DAY 15: Guess Who's Back

Avery Sebastian gets back on the field on Day 15, and does more than just coach and study, while the defensive end positions continue to get deeper in today's defensive breakdown.

BERKELEY -- There's very little that's normal about California head coach Sonny Dykes. After flitting about the field for most of Wednesday's practice, Dykes found a plastic folding chair and set up shop in front of the video background beyond the north end zone as he waited for media stragglers.

"We should just do this all sitting down," he smiled.

Later, when queried about when a depth chart would come out, he deferred to the team's media relations representative.

"Kyle, are we going to put out a depth chart soon?"

The answer? By the end of the week.

"I don't even know what the depth chart is," Dykes deadpanned. "It doesn't matter. The way we practice, we roll the guys through, and a lot of times, the guy that starts the game plays less than the guy that comes in. It just depends on the position."

To say that the exchange was a marked reversal from the dynamic a year ago wouldn't do it justice.

One thing does seem more certain now than even just a few days ago: Avery Sebastian will almost assuredly be the starting free safety, and just over a week after suffering a severe concussion, the junior out of McDonough (Ga.) Eagle's Landing Christian was back on the field, doing footwork and light agility drills with his fellow defensive backs, clad in just a cut-off shirt, shorts, cleats and pink gloves.

"It was good to see him back out there, getting some conditioning," Dykes said. "He passed all of his testing, and actually passed it very well. He was ahead of where they thought he would be. That part's good. It's good to get him back out here and conditioning. He'll continue to undergo a lot of testing to make sure he's ready to go, but he feels better, and it's good to see him back."

Sebastian passed the IMPACT tests with "flying colors," according to Dykes, and he will continue to undergo more testing, and has to go through a "process" to get cleared by other doctors, as well.

While Damariay Drew had an exceptional day at free safety – his best since taking over for Sebastian – the defense was missing cornerback Adrian Lee, who is still out with a lower-leg injury after playing almost every down of Saturday's scrimmage.

"We thought he would practice today," Dykes said. "He's been a little bit slow to come back. I thought he'd be back today, and I would anticipate him tomorrow."

Cornerback Joel Willis -- recently flipped from wide receiver – saw time with the second-team defense.

"He's a little bit behind, but he's a good athlete, and he'll get caught up, and we think he can help us," Dykes said.

During seven-on-seven work, Willis -- who's still re-adjusting to being a defensive back after spending most of camp as a receiver -- was burned three straight times, biting on a pump fake from Jared Goff and allowing Richard Rodgers to haul in an eight-yarder in the flat, then getting burned by Kenny Lawler on a deep post for a 30-yard touchdown from Goff, and then on a 25-yard back-shoulder fade to Chris Harper over both Willis and Alex Logan, who was around the ball all day, but did not make many plays, always seeming to be one step ahead, or one step behind, but never in quite the right place.

Isaac Lapite, though, had a strong day with the first-team defense as both a corner and a nickel back, notably turning in a stay-with-it breakup on a touch ball from Austin Hinder to Patrick Worstell in the front right corner of the end zone to erase a would-be 35-yard touchdown during scout team work.

Missing in the secondary was safety Jason Gibson. The former outside linebacker has been steadily improving over the past week of camp as he takes to his new position, but he suffered a setback on Tuesday.

"He's got a hamstring," Dykes said. "I don't know if it's anything major. We would expect him back. I thought he would be back out today."

Dykes also thought that defensive end Brennan Scarlett -- who's been in a red jersey all camp – would be cleared on Wednesday, but instead, he was back in crimson again, with a clubbed cast over his left hand.

"Still kind of waiting to get cleared," Dykes said of Scarlett, who is still soldiering back from complications due to a twice-broken and twice-operated-on broken finger, which became infected after the second surgery this offseason. "I think that's what we're going to be waiting on, is for the doctor to sign off. He did [go to the doctor on Wednesday], but he didn't get cleared today. We hope to get him back and see how it goes."

Dykes and the staff have spoken about whether or not Scarlett would be able to play in the Aug. 31 opener against Northwestern, given that he hasn't had any real contact since the end of last season, and the feeling is uncertain, at best.

"I think he probably could, because he's done everything, but non-contact," Dykes said. "It's different with a guy coming off of an injury that hasn't practiced or participated at all, but the fact that he's in condition and the fact that he knows what's going on – just hasn't been in contact – I think we'd allow him to probably come back faster."

Both defensive end spots on Wednesday showed just how deep they are without Scarlett's services, as Chris McCain played at both rush and strong side defensive end spots (though Dykes said he'll be on the defense's left side more often), with Kyle Kragen and Dan Camporeale -- who registered two touch sacks against the simulated Northwestern offense in scout team work – also saw time with the first team. Behind those two, Puka Lopa had another strong day, as did Ted Agu, who was strong on pursuit of the quarterback on the option. Agu also turned in a nifty spin move that occupied two blockers, allowing Viliami Moala -- who saw time as the No. 1 defensive tackle, next to Deandre Coleman -- to get into the backfield in OL-DL group work.

"I think it's good," Dykes said of the depth on the outside. "I think we've got five or six guys that are competing, so right now, I don't think anybody has significantly distanced themselves from anybody else, which is good. I think they're all playing pretty well. I think that's going to be a position of strength for us, and we're going to play with five or six different guys, because we think they all do something different, and give us something."

Interior defensive lineman Jacobi Hunter was also limited to conditioning, hauling heavy chains up and down the stairs on the east side of Memorial Stadium.

"I read somewhere that USC has 27 guys out," Dykes said. "I would say we're 20 guys better than that. That's just the nature of camp this time of year.

"I think we'll have the guys that we need, and I'm disappointed about [Nathan] Broussard. That's the one, he's the one that's going to be a year-long process, and he was really starting to play well and come into his own. The rest of them, I anticipate, will be back."

On the mend, though, are two of the Bears' projected starting linebackers -- Khairi Fortt and Nick Forbes. Though Forbes is still running with the second-team defense as he eases his way back from back spasms, Fortt has pulled ahead in the health race, reclaiming his spot on the first-team defense, along with MIKE linebacker Hardy Nickerson and SAM linebacker Jalen Jefferson.

"I thought Fortt, especially, did some good things today," Dykes said. "He looked like his old self. I think he just gets more and more comfortable every day."

NOTABLE PLAYS
-- Jefferson and Drew teamed up during first-team offense against first-team defense 11s to stretch out a run by Brendan Bigelow to the sideline, with Drew finishing off the dynamic tailback and pushing him out of bounds.

-- Later during the same portion of practice, Kragen blew up a handoff to Khalfani Muhammad in the backfield on the option. -- Stefan McClure picked off Zach Kline in the back of the end zone in seven-on-sevens, as Kline didn't get enough loft under the pass to Harper.

-- McClure was an equal-opportunity pest, also frustrating Goff early in 11-on-12 (2 QBs, one throws to the route not chosen by the QB behind center). After the freshman starting QB completed seven straight passes, he tried for a back-shoulder fade to Lawler, but McClure covered Lawler like a wet blanket, forcing an under-throw by Goff and an incomplete.


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