Addition of defensive tackle Jalil may be crucial for Cal football’s defense

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On Dec. 28, 2011, Mustafa “Moose” Jalil registered one tackle against Texas in the Bridgeport Holiday Bowl in Cal football’s final game of the year. The game wrapped up a promising freshman campaign for the defensive tackle, and, as his sophomore campaign approached, Jalil stood out as one of former head coach Jeff Tedford’s favorites for a breakout sophomore season. Tedford wasn’t exactly going out on a limb — Jalil arrived on the UC Berkeley campus as a highly touted recruit, receiving four stars from recruiting serves and offers from USC and Washington. It only made sense “the leap” was coming. But Jalil has only played in a handful of games since Dec. 28, 2011.

To be fair, that’s through no fault of Jalil’s own. The 6-foot-3, 295-pound behemoth spent much of the last two years lumbering around campus on either crutches or a walking boot — one time, before a game, Jalil walked past me handing out Daily Cal gameday issues in street clothes. At times, it was easy to forget the once-promising lineman even occupied a roster spot.

And that’s what makes the recent news from head coach Sonny Dykes’ press conference Monday so tantalizing. When asked who his starting defensive tackles would be for the Northwestern game, Dykes responded without missing a beat: “Moose, for sure, that’s one of them.” When pressed on Jalil’s health, Dykes expressed confidence: “He hasn’t given us any reason to believe he’s not 100 percent. He hasn’t been sore.”

It’s difficult to accept this with zero skepticism — especially considering Dykes’ noncommittal phrasing — but just for fun, let’s imagine Jalil starts the Northwestern game in the best shape of his life. Jalil, coming out of high school, absolutely wrecked his competition. There’s a reason the guy ranked among the country’s best recruits. Rarely does one find a nose tackle with the size to plug the A gap on run plays and the technique and quickness to wreak havoc in pass rush, but Jalil’s high school highlights indicate he might be that unique player. One high school highlight shows Jalil, tied up in a double team, spot the quarterback departing on a scramble, free himself from the blockers, sprint 20 yards and chase the QB down.

That type of speed at Jalil’s size means trouble for any slow-footed interior lineman attempting to stop a fully healthy Jalil (remember, thought exercise) from getting to the quarterback. If Jalil provides the type of interior pass rush he appears capable of providing, it will fill a big hole in the Cal defense — both literally and figuratively.

Like Jalil, Viliami Moala came to Cal as a highly touted defensive tackle. Unlike Jalil, Moala left the university last year and declared for the NFL draft. Moala certainly filled the A gap well, but his 1.5 sacks over the course of his three-year career left something to be desired.

It’s not necessary to rehash the Bears’ passing defense numbers from 2013 — it’s known at this point that they were pretty ugly. If Jalil can match Moala in his run stopping and add a new interior pass rush, it’s going to make a pretty big dent in Cal’s points per game allowed.

Michael Rosen covers football. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @michaelrosen3.