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A closer look at Cameron Saffle, DePriest Turner, and Zeandae Johnson

Scouting the latest bunch of defensive talent reveals some mysteries. A lot of athleticism, but some real, real mysteries.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In which we look at the quarterback convert, DePriest Turner

Well, that's a helluva play to start your reel with, if you're a quarterback switching to play DB...I'd suggest you watch it, because it shows him coming from the center of the field to chase down a defender who has blockers. Talk about knowing your pursuit angles. Wow. That's the only play on film in which he's doing something resembling defense, but it's an impressive one for a guy who doesn't play it (yet).

Like with Billy McCrary, there's a lot of mystery in what Trey Turner will bring to Berkeley, since any time they've done DB work has probably been a camp capacity or in a workout in front of the coaches, but little beyond that. These guys, I don't think I'd be able to get a proper and total read on until seeing them in camp this August (which I might be able to catch a few of, at best).

Yet, I remain hopeful, because I can see that Turner understands space. He can change direction, he can turn and run with a marked fluidness, and he has a frame that provides a good, long base to be coached up. He's clearly the best athlete on the field in his tape -- and high school teams tend to play their best athlete at QB  -- so there's a lot to work with.

Oh, and he runs a 4.40. (Reportedly, which means it's likely in the 4.5-4.6 range, but still.)

Assuming that they don't immediately take to being prodigies in the defensive backfield, I think McCrary and Turner are both guys we'll check back in on for progress in seasons to come -- but damn if they're not both intriguing as hell.

In which we scout a former tight end from the Northwest, Cameron Saffle

If you don't know the incredibly likable backstory of Cameron Saffle, it can be summed up thusly: enterprising under-recruited teenager wants to get noticed, takes initiative into own hands and begins searching up phone numbers of colleges, finally finding the digits of the Cal coaching staff. Staff reviews teenager's tape. Offers.

And the rest is history -- or at least, a commitment on recruiting sites everywhere.

To me, the biggest strength of Saffle's game is in his ability to use his arms. Funny sounding sentence aside, what this means is that his tape shows a very noticeable streak of initiating contact to keep linemen off of him, then directing opponents one way or the other to control his gap and their movement.

A few of many examples of this in action:

  • 0:00 - really nice technique with the arms, swatting away the OL's initial attempt to make contact, then bending all the way around to get the sack. Okay, but not remarkable burst off the ball.
  • 1:20 - developing parts of a spin move, so he's not just a rip or swim guy
  • 2:01 - drives the tackle back into his running back, rips off the double team anyway to stop a scrambling QB.
  • 2:44 - lined up over RT, jabstep left (OT's right), rips inside, disengages, gets skinny into the gap and then a sack.
  • 3:16 - extends to keep the OT from getting too close, so he can hold his ground and make the tackle on a run his way.
He's also really good about seeking out contact and holds up with very, very good leverage -- when blocked or engaged, he's almost always on the right side to be in taking on blockers. Not sure I see future stud written on him and I don't think he'll play immediately, but there are some nice tools to be built up by the staff.

Despite him moving well at his current position, he also needs to get a bit bigger. I wouldn't be surprised, however, if they move him to linebacker at some point, and would probably prefer it. His size has been reported anywhere between 218 on ESPN and 240 on his HUDL, with the lower end more likely -- staying at DE would require a longer physical transformation from him, I think.

In which we scout another former tight end closer to home, Zeandae Johnson

The last time we wrote about Mr. Johnson, there was no real defensive film of his yet -- he had just committed to Cal following his junior season, and all I could find was a total of four plays of him at D-end. For that reason, I felt it prudent to peek again at his play as a senior, just to see what more we can glean. I'm not sure if they still plan to keep him on defense, but given the staff's focus on improving speed and athleticism across the board, it almost doesn't really matter -- the influx of speed is what counts. Where it goes, not nearly as much.

To me, I'd be tempted to keep Johnson on offense first. He's been verified at 6'4, 260 pounds, but it's a good 260 (although if he stayed on offense they'd probably ask that to go down a little). If they wanted him to one day take over that Stephen Anderson/Richard Rodgers type role in the middle of the field, I could totally see it. He's got solid run after the catch ability and a fantastic frame as an athlete.

[On a sidenote, I looked up Stephen Anderson's weight while making that last comment, only to realize that Stephen Anderson is 215 pounds playing like 240. Wow.]

But, that's not what we're here for. The defense section starts at 4:28 for all curious parties, and it looks like he's still a very raw, unpolished guy who's learning the position. Here's a rundown of all the plays, except one where he's not located:

  • 4:28 - QB dash read/power read -- pick your terminology -- that he tries to cut back Johnson's way. Johnson changes direction, reaches out and grabs him, tosses him to the ground like a rag doll. That frame at work again.
  • 4:44 - Speed option left with an end around motion, Johnson isn't fooled. Compensates for being a little too deep in the field by reaching out and grabbing, and again, tossing the ballcarrier to the ground.
  • 5:11 - Immovable on a block by the TE, rips him off, makes the tackle.
  • 5:14 - Packaged play with the offense running power and a bubble screen, reading off Johnson. This play shows him being quick enough to get out to the edge after being read.
  • 5:28 - Play-action turns into a sack when the tight end decides to stop blocking.
  • 5:48 - Very similar to 5:11. Engages arms, pushes off. Sounds like something I wrote above for Saffle, but he's much less consistent about it.
  • 6:00 - Moves TE outside, cuts back in and falls on the QB for a sack.
  • 6:02 - Probably the most promising thing to me is seeing how strong Johnson is, since he gets a double team here and doesn't give ground much, if at all.
Still really limited stuff, with not a lot to show me how he understands the technical aspect of the that position just yet, especially as a pass rusher or in extended run support. He's a mystery right now, although that sometimes lends itself to surprises -- Noah Westerfield ended up playing a much bigger role his freshman year than anyone would have expected, for example.

It just means that we just don't have a clear sense of what he is bringing as a player right now. Check back. That's a theme with more than a handful of guys this class.