BERKELEY -- After a bit of a scare early this week, California's Biletnikoff Award Watch List wide receiver Chris Harper returned to practice on Thursday, and though it was a helmets-only affair, he still ran routes and caught balls, after a mile shoulder sprain suffered while diving for a catch against cornerback Stefan McClure on Tuesday.
"He practiced today, full practice," said head coach Sonny Dykes. "It was good to see him out there. He caught balls, ran routes, looked good. I expect him to start."
Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was decidedly more colorful.
"He's fine. Same old crap: Somebody gets hurt every day," Franklin said. "It's just a part of football."
Dykes also said that free safety Avery Sebastian will not only play, but will start on Saturday, 19 days after sustaining a severe concussion in the first scrimmage of fall camp.
Defensive end Brennan Scarlett "will dress" on Saturday, but is still not 100% cleared.
"There's always tomorrow," Dykes laughed. "That's where we are with that. We'll see. He's on the dress list, and he'll dress Saturday."
MIKE linebacker Nick Forbes will be out, but defensive coordinator Andy Buh expressed his confidence in redshirt freshman Hardy Nickerson, Jr., starting in his place.
"He's like all of them: They're all tough and hard-nosed and they love football and they play football the right way," Buh said of Nickerson and the other freshmen. "He's a lunch pale guy. He comes with his lunch pale every day and he was consistent. That's what we're looking for, at the end of the day, is consistency. That's what Hardy Nickerson's given us right now."
Thursday's practice was more energetic than Wednesday's according to Dykes, who thought the Bears cleaned up "what we needed to clean up," as far as execution.
"They put the work in, so now it's time to go play," Dykes said. "I'm excited. It's going to be a new experience for me, just like it is a lot of our young players, so any time it's something different and something new, you're always excited about it."
Franklin -- who turned 56 on Thursday, to a chorus of Happy Birthday from the entire team – said that he still gets nervous before openers, and he would expect nothing less of starting quarterback Jared Goff.
"I think so, but I mean, I would be shocked if he's not nervous. I mean, I'm nervous, and I'm 56. I've been nervous every time I come out and coach," Franklin said. "As a player I never remember playing a game when I wasn't nervous, that I didn't have butterflies. He's obviously a much better player than I was, but I would think that he would be normal."
Commenting on his players' musical talents after the birthday serenade, Franklin said, simply: "They need to keep their day jobs. They don't need to give ‘em up."
While Dykes was "OK" with the potential for the 2014 Big Game to be moved to Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, his first thought when confronted with that possibility was much closer to the field than the coffers.
"What I was thinking was, ‘We've got a lot of games between now and then,'" Dykes chuckled. "That was my initial thought. We've got Northwestern and, honestly, I didn't think much about it.
"I know the game day atmosphere here is fantastic. I know the crowd is going to be great, the student section, especially. We're excited to take it all in, but most importantly, excited about an opportunity to go play against a good football team."
While the previous coaching regime was typified by sleeping in offices or staying at Memorial Stadium until the wee hours, Dykes said that Thursday nights are the nights that he and his staff will get a little personal time to themselves.
"Thursday night's the one night we get to go home, see our kids, see our family, watch a little college football," Dykes said. "So, we'll head home at a decent hour tonight and then come back in the morning and keep on grinding. The emphasis on Friday is typically recruiting, so we'll do a lot of stuff in terms of recruiting and last-minute preparation as we start getting ready."
The Bears will be staying at the Hilton Garden Inn, in Emeryville, a change from staying at the Double Tree in the Berkeley Marina, in years past.
Notably, the Jeff Tedford era got off to a rousing start in 2002 with a 70-yard halfback pass from Terrell Williams to David Gray for a touchdown. What kind of pressure is Franklin feeling with the first play from scrimmage?
"First plays, I just want to get lined up right, get the snap and everybody to do the right thing, and that would be a great first play," he said. "I've had games where we've scored the first two plays of the game, and lost by five touchdowns. I've had games where we haven't scored in three quarters and we've won by three touchdowns. First plays can be misleading. I just hope we come out and we execute."
NOTEBOOK: Harper to Start, Bears Warble Away
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