Departing: Deandre Coleman, Viliami Moala, Dan Camporeale, Chris McCain
Returning from injury: Mustafa Jalil & Brennan Scarlett
New faces: Trevor Kelly, Sione Sina (redshirt), Marcus Manley (redshirt), Tony Mekari (redshirt), Jonathan Johnson
The Cal defensive line is going to be in a really rough spot this spring, although they aren't likely to do too much worse than last year. Only one starter from last year's depth chart returns, and he spent all of 2013 on the bench. Our two starting defensive tackles are gone. The Bears rush defense was probably the only decent aspect of a porous 2013 season, and they are entering a situation of relative flux.
Luckily, they'll be getting proven coaches in Fred Tate and Art Kaufman to try and remedy the situation. The two of them are familiar with instilling order in struggling defenses, so this figures to be an ideal spot for both of them.
The brightest news would be the return of Scarlett, who would immediately upgrade the defensive pass rush by about 2000% from last season. After Chris McCain's departure, Cal could generate just about nothing with Kyle Kragen and Camporeale trying to get to the quarterback or contain the outside. Scarlett will probably slot right in for Kragen and give Cal a solid edge presence that they didn't have at that position last season.
Reports from this offseason have him weighing in at close to 270 and with a 4.6 40 time. Even if you figure that number's juiced, having a much bigger and athletic presence out there can only help. No more 255 pound ends trying to set the edge.
Sina entering the rotation would also be extremely important. Puka Lopa showed flashes last season with some occasional rushing ability, but I have doubts about his outside contain. Sina was considered a potential game changing recruit with his speed and edge rush, and coming off a medical redshirt, he and Scarlett could help turn around a defense that seemed incapable of producing sacks -- accidental or otherwise -- last season. Jonathan Johnson is another strong candidate to play his way into the DE rotation as well.
Moving from defensive end to defensive tackle, the situation is a bit more uncertain. Jacobi Hunter is the only real defensive tackle who saw action last season and is back for another run. Hunter definitely seems like he has a lot of promise to be a four-year starter at Cal, and can hopefully develop further under the tutelage of Tate.
With the Bears looking like they're sticking with the 4-3, Cal will have to hope that either Mustafa Jalil is fully healthy or Trevor Kelly is ready to step right in alongside Hunter. Kelly definitely looks the part physically of a nose tackle, and offseason reports already suggest he is the strongest player on the team. If Jalil is still not quite ready to go he would likely be an immediate option at nose tackle we could rely on early. The return of Jalil would be incredibly welcome; he provides an added level of physicality and aggression up front that gives offensive lines fits. That comes, of course, with the caveat of him actually being healthy, and with two consecutive seasons cut short, that is no sure thing.
This spring will be about feeling out the type of coach that Tate is and figuring out if he has the chops to instill (a) a pass rush that wasn't non-existent last season and (b) putting players in position where they can maximize their talent. Neither seemed occurred under the Sacks/Chachere situation, which is why they've moved onto other spots on the staff or elsewhere altogether. Tate definitely looks like he knows his stuff. We'll see if that dynamic works to his advantage come the advent of spring football.