Wide receivers: They are the beating heart of the Bear Raid offense, and also the most difficult position to recruit, as far as California is concerned, in the 2014 cycle. That difficulty is not due so much to the newness of the coaching staff, but rather to the limited spots the Bears have for receivers in what is expected to be a relatively small class.
With only about 15-17 scholarships available in this class, wide receivers coach Rob Likens hit the recruiting trail this spring with up to two spots available, and one of those already taken up by commit Jalen Harvey.
There are two main schools of thought regarding what to do with the position. One: Take one big, inside-type receiver, and one traditional wide receiver. Two: Take the best two available, no matter what.
There is, however, another wrinkle in the ball-catching calculus: The quarterback. With the 2013 starter likely to be either redshirt freshman Zach Kline or true freshman Jared Goff, plus the lack of a knock-your-socks-off signal-caller in the 2014 class, plus the fact that 2015 stud Josh Rosen has the Bears at or near the top of his early favorites, Cal may very well not take a quarterback this go-around, which would open up another spot for a wide receiver. Translation: Three spots, one taken.
A source familiar with the staff's thinking on the matter told Cal Sports Digest that the Bears have three priorities when looking at which two additional receivers to take: One, speed; Two, quickness and the ability to make defenders miss in space; Three, the best football player available.
With that in mind, and for convenience's sake, we'll split the Bears' receiver board into receiver types: Inside and Outside. Today, we'll start with the big boys.
INSIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Overall Ranking: 156
Position Ranking: 2
Scouting: Dixon is listed as the No. 8 overall tight end in the 2014 class, but the Bears have offered him as a wide receiver. The four-star comes from a familiar high school -- the alma mater of current Cal linebacker Jalen Jefferson. He has the grace of a receiver and the body of a tight end, and is a tough cover for both linebackers and defensive backs. Dixon has excellent body control while leaping for a ball in traffic, or adjusting to a throw that isn't quite on-line. He's not a burner, but runs well enough to lead defenders behind once he gets into full stride. His one deficiency has been in blocking, but the Bear Raid is versatile enough to utilize him solely as a pass-catcher if need be.
The Skinny: Dixon has cited USC, UCLA, Florida, Miami, Cal, Arizona State and Texas A&M as the schools that are standing out to him, lately, with Arizona making a push. Dixon wants an offense that utilizes the tight end – which wasn't exactly a calling card of this offense at Louisiana Tech – but likes offenses that can move the position around a bit and do creative things – which is exactly what this offense does. Dixon wants to make a decision before the start of his senior season. Before he got his offer from the Trojans, it was thought that the Bruins would be the ones to beat, so Cal will have a bit of an uphill battle, but having former teammate Jefferson set to start at linebacker could prove an interesting enticement should Dixon give him a ring to see what life is like in blue and gold.
Overall Ranking: 122
Position Ranking: 23
Scouting: Lazard is a big (6-foot-4.5) receiver who is closer in body type to a Darius Powe, but doesn't have the bulk of a Drake Whitehurst. He's a plus athlete on both sides of the ball, having returned three interceptions for touchdowns in a single game as a junior – including two in the same quarter – and plays basketball along with football, running with the Martin Brothers AAU team. He's not a runner, but he does have solid leaping ability, particularly in traffic.
The Skinny: Lazard has been committed to Iowa State since December, and he doesn't appear to be going anywhere. He told our Allen Trieu earlier this month that "it's going to take something big for me to leave Iowa State." If there are any other contenders for his services, it's looking like they'll be in the Midwest, including Nebraska, Notre Dame and Iowa.
Overall Ranking: 61
Position Ranking: 10
Scouting: The No. 3 wide receiver in the west this year, Andrews is a physical 6-foot-6, 230 pounds and is only going to get bigger. He's a matchup nightmare for defenses, can outrun any linebacker and makes plays down the field. At his size, he's a tough cover for any safety or cornerback, and has great hands to go up and get a jump ball in the red zone. He's versatile enough to fit in just about any offense, and has deceptive speed (a 4.7-second electronically-timed 40) with plus body control, considering his size. He fits into the Bear Raid so well because he's absolutely fearless over the middle, and is a hard-nosed blocker. He needs to work on his route running and speed, but considering the tools he already has, it's a trade-off that any school would be willing to take at this point.
The Skinny: Andrews has his pick of BCS schools, with 25 offers, with the Bears coming into the picture in late April. He's being recruited by offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, and likes the flexibility of the Cal offense. He's visited Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State, and says that the biggest part of his decision will be how he relates to his future coaching staff. He's planning on visits to Stanford, UCLA and USC later this summer.
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 89
Scouting: At 6-foot-6, 180 pounds, Mead is somewhere between a classic wide receiver and a big-bodied type favored for the inside spots in the new Cal offense. He's a three-sport star (football, baseball, basketball) with a big vert, and he's not afraid to go up to get a ball in traffic. He's very physical and not afraid of contact, and can be used both as a down-the-field threat as well as an option on inside screens. His tape shows good ball awareness and body control, as well as a strong sense of balance, and tenacity on contested balls. He really doesn't have much of a second gear, but he can make his first defender miss. An even bigger plus is that he's played a position analogous to the inside receiver in the Bear Raid. He also has good bloodlines, with his father a former Texas State hoops player and his mother a former basketball player from UT-Arlington.
The Skinny: Cal is one of two offers for Mead in the Pac-12, while all of his other offers are from notably closer to home. He's stated his desire to take a trip out to Berkeley, but his family wants him to go to Oklahoma. Pulling a player out of Big-12 country is going to be tough, particularly with no connections to Cal and a lot of connections to the local stalwarts.
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 40
Scouting: Gray is closer to what Spencer Hagan was when he was first converted from wide receiver to H-back in 2011, at 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. He's closer to a receiver than a tight end, which would work in his favor in the Bears offense. Last season, he caught 82 balls for 1,226 yards and 17 touchdowns, though he fumbled twice, losing one. In a single game this past season, Gray hauled in five TD passes and accounted for 293 receiving yards. As seems to be a theme with the bigger receivers Cal is pursuing – and 2013 signee Drake Whitehurst – he also plays basketball. He's clocked a 4.57 40, and doesn't want to be pigeonholed as just a tight end.
The Skinny: He's being recruited by Iowa and by Cal as a wide receiver, and has heard a lot from Texas Tech and Houston -- both of which run a variation of the Air Raid offense from which Cal's Bear Raid descends. His gaudy numbers came in a spread offense, and he favors teams with high tempo and a lot of passing. He's planning on taking a trip out to California this summer to check out the Bears and Stanford, which has not yet offered. If Texas or Texas A&M are to offer, it might be very tough to get this Texas boy out of the Lone Star State.
Overall Ranking: NR
Position Ranking: 116
Scouting: Williams is a break from the others on this list in that the Bears see him as an inside receiver more in the role of more of a slot-type than a big-bodied tight end type. He runs a 4.4-second 40 (and has done that multiple times in front of college coaches), and is built for speed, at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds. During his spring game, he hauled in seven passes, including two touchdowns. Over the last two years, he's caught more than 60 balls with only four drops. His strengths are his speed, route-running and, most importantly for this offense, finding open field.
The Skinny: Cal was Williams's third offer, and he's since piled up seven more. He's got a good relationship with receivers coach Rob Likens, but has yet to come out to take a look at Berkeley, but after having already visited Houston, Baylor, Oklahoma State, TCU, Kentucky, Texas Tech and SMU, he'll be taking a trip out to Cal in June.