11. How important was this offensive line class for Cal and which players really stand out to you?
Just as Sonny Dykes said on signing day that the Bears signed a complete team, they also signed a complete offensive line - five guys.
Given that Cal had just 10 offensive lineman on scholarship on its roster after last season concluded, and the pace at which this offense runs, the Bears absolutely needed to bolster the ranks, particularly at tackle.
Of the 13 linemen currently on the roster, only four check in at 6-foot-6 or taller. In Erik Bunte, the Bears got a 6-foot-7 tackle and in Aaron Cochran they got a 6-foot-8 man-mountain. They also got bigger on the interior, adding 6-foot-5 guard J.D. Hinnant and 6-foot-4 Chris Borrayo. Vince Johnson is long and lean, at 6-foot-5, 257, but he's going to be a project physically. The good thing about Johnson is that he has already played in the Tony Franklin System.
Hinnant is going to take some time to develop, coming off of a horrific car crash in November, but he's very bright and has a solid work ethic. Ideally, you want to recruit a bunch of tackles and then have the ones who don't quite pan out at that position to the inside, getting bigger as you go, until you have an entire line of guys 6-foot-4 and taller and 300-plus pounds, and it appears that's what we're going to see happen with Hinnant.
Cochran is also going to require some re-tooling. He's deficient in pass protection and has appeared downright uncomfortable at times when he's not able to just overpower smaller defensive ends. It's not a surprise that a guy his size is not the fleetest of foot, but after a knee surgery last summer that propelled him to the 385-pound range, his body is a big concern. He has very long levers, but he has to trim the fat, which he's already started to do thanks to an offseason program designed by Mike Blasquez. He's down below 350 pounds now, and looks to be in probably the best shape of his life. Still, though, getting used to playing fast and improving his mobility will take at least a year. Don't expect to see a bookend set of him and Freddie Tagaloa any time soon.
As much as I love Bunte, he's going to need to get a lot tougher, mentally. To put it mildly, he's a sensitive soul, and he's very attached to his mother. As great a person as that makes him, on the football field, it's a bit worrisome. He needs to get meaner and he needs to let loose. Once he does that, he's got all of the tools you want in an offense like this. He's also a bit heavy around the middle, so he needs to do some work on his body, as well. He's been doing some pretty intense training in the offseason, and that's helped his speed and agility, which will only help him down the road.
To me, the real star of this class is Borrayo. A lot like former Cal center Alex Mack, Borrayo is also a wrestler, ranked as the No. 7 brawler in the 285-pound weight class of the CIF Southern Section by CalGrappler.com, winning the San Gabriel Valley League heavyweight title. He also took home the Inland Division CIF individual heavyweight title in mid-February.
Borrayo is very flexible, has plus body control and is aggressive as all get-out. He's a mauler. He's also probably in the best shape out of the linemen the Bears brought in. You don't see many big uglies with a V-shape to their body, but he has it. He has broad shoulders, a deep chest, and a strong power base: All of the ingredients for a dominant interior lineman.
12. Who do you think is the best offensive prospect in this class and in all the Pac-12?
Given the paucity of offensive skill position players the Bears signed, you'd think this wouldn't be difficult, but really, it's a two-man race. The fact that Jared Goff is still among the final three quarterbacks battling for the starting job as an early-enrollee true freshman speaks volumes about his poise, skill and leadership ability. He's a very cool customer and has the best of both worlds (mobility and arm strength) when it comes to what you want to see from a quarterback in this system. Zach Kline has the bigger arm, and Austin Hinder is perhaps more fleet of foot, but Goff has a better arm than Hinder and is more mobile than Kline. While I still think Kline takes the starting nod on Aug. 31 and has the explosiveness to make this offense sing, Goff projects as perhaps a better overall fit for the offense once he adds some muscle.
But, when measuring who I think is the best offensive prospect, I look at immediate impact, and the offensive player who best fits that bill is Khalfani Muhammad.
While Muhammad isn't the tallest (for comparison's sake, I'm a stately 5-foot-6), he's got legitimate world-class speed, participating in the Junior Olympics in Spain last year.
Muhammad has been clocked as low as 10.44 in the 100 meters, 21.10 in the 200, and so far this season, he's been as fast as 10.47 in the 100. He's also incredibly shifty. He can run between the tackles as well as backs that have a good three inches and 20 pounds on him, but when he is tasked with getting to the edge, he's as good as gone.
He has exceptional hands when catching balls out of the backfield, but does tend to catch with his body at times, which is a concern.
The biggest thing I've been impressed with, though, is the fact that Muhammad is not shy of blocking. He may be only "5-foot-8," and about 172 pounds, but he'll put his nose down and get into a defensive lineman's chest when he needs to.
Now, as far as the Pac-12 as a whole, that honor has to go to USC's Max Browne. Early in the cycle when I saw Browne, I wasn't entirely impressed, particularly when he went head-to-head with Jared Goff at the Oakland NFTC regional event, but as the months wore on, he consistently got better, and at the Elite 11, it was hard to say he wasn't the best quarterback in attendance. Now, does he take the reins of the Trojans offense as a true freshman next year? I don't know. But, even if he doesn't, USC still has five-star running back Justin Davis, who I think is going to be an absolute stud. He and Thomas Tyner of Oregon are about dead even in my book.
13. Cal landed plenty of defensive linemen to bolster depth. Who do you see most ready to contribute among the under-the-radar defensive tackles?
Well, if this were about defensive ends, the answer would be very easy. We saw this spring that Kyle Kragen has already cracked the two-deep, and his speed and physicality as a rush end was most impressive, given that I had thought he came in a bit undersized.
As for defensive tackles, it's hard to say with complete certainty because I have yet to see JC tackle Marcus Manley in action, and at 6-foot-2, 279 pounds, and he might be the most physically ready of the four defensive tackles the Bears brought in.
Taking him out of the till, though, I'd place my bets on Garrett Hughes. Hughes went from a no-star, one-offer, undersized defensive end to a three-star, All-American defensive tackle over the course of the last year, and for good reason. Hughes excelled in the classroom and on the field his senior season at Corona (Calif.) Centennial, re-making his body into a prototypical three-technique defensive tackle. Hughes has very active hands, plays with a lot of violence and aggression and has good pad level. He rarely gets stood up by offensive linemen, and has a very high motor. He needs to add some good weight to take the place of the bad weight he lost over the course of the season, because he can at times get pushed around by bigger guards, but once he adds about 15-20 pounds of muscle, he's going to be a solid contributor, and that shouldn't be hard to do.