At the conclusion of the recruiting presentation, Sonny Dykes took questions. Here are the answers!
Audience Q&A (as a reminder, this is loosely paraphrased):
Q: How early do you identify targets? Do you find them as freshmen? Sophomores?
Dykes: There aren't really any secrets anymore, with the internet. If there's a good player, people are going to know immediately when you offer. There's already 2016 recruits out there with at least 9 Pac-12 offers. What we do is assign our coaches to geographic areas, as well as with their positions. That allows them to build relationships with players and high school coaches, get film, and start tracking guys early.
Q: At last year's event, you mentioned Cam Walker as an under-the-radar player that you thought was really good. Who's this year's Cam Walker?
Dykes: Well, first of all, Cam Walker had no business playing for us this year, as a 160 lb kid with no experience playing safety, but he ended up having to play due to circumstances. That said, the experience will help him later on down the line. Things got so bad by the end of the season, that we literally dressed only 3 DTs and 3 linebackers for the Big Game, and we were just going to throw guys in there at whatever position we needed to, if anyone else got hurt. Anyway, as for early contributors this year, the JC guys are a pretty safe bet (e.g. Trevor Kelly, Jonathan Johnson). As for freshmen, Tre Watson has a good chance to make an immediate impact.
Q: What's the impact of the NCAA allowing the use of Snapchat to communicate with recruits?
Dykes: Well, we use Twitter a lot. That's huge for us, as you can send direct messages if the recruit follows you, and it's not a text. I've heard of some coaches that outsourced their texts to India and were sending recruits 100 texts per day, but it's not real interaction. But yeah, we use social media all the time, and having another platform to connect with recruits always helps. You really have to be on all these social media in this business, it's just a fact of life.
Q: What would the impact of a Michael Sam be at Cal?
Dykes: Well, I can tell you right now that there have been gay players at Cal, and I have coached gay players in my career, they just haven't been out in the open. Acceptance is the most valuable lesson we can teach, and thankfully that's where things are headed.
Q: What can you tell us to preview the battle for starting running back?
Dykes: Well, we'll throw 'em together and see what sticks. We've got a lot of quality guys. Ervin has been hurt a lot, but he can contribute when he's healthy. Khalfani Muhammad and Daniel Lasco got valuable experience last year, Coprich did good things. Tre Watson is versatile, and Vic Enwere is a bigger and powerful back. We don't really have a "home run hitter" at running back, but it's a really good group. Raw speed is a little less important than you might think in a running back, as they're not really out in the open field all that much.
Q: Last year we didn't do so well defending in 3rd-and-long situations. Rushing 3, dropping 8 didn't seem to work very well. Can we expect a change of philosophy this season?
Dykes: Well, I've been part of some good passing offenses, like at Texas Tech, and even when we threw the ball well, it was toughest to throw the ball against an 8-man coverage. But really this question goes to what we do well as a defense. There really aren't that many great, sophisticated passing teams in the Pac-12. So, can we get effective pressure up front? Can we rush the passer? Can our CBs play man defense effectively? If so, then we can do that and allow smaller passing windows. But honestly, I don't know yet.
Q: What's the situation with Andy Buh?
Dykes: I don't know. We'll announce our final coaching assignments in a couple of weeks.
Q: What happened with Koa Farmer and Jaleel Wadood? Would getting defensive coaches on board sooner have potentially helped with either of them?
Dykes: Well, I think with Wadood, probably our record hurt us. If we had won 6-7 games, maybe we could have kept him on board. As for the coaching changes... We hit the road recruiting right after the season was over. Over the holidays, I went back and looked at the tape. All of it, every single practice and game. I could see that we regressed, and the question was why. After thinking it over, I decided around Christmas that we needed to make a change. Art Kaufman was my first choice out of about 6-8 guys, but it took a couple extra weeks to get him signed, as there was another school, a top-10 school (ed. note: rumored to be Florida State) that was also interested in him, but we were able to finally get him on board. I'd interviewed another 8 DB coaches, and then I brought 4 of them back to campus for Art to talk to. I don't know, maybe if we'd had some guys on board already, possibly we could have held on to Koa. It's hard to say for sure, but you want to get the right guys. The thing about recruiting is, the guys you get are more important than the guys you miss. At worst, a guy you miss out on may hurt you one day a year when he plays you. Getting the wrong player on your team will hurt you every single day.
Q: So, what should we expect to see this year? What can you tell us about all the injuries?
Dykes: What should we expect? Well... more points by us, less by them? :)
Look, we were bad in many key metrics last year. At some point, we got into a "here we go again" kind of mentality when adversity struck. The bottom line is, we've got to line up and tackle and execute. We're expecting to get a lot of guys back from injury, so we should be better. Scarlett is cleared. Goff is doing very well, and he's a couple of weeks ahead of schedule.
Q: How is the OL looking? It seemed things were starting to jell the last 3 games or so on the line.
Dykes: Yeah, they were a bit. The group is just young. And last year we lost Cochran, we lost Adcock. By the end of the season, Chris Borrayo was our best O-lineman, which I wouldn't have predicted at the beginning of the season. When we first got to Cal, it was surprising just how weak we were on the O-line. I was pretty shocked when we saw them in the weight room. Now they're stronger, and there's a more competitive environment in the weight room. They're still young though, and they'll continue to improve. We have 4 redshirt players coming back as well. There will be 10 guys competing for 4 spots.
Q: How is Chris Harper?
Dykes: He's healthy. He got dinged a lot last year. He's very strong pound for pound, but he doesn't have a big frame. He probably needs to build up his arms and shoulders a bit to keep healthy and stay on the field.
Q: What's your assessment of all the injuries last year? What can you do to prevent them or to get players back healthy faster?
Dykes: Well, we went over the injuries extensively with the medical staff. Generally, soft tissue and shoulder injuries are more typically preventable, but we had a low incidence of those. We had a high number of things like ACLs, concussions, complications from surgery. There were just a lot of freak, unusual things. In all my years coaching and playing football, I've never seen a lineman tear an ACL in practice, but that's what happened to Adcock. You don't really see an Achilles tear, but Sebastian went down during the Northwestern game with one. We can do some things better, and we're doing things like focusing on exercises to stabilize knee joints and hopefully help prevent ACL tears, for instance, but honestly, I think for the most part we just had a lot of bad luck last year.