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Cal Football

Seeing How the New Pro Bears Fit In

May 4, 2021
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Three former Cal Bears found new homes in the days following the opening night of the NFL Draft, adding to a formidable list of UC Berkeley alumni that compete in the multi-billion dollar league. Cal has its name stamped all over it, with some of the sport’s biggest names having donned the blue and gold at Memorial Stadium.

Say what you will about the success of the Cal football program, but if one thing is certain, it has proven to produce elite football players that are known to every true NFL fan. Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, Cameron Jordan and Tony Gonzalez will have their names carved into the history of the game for the next century, and now three players will have the chance to maintain the Golden Bear legacy.

Cam Bynum

Taken with the 125th overall pick in the 4th round, Camryn Bynum joins the Minnesota Vikings as one of the last members of the ‘Takers’ that haunted the Pac-12 for three years. Bynum will contribute to a Vikings team that takes deep pride on the defensive side of the ball. He should adapt and thrive in Minneapolis, where he will practice and play alongside two very accomplished and experienced DBs: 8x Pro-Bowler Patrick Peterson and 5x Pro-Bowler Harrison Smith.

Bynum is the third member of the ‘Takers’ to make it to the NFL, joining Ashtyn Davis and Jaylinn Hawkins, who helped the Cal Bears defense rank in the top quarter of the Pac-12 in allowed yards/game and points/game from 2018-2019. Part of that secondary were CBs Josh Drayden and Elijah Hicks, who will start for the Bears next season, along with CB Traveon Beck, who is still waiting on an offer after declaring for the draft last year.

Although he played a lot of CB at Cal, the Vikings have made it known that they’d like him to play safety. That may have to do with the fact that one of his key strengths is one-on-one tackling, especially in the run game where he can cause a lot of disruption.

On Pro Day, Bynum posted some impressive numbers that ranked highly among DBs. For the 20-yard shuttle, he ran a 4.10 that ranked 12th among all players that submitted tests in 2021 according to NFLCombineResults.com. The test is performed to evaluate an athlete's quickness and change-of-direction ability. He impressed in the broad jump as well, posting a 129-inch leap, which ranked 3rd out of 39 safeties and 10th out of 47 CBs. The test is performed to demonstrate explosiveness, lower body strength, and balance/control, which can be attributed to a player’s ability to pounce on tipped balls and make open-field tackles. Running a 4.49 40-yard dash, he ranked 11th among safeties and 23rd among CBs. For his vertical jump of 34 inches, he ranked 15th among safeties and 36th among CBs. All in all, Bynum excelled at the 20-yard shuttle and broad jump, showcasing an ability to move laterally, make quick twitch adjustments, and make explosive plays, indicating a knack for tackling and reacting quickly to offenses: traits that you’d like to see in a safety.

As can be seen by his Pro Day display, Bynum is geared well for safety, especially considering his 123 solo tackles over four years (2.9 per game), and 35 passes defended over 42 games (0.83 per game). The 6’0, 200-pound athlete will be a treat for the Vikings, who will have a technician that can bounce all over the field, whether it's at safety, the outside, or the slot. 

Zeandae Johnson

Also signing with the Minnesota Vikings, Zeandae Johnson joins the team as an undrafted free agent after spending six years at Cal. Johnson mostly played at the weak-side defensive end position, making 18 starts in three seasons.

Johnson has been a consistent, productive player for the Bears, posting an impressive stat line of 59 tackles (30 solo, 29 ast, 9.5 tfl), 5.5 sacks, two passes defended, and one forced fumble over 41 games played. He is very versatile, having played everywhere on the defensive line for Cal, including the open-side DE, closed-side DE, 3-tech, and 5-tech.

