Who among the JuCo prospects (offense or defense) do you think will contribute the earliest? Is JuCo recruiting a big strategy of the new staff?
The JuCo signee who's going to make the biggest immediate impact is doing to be Kyle Kragen, hands down. Kragen has a high motor and is an absolute animal as a rush end, which is made all the more incredible by the fact that, coming out of Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley, he was just 6-foot-1, 212 pounds. Now, he's 6-3, 250 and still moves like a much smaller man. He caught my attention more than just about any other defender this spring, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him as a regular in third-down situations.
As for the JuCo route being a component of recruiting, I think what we saw this past cycle is going to be an aberration. The Bears took four Junior College players, but three of them were on the defensive line (Kragen, Sina and Marcus Manley). That was done because Cal needed to fill out the new four-man front with depth. I can see the Bears maybe picking up one JuCo guy this year, but given the fact that they're going to take around 15 players in total, that's about it. They've filled out both lines - which are traditionally the positions where guys can play sooner because they're more ready physically -- but I can maybe see a receiver like Nick Kurtz - who already has an offer - being an option at some point, but not as a Plan A option. It certainly won't be a running back; Cal wants to bring in two young studs who can grow up in the system.
Cal landed three high quality linebackers. Where do you see each of them fitting in the 4-3?
The first guy I have to mention is Chad Whitener. He's got a little baby fat on him, but he's very, very bright with a high football IQ that shows an uncanny ability to read plays. He is a prototypical middle linebacker in the 4-3, and although it was the previous staff who recruited him into a 3-4, I think he fits this system far better. He has thick, strong legs with a wide body and can take plenty of punishment. He's going to be one to watch, if he can get into better shape.
Edward Tandy is probably best suited to the Will. He's versatile enough to play outside linebacker, safety or rover, and he's great in coverage, but can come up and stop the run when he needs to. I was always surprised as to how little attention Tandy got during the process. We had him listed as only having offers from Cal, Colorado, Nevada and Washington. I won't go so far as to say he's a hidden gem, because if you start saying that to justify every recruit, eventually you look pretty foolish. But, if he puts on a bit of weight, he's going to be a very solid contributor on the weak side.
So, we've had "he's a little fat," and "he needs to gain weight," and now, we come to the Goldilocks of this group: Johnny Ragin III. Ragin is a physical freak. He had one of the highest SPARQ ratings in the nation last summer, ranking 24th out of the top 150 players at The Opening. He has broad shoulders, looks like he's smuggling potatoes in his biceps and has a great V-shape to his upper body. At this point, Ragin's more of an athlete than a football player, but under Andy Buh, I can see him progressing rather nicely into a very good Sam backer who could also play in a 3-4 alignment to great effect. He's got a motor that doesn't stop, he's very bright and will put in the work. Expect him to redshirt and then maybe knock some heads on special teams before he blows up as a redshirt sophomore.
The Bears got a few nice cornerbacks in this class. Why did Cal have so much trouble recruiting safeties this class?
I'm going to take these as one question. Cameron Walker and Darius Allensworth are definitely more on the underrated side of things, and both are going to grow into big, physical corners with plenty of speed, to boot. Neither has the pure, burning get-up-and-go of a Steve Williams, but they provide depth to a unit that sorely needs it after Williams, Josh Hill, Marc Anthony and Tyre Ellison departed, and Alex Logan suffered a knee injury in the spring.
Of course, Logan and Hill are both safeties, and that's what this class is missing. There have been more than a few persistent whispers that after Ashley Ambrose replaced Al Simmons as Cal's DB coach, the self-styled ‘DB Guru' Tony Perry started discouraging his crop of defensive backs in the Central Valley to avoid the Bears at all costs. I won't presume to represent those events as anything other than speculation, but it certainly has the ring of truth to my ear. Given that Cal has put multiple safeties into the NFL in recent years, it gives at least some rationale behind the avoidance of the Bears by the state's top safeties. Lo and behold, we saw both Hatari Bird and L.J. Moore go elsewhere. I think this new staff is going to have a little more pull with Perry and the defensive backs he pumps out year after year down at Fresno Central East because of the reputation and longevity of Randy Stewart. This class is off to a good start with Koa Farmer already in the mix, and pretty darn gung-ho about his commitment after visiting earlier in the spring. Cal is in far better shape with safeties in this class, including J.T. Gray, Ladarius Wiley, Jeff Farrar, Glen Ihenacho, Naijiel Hale, Troy Vincent and John Plattenburg. Vincent, Hale and Plattenburg are listed as corners, but those of us who have seen these kids pretty much all think they'll grow into safeties in college, Vincent in particular, given his bloodlines. Cal is very, very sweet on Lavon Washington out of McClymonds. The Bears are the only team to have offered him at this point, but they've stopped by McClymonds a few times during the evaluation period. At 5-foot-11, 180, he certainly seems like he could develop into a nice strong safety, but we'll have to see what he does as a senior.