2016 Preview of Cal's defensive line, led by James Looney

We turn our attention to the Cal defensive front, which lost a total of seven players and 211 career man-games from last season's team.

Countdown to Kickoff


Defensive Line

Personnel Losses (career numbers):
DT Mustafa Jalil (43 games, 75 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks)
DE Kyle Kragen (25 games, 101 tackles, 13.0 TFL, 10.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 fumble recovery, 2 forced fumbles)
DT David "Honey Mustard" Davis (23 games, 9 tackles)
DE Todd Barr (45 games, 54 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles)
DE Puka Lopa (34 games, 34 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 PBU, 1 forced fumble)
DT Trevor Kelly (24 games, 30 tackles, 1.0 TFL, 1.0 sack)
DE Jonathan Johnson (17 games, 34 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 fumble recovery)

Read More:

VIDEO: Oklahoma Drill
Jalil And Looney: Stuck in the Middle
Noah Westerfield: Back in the Saddle
Bequette Getting Run

A View From the Top: Last season, the pass rush was of grave concern, especially because in 2014, the Bears managed just 16 sacks as a team. Last season, the Bears nearly doubled that total to 28, but Kragen (7.0), Jalil (1.0), Johnson (1.0), Lopa (1.0) and Kelly (1.0) are all gone. Tony Mekari returns with his 4.0 sacks from last season, but junior DeVante Wilson (who had just one sack) will have to step up, and he knows that.

"I was a little disappointed. I thought the season didn't go like I expected it to go," Wilson said. "I definitely wanted to get to the quarterback a little bit more than I did last year. That's been a big motivating factor for me this offseason, trying to improve my skills and my pass rush.

"I think I have something to prove. This year, it's definitely time for me to let it loose. Last year, I felt like it was a learning year, just getting used to being out there at that level. Now, I'm a little bit more comfortable in my role, with my teammates. I feel like it's going to be a good year."

I think this position group is quietly one of the stronger units, potentially. When I say 'potentially,' I mean that this is overall a very young group, punctuated with a few solid veterans, but whose best years lay beyond the end of the 2016 season. Looking at the likes of Noah Westerfield and Cameron SaffleLuc BequetteEvan Weaver and Trevor Howard, there is so much exciting, young depth here, but depth that a) needs to be tested, and b) still needs some seasoning.

"It's going to be a good year. I think we're going to surprise a lot of people," said Wilson. "We lost a couple guys. Kragen was a big loss, but I think we're going to have guys step up and fill the need that we have. We've got young guys like Cameron Saffle stepping up, and James Looney, Looney has been a household name. We're going to do a lot this year. We're going to help our defense out a lot."

Looney is a freak athlete, who I've seen throw a football 60 yards, leap up to catch one, and weave through the interior or Pac-12 offensive lines. His feet move like Fred Flintstone's on the bowling alley. He's big, he's strong, he's fast and he's nimble. The question is: Will he be enough?

"I like the guys that we have," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "James Looney played well for us last year, Tony Mekari played as many snaps as anybody. I think DeVante is going to have a big year. He certainly got better and improved last year. Noah Westerfield is good and is going to continue to get better and better. We've got some good D-end talent in there, as well, guys I'm excited about. Cameron Saffle got a taste of what it was like last year, and I think he's going to be a good player for us. I'm excited to see him play. Luc Bequette has a chance to be a really good defensive tackle, solid guy. Zeandae Johnson is a really talented player that I think is going to have a chance to be really impactful. I think Chinedu [Udeogu] is an interesting guy."

Udeogu looks to be a redshirt candidate, as his finer skills aren't quite as developed as his power and physicality.

"We'll see," Dykes said. "He's got great size and great strength. He's a really good athlete. We'll see what that means. I don't know, quite yet."

Projected Starters

"We've got a lot of different combinations we can play with," Dykes said. "I think some of those young guys are going to be better players than we expect."


Left Defensive End: JR Noah Westerfield (15 games, 5 starts, 21 tackles, 1.0 TFL)
Next Up:
SO Cameron Saffle (8 games, 10 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1.0 sack)
RFr Russell Ude 
FR Evan Weaver
RJr Kennedy Emesibe (3 games, 2 tackles)

Wilson on Ude: "Ude, he's solid. I think he has some more work to do. He's still learning the position, learning what coach Tate wants from him."


