Incoming 4-star recruit Russell Ude poised to bolster Cal football’s defensive line

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After a lackluster season for the Cal football team’s defense in 2014, there is perhaps nothing the team’s fans should be more excited about than a highly esteemed and talented incoming player on the defensive side of the football. That is exactly what the Bears will be getting with defensive lineman Russell Ude.

The four-star recruit is talented enough to make an impact on the Bears as early as this season. Cal could certainly use it after giving up 39.8 points per game in 2014 to rank 123rd in the country.

While not all of these problems pointed to the defensive line (the defensive backfield deserves its fair share of blame as well), an improvement there would help steady the whole defense. The team’s 16 sacks last season were tied for 114th in the country with Ball State. That’s not somewhere Cal can afford to be if it wants to achieve bowl eligibility in 2015. Enter Ude, who, at 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, is a force to be reckoned with at any level.

“My mindset is I want to go out and perform to the best of my abilities and do whatever my coaches see fit,” Ude said. “I’m going to do the best I can to get on that field as soon as possible.”

Given his combination of size and talent, that time will likely come sooner rather than later. He is the type of player who could fit in some role in any scheme, but defensive coordinator Art Kaufman’s seems to be perfect for Ude.

“The defensive scheme is one of the many factors that drew me here because I felt like I fit really well,” Ude said. “We run a 4-3 defense, and I feel like I’m the type of guy who can play standing up — but with my hand in the dirt, I’m better suited.”

Ude figures to play mostly at the defensive end position, at least early in his career, and that’s likely where he can wreak the most havoc on opposing offensive lines. He has an impressive first step, and his initial burst of quickness should be key to helping him get around blockers and to the quarterback. Ude has a strong motor, so he’ll likely be getting into the backfield all game throughout his Cal career. The recruit also has long arms that he can throw up there to try to deflect the ball when he fails to get all the way to the quarterback.

These arms also help him keep blockers off his body, which can be very helpful for defensive linemen. A big area where this can help is in the running game, where he’ll have an easier time getting blockers off him so he can get to the other team’s running backs and help the Bears improve their 40th-ranked run defense.

Much of Ude’s off-season focus is on improving his mobility, flexibility and general athleticism, but it would not be a surprise to see him add enough size in his time with Cal to eventually move to the defensive tackle position. This versatility, along with his talent and motor, could have him poised to be the next Bear to join the program’s recent tradition of accomplished defensive linemen, some of whom have even made it to the NFL, such as Tyson Alualu, Andre Carter and Cameron Jordan.

Jordan, especially, is a fitting comparison for Ude. Both players have an ability to play all along the defensive line, and they carry similar traits and body sizes. The two are even Facebook friends. It would be no surprise to see Ude modelling his game after Jordan, and his coaches would surely be thrilled to have that sort of player on the team.

“He’s one of those kids that has the maturity to potentially come in and play early,” said head coach Sonny Dykes to Cal Athletics. “We really like his upside. He’s going to continue to develop, and we really like what he brings to our program.”

Hooman Yazdanian is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @hoomanyazdanian.