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Cal Football National Signing Day thoughts: Bears get athletes and size, talent still an issue

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So how did the Bears do overall?

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Cal had a solid recruiting class, although it wasn't exactly the most spectacular one. Let's look at all the ups, downs, and weirdness of the 2016 class.

Strengths

Cal is finally getting big offensive linemen. The Bears made it a priority to get big guys on the line, and they for the most part succeeded in that. Jake Curhan, Daniel Juarez and Dwayne Wallace are all 300+ pound prospects who could be ready sooner rather than later to get in the offensive line two deep.  Add in Gentle Williams potentially contributing, and this could be Cal's second straight impact offensive line class in a row.

The Bears got some offensive acceleration. Two of Cal's athletic prospects will provide a new pop to the Bear Raid that didn't exist in previous years. Zion Echols has jets and could be a home run threat out of the backfield. Melquise Stovall can go anywhere on the field and be a threat from anywhere. Getting players who can separate from the defense in the open field will be huge in terms of stretching the offense.

Cal has two quarterbacks with very complementary skillsets. If the Bears want to have a two quarterback system down the road, they might have the guys in Max Gilliam and Victor Viramontes. Gilliam is a pure pocket passer who figures to be a natural Air Raid quarterback. Viramontes could be a very special weapon.

The Bears now have a more diverse set of wideouts. Cal had a great set of wide receivers, but one of the problems the team faced was that the guys they had were very similar. They were solid possession receivers who ran clean routes, but struggled to generate yards after catch.

This class focused on bigger, taller receivers (in Logan Gamble, Drew Kobayashi, Matt Laris, Jordan Veasy) who are probably stronger in traffic and also could be better blockers for screen and outside run plays. Add in a number one capable guy like Jordan Duncan and this is a more diverse group that can fit the Air Raid attack better, leading to better offensive skills.

Weaknesses

Linebacking recruiting came up way short. There's no way to sugarcoat it. Cal did not recruit linebackers well for the second straight year. Cameron Goode is promising but won't be an instant contributor. Couple this with Cal only recruiting one linebacker in 2015 who is now a defensive lineman, and the Bears are going to face a SERIOUS problem policing the middle of the field if they don't find impact guys in a hurry. The Bears must take three or four linebackers in 2017, either of the blue chip type or heading back down the junior college route.

Cal did not capitalize on an 8-5 season with an uptick in recruiting ratings. The Bears had a fine recruiting class (it will be top 30 to 40 by most metrics), but there wasn't much change from last season, when Dykes and company probably landed their best class overall. It's debatable whether 2015 or 2016 was better, but it's disappointing that Cal couldn't get their class up to top 25 status. Almost all the major decisions for four-star prospects in January did not go the way of the Bears.

The Bears are lagging behind their rivals for blue chippers. USC, UCLA and Stanford finish in the top three overall of the Pac-12 in recruiting rankings by a wide margin, while Cal is still somewhere in the middle of the pack. That is not a prescription for future success against our rivals unless Sonny's new-look staff really upgrades their coaching strategy.

Uncertainties

Who are the instant contributors? It feels like Stovall will be playing this season (he's too good), as will Duncan (too many openings at wideout), and a few of the cornerbacks will compete for playing time. Echols could rotate in occasionally in the backfield as a home run option, as could Derrick Clark as the future workhorse. But this does feel more like a year where more players redshirt rather than play, which would be a nice return to normalcy.

The Bears have a lot of defensive backs. How many can convert to safety and nickel and dime? After a horrifying pass defense in 2013 and 2014, the Bears started climbing their way back in 2015, and now have two strong secondary classes. This class is cornerback heavy though, and the bigger need is safety. Which one of Nygel Edmonds, Josh Drayden, Camryn Bynum, Traveon Beck and Marloshawn Franklin can be moved toward the middle of the field?

Cal can't hold their backyard. All of the major Bay Area recruits went elsewhere. Shurod Thompson decommitted from Cal ended up in Oregon State. Jordan Parker went to Oklahoma. Boss Tagaloa is off to UCLA. Camilo Eifler is headed north to Washington. Devin Asiasi skips to Michigan. Beau Bisharat (from nearby Carmichael) went to Colorado (although admittedly he wanted to be a running back and Cal wanted him at linebacker).

Now to be fair, Northern California wasn't filled with great recruits this year, so the pickings were a little bare. 2017 has to change--it's a much deeper class in Cal's backyard than last season. Capitalize.

Are incoming academic restrictions going to hamper Cal's ability to recruit top targets? Unclear at the moment, but several top Cal recruiting targets have had to be turned away due to academics the past few years, and the new incoming academic restrictions might make it harder for the Bears to find qualifiers. It's unclear how much tougher it will be for Cal to recruit with the other Pac-12 programs if they have to close the door.