Athletically, Johnson stands at 6’4, weighs 290 pounds, and possesses a 6’6 wingspan, giving him the appropriate long body for the NFL DE position. His Pro Day results ranked towards the bottom of DEs listed on NFLCombineResults.com. His 22 reps of the 225-pound bench press ranked 14th out of 26 DEs that performed the test, his 108-inch broad jump placed him at 31st out of 31, and his 27.5-inch vertical leap placed 27th out of 28. Despite his results, Johnson has the mechanics, IQ, and experience to succeed at the next level.

Johnson has good technique, footwork and timing from snap to tackle, and makes nice steps with his legs and uses leverage to coordinate his point of attack. He’s not going to bulldoze a lineman or make a one off spin-move, but try and use hand and foot-work to fish his way into a position to make a play. He’s an intelligent player than can outsmart an opponent, knowing how to maximize his role and eliminate space. He excels in the run and has underrated endurance, showing limited signs of fatigue over the course of a game.

Standing in Johnson’s way are seven defensive ends, including the two projected starters Danielle Hunter, a 2019 All-Pro, and Stephen Weatherly along with 2021 3rd round pick Patrick Jones, 2021 4th round pick Janarius Robinson, 2020 4th round pick DJ Wonnum, 2018 4th round pick Jalyn Holmes, and 2019 7th round pick Jordan Brailford. In other words, Johnson is surrounded by a deep core of young talent in Minnesota.

If Johnson can accentuate his impressive frame, versatility and technique at training camp, he could very well earn a spot on the roster, most likely as an adjustable sparkplug that can cause headaches for offenses.

Jake Curhan

After serving four years as the starter at right-tackle for Cal, Jake Curhan has joined the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent. The 6’6 giant was expected to get drafted in the later rounds of the NFL Draft, but due to a revealed heart condition, his stock fell. Now a member of the Seahawks, Curhan will have a chance to prove why he is a two-time honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection.

Curhan has a great body frame for the NFL, standing at 6’6, weighing 330 pounds, and touting a 6’9’ wingspan. His feet are light, making him a shifty, well-experienced player that can take up space and move at the next level.

On March 18, 2021, Curhan attented Cal’s Pro Day and bench pressed 225 pounds 15 times, placing him 59th out of 62 offensive linemen, leaped 24 inches for the vertical jump, placing him at 64th out of 67, leaped 102 inches for the broad jump, placing him at 57th out of 72, and for the 20-yard shuttle, 40-yard dash and 3-cone drill, he placed in the bottom third of participants. In light of the uncompetitive results, Curhan obviously has the size and experience that doesn’t grow on trees. Combine that with his technique, which is well-timed, efficient, and proactive, and you have an NFL ready player that can make a breakthrough in training camp. 

Curhan plays fast and has a good understanding of the game, whether it’s timing, forming a strong stance, or getting his hands on the impeding rush. As a run blocker, he gets his hands on defenders quickly and can get some movement on angle-drive blocks.

Seattle presents a good opportunity for Curhan to make it in the NFL, after the OL received extensive criticism for their playoff performance against the Los Angeles Ram last year, inciting QB Russell Wilson to voice complaints about getting hit.

Standing in Curhan’s way of making the roster are a number of unproven players, including starter Brandon Shell, who ranked as the 40th most efficient RT by PFF in his first season as a starter, Cedric Ogbuehi, a 2015 Bengals first-round pick who never broke through in Cincinnati and has already torn both his rotator cuff and ACL, Stone Forsythe, who was drafted in the 6th round this year after playing on the left for Florida, Jamarco Jones, who has been with the team for four years but not received any action at RT, Tommy Champion who is an undrafted free agent that made the team last year, and Greg Eiland, a 6’8 undrafted free agent that joined a few days ago. In other words, Curhan is in a group that is searching for its alpha. If he can show that he’s capable of being a sturdy backup at least, he’ll get signed to the 53-man roster.

Related Stories:

Camryn Bynum Goes to Vikings in Fourth Round

Watson Excited About Cal DB Corps

Tags: Football
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Seeing How the New Pro Bears Fit In

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