid to take a big swing. He's still learning his way around the state, but once he gets his bearings, I think we'll start to see some good pulls from him.
I can't mention Likens without mentioning his work wife, Zach Yenser. I've talked with Yenser over text and twitter quite a bit, and I love his personality. He's young, motivated and just an absolute ball of energy. He's a bulldog. He wants the best, and he wants the brightest, no matter where they come from. He wants to snag the in-state talent first, but he won't let that limit him, as we've seen by his several out-of-state offers.
Another coach I've spoken at great length with is Pierre Ingram. He was very aware of the critiques leveled at him in the wake of Ron Gould's departure, but one has to remember: Ron Gould didn't spring, fully formed, from the 50-yard line at Memorial Stadium. He had to be a young coach somewhere, first. He had to have a first job. That is where Ingram is in his career path.
Ingram has already coached two 1,000-yard rushers in his three years as a running backs coach, and in between the two, he had a 700-yard rusher who started the year as a fourth-string inside receiver. Yes, Gould and his boxing glove on a stick will be remembered fondly, but Ingram is the coach on this staff I'm probably most excited about. Both he and Yenser are family men, under 30, with recent playing experience. They know what recruits these days are looking at and for. They're also not wallflowers. They go out, they have fun, they'll throw a few back and shoot the bull.
The greatest asset that I have as a recruiting and college sports writer is that I'm (relatively) close in age to the young men I cover. The slang hasn't changed all that much, I can keep up with technology, etc. The same goes for Yenser and Ingram. They're only two years older than me, and while having coaches that are part of one's own age group absolutely rocks, it pales in comparison to the impact that has on their ability to recruit. As much as I hate to invoke He Who Shall Not Be Named, that's what made him and his boat such effective recruiters. The difference I see in these guys from the way HWSNBN operated is that instead of looking at academics last, they're looking at academics first.