The Cal Bears are coming off a disastrous debut for head coach Sonny Dykes in 2013 as they managed just one win all season. Despite the 1-11 record, however, Cal will still lose six players to the NFL early this offseason. That turnover will allow many incoming freshman to crack the starting lineup for what was already one of the youngest rosters in the country. As Dykes looks for impact players next fall, he will be sure to find ways to utilize the talents of incoming freshman Devante Downs.
Downs is a four-star athlete recruit and the second highest rated recruit out of his home state of Washington. At 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Downs is already built like a college football player and his bulk will help him find the field early in his collegiate career. The question for Downs at Cal is not whether or not he will play early but rather where he will end up playing. The talented high school senior is being recruited as both a running back and a linebacker and could make a major impact for the Bears at either position.
During his high school career, Downs has proven himself to be a dominant inside-runner with the mix of size and athleticism to shake defenders in the hole or simply run them over for tough yardage. He’s also shown excellent patience in letting his blocks develop before he hits the hole and can use his excellent balance and strength to shrug off tacklers and find a crease to pop a big gain. That physical running style would be a nice boost to the Cal running game which averaged just 122.2 yards per game last season and will be losing explosive playmaker Brendan Bigelow to the NFL draft.
But Cal’s greatest need may be on the defensive side of the ball. The Bears were one of the worst defenses in the country last season and will be losing arguably their top linebacker Khairi Fortt to the NFL draft. Dykes is planning on moving safeties Raymond Davison and Jason Gibson down to linebacker to help bolster the depth as well as adding some Juco transfers in Sam Atoe and Jonathon Johnson. The team is also hoping that Nathan Broussard comes back from his injury at 100 percent, but that’s no guarantee.
Downs could step in and be an excellent addition to a struggling defense. He has shown excellent reaction and diagnosis from the outside linebacker position in high school with the strength to take on and defeat blockers at the point of attack. That ability to shut down the outside lanes and set the edge for the defense would be a major boost for Cal in 2014. On top of that, he’s flashed some excellent rush potential off the edge and has proven himself to be a sure wrap-up tackler that can deliver a blow to ball carriers.
In short, Downs is the type of impact player that Cal desperately needs in 2014 to get things moving in the right direction. Where he ends up remains to be seen. Dykes could decide that his talents are best served on one side of the ball or the other or he could take a page out of the UCLA Bruins‘ playbook and play him both ways, much like freshman Myles Jack did in 2013. Cal has plenty of holes to fill before they can get back on the winning track in the Pac-12. How will Downs be used to plug them?