With Justin Kakala’s commitment last weekend, the Bears now have a third piece in the defensive front seven for the 2018 class, and more are still likely to come as they continue the transition to the 3-4, selling guys on the opportunity to – literally - play right away.The 6’4, 270 pound Kakala, however, is the first true defensive linemen (likely end) of that trio – Nick Alftin and JH Tevis are both outside linebackers – and the staff’s pursuit of his talents should offer some key insights into the traits they value at that position.
First of all, whoever cut Kakala’s video needs to make it more obvious where the defensive clips start, because 12 minutes of footage is way too much to sift through. (They start at 5:25, if you’re wondering.)
Second of all, I like this pickup a lot – it has a strong “under the radar” type vibe. Consider that his only other Power 5 offer is from Colorado, which relies on strong evaluation and development, meaning that they too, saw something in this currently two star player from out of Manteca.
What they likely saw is a strong candidate at 3-4 end who checks a lot of boxes, as Kakala plays with good burst off the ball and has a strong, tough to move base, two keys for getting the linebackers out free to make plays. You can see this latter trait on film just off of how thick his legs are, and he’s not even at a weight that allows him to play 3-4 perfectly yet. Once he completes his transformation to the 290 range, or even at the end of his senior year, I would expect him to become even more physically dominant. Right now, it’s happening in flashes, but there’s a lot to build off of. To this, Kakala has a strong, consistent motor, some decent athleticism and fluidity in the open field – he runs after quarterbacks without looking too stiff doing it -- and a couple of pass rush moves, too. His swim looks like it needs some work, but the bullrush is definitely there, thanks to that initial burst off the ball.
When he gets here, Kakala will settle into a situation ripe with opportunity, if he is ready to seize it. Cal’s scholarship defensive linemen in 2018 will basically consist of: Tevin Paul, Luc Bequette, Chris Palmer, Gabe Cherry, Chinedu Udeogu, and Zeandae Johnson. Some of those guys – Bequette most immediately comes to mind – will play a lot this year, which might give some comfort, but it’s still an unproven group overall that will be vying to replace Mekari, James Looney, and Noah Westerfield, all of whom will all be departing after ’17.