Left Defensive Tackle: RJr James Looney (12 games, 11 starts, 35 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 1 fumble recovery)
Next Up:
RFr Luc Bequette
FR Tevin Paul
RFr Hunter Abel


Right Defensive Tackle: JR Tony Mekari (24 games, 11 starts, 33 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU)
Next Up:

RSr Marcus Manley (25 games, 1 start, 22 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1.0 sack)
JR (JuCo) Rusty Becker
FR Chris Yaghi


Right Defensive End: RJr DeVante Wilson (11 games, 8 starts, 25 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.0 sack)
Next Up:
RFr Zeandae Johnson
RFr Trevor Howard
FR Chinedu Udeogu

Wilson on Zeandae "Crash" Johnson: "He's always being a knucklehead out there, but he's another guy that's got a lot of raw talent, as well. Once he puts it all together, he's going to be a great player, as well. He has the size and the tools; he just has to put it all together. I think he's going to be good."

Position of Greatest Strength: Left defensive tackle. This one was close, between this spot, and the left defensive end spot, which features arguably the two most dynamic ends in freshman Weaver and sophomore Saffle. What decides this for the DTs is the fact that Looney is an NFL player, hands down. 

"He creates that push up the middle, and helps flush the quarterback out to us, or, he holds down the run when it comes his way," Wilson said of Looney. "He's a great player. He's funny off the field, he keeps it fun and he makes our job easier."

"He's a freak," said offensive tackle Steven Moore.

While Looney alone would make this a position of strength, the emergence this spring of Luc Bequette may be just as important, given that Looney could conceivably be drafted. Both Moore and Wilson agreed that Bequette is a "baby Looney." He's got the quick feet and narrow waist of an elite tackle, and is beginning to use his hands much better, and with a lot more quickness and snap. This has been a huge offseason for Bequette, and if Looney weren't there, it's hard to think he wouldn't be starting.

"He's come into his own," said Wilson. "Bequette's made a lot of strides from when he first got here. He's getting better with his footwork, his hands and everything. He has a lot of raw talent. He's a big guy, very strong. He's going to be a force to be reckoned with."

Position of Greatest Concern: Behind Wilson on the right side, there's a lot of unknowns. Johnson has the length you'd want off the edge, and Howard was an ace in high school. Udeogu, as I said earlier, may be a bit of a project. There's so much potential there, but that's kind of the point -- it's all potential. Howard was hut much of his senior year, and worked his way back while redshirting last year. It will have been nearly two years since he last played a competitive down of football. I love the depth on the other side of the line, between Westerfield having experienced a rebirth this spring, and the dynamic, powerful forces that Weaver and Saffle can be. Does that mean if needed, one of those guys flips to the other side? It's a possibility, but I think the theme on the right side is length.

Confidence level about depth? Middling. This past recruiting class was, I think, Fred Tate's finest yet. Udeogu and Yaghi probably need a bit of work, but Weaver and Paul have the potential to get some run, if Cal has to test its depth. The issue I have is that while there are more bodies, and more capable, healthy bodies (Jalil and Lopa were both on and off the injured list, and it depleted some of their speed and power over the years), there's a lot of youth and inexperience. I think depth will be more substantive midway through the season, and next year, because four of the five defensive linemen brought in were high school players, while the last few recruiting classes have been stocked with JuCo prospects. I do think, however, that the one JuCo prospect in this class -- Becker -- is a tremendous get. He's already well over 270 pounds (he came in at 250), and having spoken with him in person at length this offseason, he's built like a brick outhouse. Lots of power there, and I'm excited to see what it can do. Final verdict on depth: Some exciting pieces, but the jury's out.

Where does this position group rank on your team from strongest to biggest area of concern? There's just so much that the Bears lost off of last year's team, and that bunch, while much better than the 16-sack crew of a year before, was still far from an elite pass rushing unit. There's so much youth on this line that it's tough to predict with any certainty if the pass rush will be better with an elite athlete like Wilson (who didn't do much last season with that athleticism, statistically) and the possibilities presented by a resurgent Westerfield and quick-twitch edge rushers like Weaver and Saffle. You'd like to think it would, and I think down the road it might be, but the fact remains that, beyond the front-line guys, very few of the defensive ends have faced Pac-12 offensive tackles, in a league that thrives on passing. I'm not as concerned with this group as I am with the linebackers or the defensive backfield, but I'm not confident in it, either.


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