As Cal navigated through a brutal Pac-12 schedule last season, one of the units that saw a disappointing drop off in production was the defensive line. We don't need to dive too much into this other than show a few clips of Cody Kessler enjoying every minute of last year's USC matchup. The defensive line has been mostly absent in the first two years under Sonny Dykes, but year two under Art Kaufman should be different. Fred Tate has done well to find under the radar players that now have the game experience to make a bigger impact this fall.
Cal's pass rush will be a vital sign to monitor all season long, especially as the Bears venture into the gruesome second half of the schedule. If the Bears can get pressure on the quarterback early, it opens up possibilities for Kauffman and allows the defensive backs more flexibility in coverage. This will be crucial for the Bears if they expect to compete for the Pac-12 title this season.
Let's take a look at the some of the high impact players we have seen in camp so far!
We all remember the herculean weight room effort the Bears put forward this spring, but one particular moment stood out amongst them all.
Kragen has come on strong this camp, unsurprisingly looking much more powerful and athletic on the line. He is penciled in as one of the two clear starters on the defensive line and should be a playmaker for the Bears if he can stay healthy. Throughout camp he has made big plays on and off the ball, and every practice recap has at least a few notes on what he did that day. #releasethekragen
"Moose" comes in as the most experienced defensive lineman for the Bears this season. He will have similar expectations as last year, and hopefully will become the player we expect him to be. Last season he fell far short of expectations, however his supporting cast outside of Austin Clark was overmatched almost every game. With everyone healthy and other lineman freeing him up for more one on one situations, Jalil should finally start to showcase the skill-set we started to see his freshman year in Berkeley.
Sitting out last year was tough for the Wake Forest transfer and he is loving it thus far in camp. Aside from reporting in great athletic condition after an intense redshirt workout program, Looney and the aforementioned Mustafa Jalil have become fast friends. He will look to occupy the defensive tackle position at the start of the season and has an excellent mentor in his older brother, the 49ers Joe Looney. If Cal expects to control the trenches this year, a lot will fall on the shoulders of Looney to make a big impact. The early impression from camp is that he is ready and should be a difference maker for the Bears.
Devante should fill in nicely as the starting defensive end, rotating with Jonathan Johnson frequently. Wilson is perhaps the most important new face on the defensive line as the Bears start to prepare for Grambling State. He played with the one's at times this fall and made a big push for a starting role at the end of camp. I expect big things, without an untimely ACL injury he is a USC Trojan preparing to play against us this year.
Lopa could also end up a starter by the end of camp, and certainly has seniority over other contributors mentioned before. Puka generally came off the bench last year with his best game coming against Arizona. He is strong against the run and can take some of the pressure off new addition Devante Wilson.
The JUCO transfer should see a lot of playing time and is slotted to be a starter as we head towards the end of August. Johnson wreaked havoc playing at Pierce College, and has made a routine of finding the stat sheet this summer.
Perhaps my favorite player on the defensive line, Westerfield played in every game last year filling in for the injured Brennan Scarlett. He is someone I could see coming on strong mid-season and potentially be a starter as we wrap up the season. There is a lot to like about Westerfield, he is a cerebral player who logged major minutes as a true freshman last year.
Barr opened up the 2014 season on a torrid pace, with twenty tackles and two forced fumbles in the first seven games. His numbers dipped as the season progressed into the Pac-12 schedule, along with the rest of the defense, but he should be more of a consistent presence this season. Barr was an absolute monster in high school and if he can have similar success this year it addresses a massive need for the Bears defense. He is also putting in work in the classroom earning an honorable mention for all Pac-12 academic for the third consecutive year.
Depth? What is this word depth you speak of?
Perhaps the only luxury of having an awful first year plagued by injuries is that young players who were not expected to see the field gain real game experience. Almost every defensive lineman on the roster has experience they can draw upon. Let's take a look at a few contributors who could rotate in with the starters or play in the not so distant future.
Tony was one of the players last year that saw time after Brennan Scarlett went down. After rotating last year between defensive tackle and defensive end, Tony should be more comfortable as a strict defensive tackle for 2015-16.
Marcus has been with the program for a while and should be a great reserve for us. Last year he did well in the role, making a few plays against other Pac-12 teams.
There is a lot to like about Luc on measurements alone. Add in Florida's late interest last year and he is certainly someone to watch. He will probably redshirt this upcoming season and should be someone to keep an eye on next spring.
Time will tell if the true freshman will see the field this year. Either way, big things are coming.
Unfortunately, Kelly had some academic issues but should be with the team for the start of the season.
I expect the Cal defensive line to make improvements this season and launch the defense back to a level of mediocrity that has been sorely missed the last two years. Our success this year starts and ends with the defensive line, but unlike years past, we finally have the talent and experience to compete at a high level.