The rest of the class of 2015 comes on the defensive side. There weren't any linebackers in this class, with the glut in last year's class. Instead, the Bears took seven defensive backs and six defensive linemen to fill in a bunch of holes in the depth chart. Defensive line is an area of need, as the Bears struggled mightily on the defensive end. The pass rush is an area that lacked last year and one that has lacked for a number of years. While the rushing defense ranged from decent to slightly below average, the pass defense got a T for Troll. There was no pressure from the defensive line, which allowed the likes of Kevin Hogan and girl from Twilight who played QB for BYU to have field days against us. Sonny and company went hard after guys who can play defensive end in the wake of this, getting six of them to come in in the class of 2015.
Class of 2015 DL Fits
Of this class, DeVante Wilson is going to play immediately. He gives the defense an edge rusher that has been sorely needed since Dykes and company came in. At 6'5" and 255 lbs, Wilson certainly looks the part for an edge rusher, as has some great tenacity coming off the edge. With the loss of Brennan Scarlett to the junior Farm College, Wilson should start or at least rotate in with Kyle Kragen, who looks like a new man after missing last year with mono. There's going to be a four man rotation at the end spots, with Noah Westerfield, Todd Barr, Kragen, and Wilson subbing in and out to create some depth in the offensive line. Westerfield and Wilson will be the ones left after this season. In the best case scenario, I could see Wilson being a Ryan Riddle type of player, a guy who comes out of a JC and dominates for a year or two. If Wilson can rise to that level, which I thought he showed flashes of in spring practices, then we have got a metaphorical stew going on the defensive line.
On to the freshman defensive linemen, Luc Bequette, Cameron Saffle, Trevor Howard, Zeandae Johnson, and Russell Ude. Of these players, I want to start with Cameron Saffle. This kid essentially campaigned for himself to be recruited, sending in a tape of himself, and turning that in to getting a scholarship. He's another player who thinks Cal is the place to be. On a fundamental level, Saffle's tape impressed me the most. He has the explosion imperative for playing defensive end, and will be able to add another 25 pounds or so to play the position effectively. If he gets two years of seasoning, I could see him being a big factor on the defense, in the same way that Stephen Anderson earned his way into a starting job on the offense.
Russell Ude was the highest rated of the defensive linemen coming in with this class, and the kid definitely has the size to prove it. He comes in at 6'4" and 250lbs, almost ready made to slide in. He's bigger than Westerfield was last year when he started as a true freshman. Ude can play as a stand-up pass rushing end, or he could put on some muscle and play on the inside. He has some great leverage coming out of his stance, and if he can keep the explosiveness from his stance as he puts on muscle he can get in the mix at any of the defensive line spots in 2016. If he plans to stay at defensive end, he could crack the rotation this year.
Luc Bequette is the lone player who could come in and play the defensive tackle spot without any training table meals. The lineman from Arkansas is listed at 6'2" and 285 lbs, around the same weight that Austin Clark played the DT spot last year. Bequette has some surprising speed for a big guy, running like a force of nature. He also has some good instincts in getting off the ball and shedding blocks, fundamentals that will be useful when the players are bigger. He doesn't give up on plays, a trait that coaches covet, and seems to welcome contact. I don't think Bequette will play immediately, mostly with James Looney and Mustafa Jalil being entrenched up front for now, but we could be seeing him sooner rather than later.
The last two defensive linemen, Johnson and Howard, have the typical frame for a defensive end. Johnson is more ready size-wise, coming in at 6'5" and 250 lbs, while Howard is still pretty big at 6'3" and 235 lbs. Johnson played tight end in high school and could end up on the offensive side of the ball in a similar role to Ray Hudson. He already has similar size to Gronk, so it could be possible. I'm surprised that Tony Franklin doesn't want this guy on his side as much as Art Kaufman does. We will see where time takes him, but Johnson can explode off the line as well as anyone in this class. Howard is a big kid with a bit of a mean streak. He hits hard to make up for the muscle that he's going to put on while at Cal. When he gets that seasoning, I believe he can be a force. I'm not sure who the best comparison would be for him, but he could be starting in two years. All in all, the coaching staff brought in a worthy position class to fill a number of gaps, and there's reason for excitement about the future of the defensive line.