After allowing the most passing yards in NCAA history, the Cal coaching staff echoed the thoughts of the late Owen Hart, "Enough is enough and it's time for a change." So Sonny and company set out to fill the holes in our secondary like an over-caffeinated paver with OCD. The fruits of their labor brought in six defensive backs to hopefully right the ship on defense. With even an average defense this year, an 8-9 win season is easily possible. The Bears brought in two JC guys, Derron Brown and Antoine Albert, who can come in right away. Brown was here in the spring, so he has a little more experience going into the fall. The other four guys, Malik Psalms, Trey Turner, Evan Rambo, Billy McCrary III, will be called upon early, but will fill the gaps that a few years of lackluster recruiting have left.
Brown and Albert look to play right away this year. Brown got some run at safety in the spring and didn't separate himself from the competition. Brown is in the new mold of a safety, standing at 6'2". He's only 190 lbs at this point, which doesn't lend itself to covering bigger tight ends and H-backs. He may need a bit of weight room time before he can really play up to his potential. Due to the lack of experienced competition at this point, he's going to see some time during the season, and hopefully the adrenaline can carry him through those games. On to Albert though, and if you haven't done any looking into this guy, you should. I think he has the size necessary to be a shutdown corner. Playing just down the road at DVC, Albert is an excellent cover corner who has overcome a speech impediment. He will play next year, probably in a backup role, but he will make an impact. Albert has three years to play two, so hopefully he makes the best of those two, because he has the opportunity to be something special.
From a personnel standpoint, I think Evan Rambo brings a skillset that is missing in the secondary. Rambo plays similarly to the departed Avery Sebastian, as he plays safety downhill. I like how he plays the alley in run support, coming down on run plays to make a tackle. Strong safety is an open position this year with the departure of Michael Lowe. With Griffin Piatt coming back from an ACL tear (he plays more FS anyway), the position is ripe for competition in the fall. Rambo's aggressiveness from the safety spot brings a quality that has been missing from that position. He could play right away on special teams, where can shine, or he could be in the conversation to play right from jump street. Plus, he has the best name of the group.
Malik Psalms was the highest rated defensive back of the class. At 6'3", he's at what I like to call the Sherman-Dixon line heightwise. He will play corner at Cal, and he's in the tall cornerback mold that is in vogue currently. He can play up in press coverage, which isn't something that the current crop of Cal corners have demonstrated. He can be a guy who can hang with the bigger receivers up at Washington State or anyone else who wants to pass against us. He demonstrates good closing speed and the ability to make plays on the ball, due to his size. While he's obviously going to be a bit green to start, he will probably play as a freshman. He slots in pretty easily at any of the corner spots, and beyond that he can contribute on special teams. Considering his tape, he could ostensibly be a return man, given his running back and receiver skills.
Billy McCrary and Trey Turner are both guys who could use the year to redshirt. McCrary is an absolute speedster. I could see him in a Tim Mixon sort of role on defense, along with returning punts. He's definitely explosive enough for the punt return job. Defensively, he'd fit well as a nickel corner in the interim, or at least until he can move to the outside. I wouldn't expect McCrary to play in 2015. With Turner playing QB in high school, he may need a bit of time to develop at the defensive back spot. Turner is a fantastic athlete, and he has the size to succeed as a corner. I wouldn't expect Turner to play this year either, but I think he can develop pretty well over the next couple of years.
Khari Vanderbilt, wait what?:
There's one last addition to the class of 2015, and like an RKO, it came outta nowhere. Khari Vanderbilt, a JC safety from San Jose City College, gave his commitment to the Bears last night. He had been committed to BYU, but he reopened his recruitment before signing day. He must have seen the Cal-BYU game, and decided we needed the help more. Anyhow, the seventh member of the DB class of 2015 is more than welcome in Berkeley, and he will join the competition in the defensive backfield in the fall.
- At :21 Vanderbilt plays the alley on a run, coming up to make the play. I like how he reads the play, immediately seeing the offensive line action and reacting to it in a positive way. This play is entirely fundamental, and he finishes it with a solid form tackle, taking down the running back before he can really get going. It's reminiscent of how Syd'Quan Thompson played against the run.
- Vanderbilt's ability to play the ball is excellent as well. He totaled five interceptions during his sophomore campaign, and how he makes plays on the ball is impressive. During the play at :38, Vanderbilt jumps the deep ball, jumps in front of the receiver and high points the ball. Fundamental play again, the extra seasoning that JC provides has refined his game. During that play, he proceeds to return the interception to midfield from his own end zone.
- When the play extends and receivers get open because of that, Vanderbilt shows some excellent closing speed. On intermediate crossing routes, he can play that zone and come down to make a hit on the receiver.
- Vanderbilt could easily transition to the strong safety position. Considering how he likes to play downhill to stop the run, Vanderbilt could slot in immediately next to Stefan McClure. Vanderbilt is a welcome addition to a depleted secondary. It is a surprise to get a guy this late, but he could definitely be a factor in the secondary next year. He has three years to play two, but I don't think it'll get to that point. Vanderbilt will see playing time next year, and may give some of the freshman DBs more leeway to redshirt.
- Either way, the coaching staff deserves props for putting together a solid recruiting class that sets them up for the future. This defensive back class is something to build on, and we will get to see the fruits that will come from that labor.