Another athlete joins the class of 2016 for Cal, as the Bears are picking up recruits at a Sonic the Hedgehog-esque pace. Zion Echols, a young man out Charter Oak in Covina, CA is the latest to make a commitment to Cal. This is the ninth recruit of this 2016 class, which shows a couple of things. First, the program is picking up momentum, to the point where a bunch of talented people think that Cal is the place to be. Secondly, all nine of these recruits come from California. There have been complaints about the class of 2015 and how much of that class came from out of state. This issue, if you can call it one, has been rectified. More talent from California is staying in California. That mentality of winning the recruiting battles in state is what built Miami under Howard Schnellenberger. Currently that mentality is being used to rebuild Cal, and is leading us to a top 25 recruiting class for 2016.
- Like a growing amount of recruits today, Echols plays in a shotgun based system similar to the Bear Raid. The influx of the spread offense is causing high school coaches to adopt the system in order to better prepare their guys for the college game. It's interesting how fast the game is changing at the lower levels. I played in high school about 6 years ago, and the majority of teams we played ran traditional, pro-style offenses, and our defense was set up to force the quarterback to beat us. That doesn't happen anymore it seems.
- Anyway, on to the tape, where the first play demonstrates a lot of what you need to know about Echols. Simple zone read, he gets a hole up the middle, and he's off to the races. He changes direction on the safety at the end without losing too much speed and takes it the rest of the way. The play looked a little like the running back version of the Desean Jackson punt return against the Giants a few years ago. The burst it takes to get through that hole is Jahvid-esque.
- At :14 Echols shows some pass catching ability out of the backfield. He makes the catch, makes two defenders miss, and gets to the end zone with little trouble. Echols is listed as an athlete by the recruiting services, and he has the ability to play RB or inside WR. He's what the coaching staff wanted Brendan Bigelow to be in 2013, a stellar athlete who can outrun or outjuke defenders after the catch.
- He's beating guys to the endzone by ten yards on some of these plays. These guys started fifteen yards in front of him, which means Echols has got some breakaway speed.
- When he's lined up at wideout, I can see one technical issue that he has. Echols shuffles his feet before going into his route, losing a step that he could get on the cornerback. At the high school level, that doesn't matter too much, as he's faster than the vast majority of corners. That will change, and is something correctable.
- At :55 in, you can see Echols not relying on blistering speed, but by letting his blocks set up and letting the play develop before making a move to the outside. Good vision is probably one of the two most important attributes for a running back to have, and Echols looks to have it. It's a fundamental play that doesn't happen as often as it should.
- Echols already has the short route ability that the Bear Raid needs an inside receiver. He has no problem with the deeper seam routes, and he has the agility to take the short hook routes for yards after the catch. It looks like there's a frame missing during the play at 1:10, which says something about this guy's speed. Tony Franklin is laughing maniacally in his football laboratory right now.
- They had Echols running some bubble screens, which hasn't been a huge part of the Bear Raid to this point, but it can be with this guy's speed. He follows his blockers well, a must on those screens. I think he could slide in at the inside receiver spot pretty easily as a true freshman. The pieces of his game are already there, and the offense has gained one heck of a weapon.