Incoming recruit Cameron Saffle’s confidence, work ethic have him primed to thrive for Cal football

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Cal football’s hopes for the 2015 season are almost completely reliant on improvement on the defensive side of the ball, and incoming recruit Cameron Saffle, a defensive end, could be an under-the-radar contributor who will help the Bears do just that.

Saffle, who was a three-star recruit, according to most major recruiting services, has improved so much since signing with the Bears that he’s now set to make an impact in his first year, which is atypical of similarly rated recruits. As of now, he’s third on the depth chart at his position. Playing in defensive coordinator Art Kaufman’s system, which emphasizes depth and making sure all the players on the field have fresh legs, means Saffle could very well see playing time early on if he maintains his current slot on the depth chart.

“I think Cameron Saffle’s probably going to surprise some people — he might have a chance to play early,” said head coach Sonny Dykes. “Physically, he’s really gotten big. He’s a strong kid.”

Saffle, who was 210 pounds in January and far too small to realistically play many downs on the defensive line in the Pac-12, has already gained 40 pounds and sits at 250 now. The 6-foot-4 incoming freshman now has the ideal size to fit in as a defensive end in the Bears’ 4-3 scheme.

The speed with which Saffle worked to answer his biggest question mark demonstrates his exceptional work ethic, which is one of the biggest factors working in his favor. In fact, he now cites his size as one of his strengths on the defensive line.

“My biggest strength at my position is probably my technique and my size. We did maxes with the freshman class, and so far, I’ve probably been strongest on the team,” Saffle said. “My motor, too. I can go always go all four quarters and not show any weakness or signs of being tired.”

The Bears will hope Saffle can use these skills to exploit offensive linemen and get to the quarterback. He had a solid 21 sacks in his last two seasons in high school, which indicates that he has a knack at getting after the quarterback. This is where his technique as a lineman is especially useful. Saffle also played a bit of left tackle in high school, and it helped him become more adept at knowing how to get after linemen. His speed at the snap, combined with his strength and the creative angles with which he attacks offensive linemen, was on full display in high school, and his skills have him looking like someone who possesses the potential to develop into a stand-out player for the Bears.

Of course, doing this in high school is a lot different from doing so in college, but the lineman seemed unfazed at the prospect of making the necessary adjustments.

“(The college game is) a lot different from high school in terms of speed and size,” Saffle said. “So being able to get adapted to the game — which I don’t feel like I’ll have a problem with — is what I’ll need to work on this next year.”

The Bears will hope Saffle can prove that his confidence isn’t misplaced this season so that he can help the team improve on a weak 16-sack season last year. Saffle will be focused on improving Cal, which he has been intent on joining for a while now: When he was still in high school, he was so determined to join the Bears that he called the technical support and asked for, and received, defensive line coach Fred Tate’s number in order to send Tate film and personally let him know he wanted to join the team. That enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have worn off at all for Saffle, who is optimistic about the Bears’ prospects in the present and near future.

“We’ve been able to develop an identity of what we are right now and what we can be,” Saffle said. “We can be something really special. Right now, as a group of kids, we’re in this Cal football book and in this university’s book, and we’re writing our own chapter.”

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