When your defense is as bad as it has been these last two seasons for the Cal Bears, recruiting players who can provide immediate, impact help is of the highest order, and to some extent, Coach Dykes was successful with Jonathan Johnson, Trevor Kelly, and Darius White last recruiting class. While they didn't exactly come in and revolutionize that side of the ball, all of them contributed to some degree, and they should get a lot better in their second year of D1 competition, as should David Davis, Marcus Manley, and James Looney, coming off transfer.
Still, though, that isn't enough. We know it isn't...
In which we look at Three Down, DeVante Wilson
...because they continue to mine the JUCO ranks for guys like Wilson. (If you haven't noticed, I've taken to throwing around completely made up nicknames for a lot of these players, but don't plan on sticking with any of them except maybe Kanawai Noa's. It's mostly just to spice up the section names.)
Now, it's no secret there hasn't been an effective pass rush in close to three or four seasons. The Bears have lacked badly for a player who can consistently win match-ups on the edge even a portion of the time, a failure that has allowed opposing signalcallers to throw at will, and for record after record to be broken. In that sense, Wilson is not the first JUCO guy brought in to try to remedy this glaring, persistent issue -- he's only the latest, after Sione Sina, Kyle Kragen, Antoine Davis, and the aforementioned Johnson have all tried their hands.
But he does carry with him one inherent advantage: he already checks in at a reported 260 pounds, which makes him far heavier and run-ready than the other three, none of whom were reported at any more than 245 when they arrived on campus. At that size, he could, presumably, provide a lot of options on defense -- Riverside City College uses him in either spot -- more than anyone we've put out there thus far. At weakside, he'd clearly be more mobile than Barr or Mekari, and bigger than the still growing Noah Westerfield. Pair that with Scarlett returning to the strong side and you might have something...or he could fit right in behind Brennan as a backup, too. (Given Scarlett's consistent history of injury, this scenario is not entirely unlikely).
Wilson's not quite as fast off the line or on the field as Johnson was last year, and I don't think he's nearly as impressive as a pass rusher. He does, however, with his hustle and frame, have a great chance of being on the field for multiple downs, whereas Johnson could only generally come in as a third down specialist last season.
Commenting on assorted highlights:
- 1:38 - RCC runs a little two man game on the weak side, having their defensive tackle crash outwards, while Wilson plants his foot and loops inside on the pass rush. BUT WAIT! IT'S A SCREEN! The running back and the OL are slipping to the flat for a dump off! No matter. Our new JUCO end sniffs it out -- recognizing what's happened, he stops his pursuit and chases the back, eventually dragging him down for a loss.
- 2:39 - The offense sends a back to chip on Wilson, who does a great job bending around the left tackle, then "getting skinny" and slipping in away from the second block, as well. Good technique and body control right there; he gets a pressure and the pass is broken up downfield. He'll demonstrate it again at 4:29.
- Observation: Wilson favors the swim move in the pass rush, and RCC liked his strength enough to line him up inside at tackle, too, on certain packages, kind of like how we moved Scarlett around a few times to try to generate favorable matchups standing up or against guards. We'll see if that translates to D1. Certainly of interest, though.
- Observation: Good motor and pursuit. Not a guarantee of result -- we had plenty of motor guys up front this year who didn't get tangible statistical production -- but you gotta have it to be a successful lineman.
- 5:40 - Want to see how 260 pounds works? He's not even fazed by the pulling guard. Meets him face to face, stonewalls him, turns his body, then grabs the back for a loss. A lot of strength in that frame already, with a whole summer of S&C work ahead, too.
In which we look at The Lonely Island, aka Alcatraz, aka Antoine Albert
By the end of the season, Cedric Dozier and Darius White were taking a majority of the plays at cornerback, with Cameron Walker either having fallen out of favor or not fully healthy, and us not being entirely sure of which. It figures that, without a major move by any other candidate, those guys will remain heavy in rotation, although the actual starters will be placed up for grabs again. After all, when you surrender a school worst for passing yardage by a wide margin -- lack of pass rush or not -- your job can't really be guaranteed, which brings us to Antoine Albert, who will be with the team this spring as a JUCO transfer, and should figure into the competition immediately.
For his commitment, we have Nebraska to thank, since he was a heavy Oregon State lean up until Riley was hired away.
Albert's bigger -- the official Cal press release with his signing says 190, which is Darius Allensworth sized but a whole two inches taller -- than pretty much all our corners on the roster, and faster, too, if his 4.5 40 is to be believed. As I wrote earlier, this is an ongoing trend in this recruiting class, and it bodes well for a defense that needs athleticism in the worst way.
Many DB tapes I watch begin with interceptions (usually off of poorly thrown balls), or guys showing off in pass coverage. Not this one, though. Albert is all about showcasing physicality from the jump, demonstrating bump and run/press coverage at the line, then switching quickly onto ball-carriers in the area. Again, and again he does this.
At 1:45, he presses the guy all the way out of bounds, as the ball's thrown on the other side of the field.
At 2:03, he knocks out a guy running into the flat. The pass is downfield.
So noticeable is his amount of press-man that he goes as far as to literally dedicate a section to showing off that trait (6:45) and calls himself Alcatraz. This, at minimum suggests he's capable of keeping up without help at the JUCO level athletes, although it's not just his ability to re-route that pops out -- its his tenacity and effort to deny, then dominate receivers, dictating what space is actually available to them.No, you won't cross his face on a slant. No, you won't get a clean release. He doesn't care what's happening. He's got one job. Prevent you from getting to where you want to go.
Whether or not he can do so against the Pac-12, though, will be something worth watching in the spring, when he faces off against some of the best receivers in the country. Still, promising to have. He's also on tape here staying cool and disciplined against opposing wide receivers, too, not biting on double moves. Leave that guy one on one, and he'll hold up. He'll work tenaciously in run support, too.
Another quirk that appears on tape: the fact that on the occasions when a pass is thrown his way, that Albert doesn't turn his head to play the ball in the air very often.
Early against Northwestern this season, Coach Kaufman wasn't shy about sending defensive backs in the rush -- Cedric Dozier took some auto blitzes for sure -- a tendency that was either opponent specific or had to be changed as the year went on. Albert spends a lot of time for Diablo Valley doing kind of similar things. It wouldn't surprise me if those looks reappear next year with more healthy linemen in play, and this guy.
There's not a consensus as to whether he or Darius White was a better player coming out of JUCO, in case you're wondering. They're pretty evenly split among the four recruiting services. I went back and watched some of White's highlight reel again to refresh my memory and he's comparably physical, but I have the edge to Albert, I think, given his size and his more impressive coverage ability. Lockdown corners are rare. You won't need to catch the ball if no balls are thrown to you, and the former trait will be of more help out on the edge against those newfangled WR screens we have such a difficult time with.
In an ideal world, Albert could redshirt and we wouldn't have to use him this year due to everyone holding it down at corner, but that seems highly unlikely. Two JUCOs in the CB rotation, this fall? Much, much more so.