More notes from Wednesday's practice on the MESSAGE BOARDS
BERKELEY -- A year ago, Avery Sebastian was still recovering from a hellacious concussion suffered during the middle of spring football. That was a spring that saw multiple California football players go down with injury, presaging a season that saw 9 of 11 defensive starters miss parts of or all of the 2013 campaign due to various ailments.
Now, Sebastian says, things are much clearer, especially after missing all but one half of one game due to a torn Achilles tendon.
"I feel great. I think I can see a little better, actually. It cleared everything out. I'm seeing good and operating fine," he laughs, when asked about the hit that leveled him and tailback Jeffrey Coprich.
As for the Achilles tear – the tear that halted a would-be virtuoso 11-tackle performance against Northwestern – that took a bit longer to clear up.
"I was doing rehab every day, getting myself prepared, and have just got to get through everything," Sebastian says. "It's very tricky, but I've had some time with it. I'm ready. Every day, it's getting stronger. It's a lengthy process, but we have great trainers here, great facilities, so they're revamping my leg. I'll be fine in the fall."
On Saturday, Sebastian figures to see quite a bit of action in the Spring Experience, which head coach Sonny Dykes says will go about 80 plays, but how much will be determined by Sebastian – who has been limited about two-thirds of spring ball as he continues his comeback – and the training staff.
"I've mainly just been limiting myself, and being cautious," Sebastian says. "Nobody knows my body better than I do, so there are some days, drills that I'll participate in something, and some days that I don't. It's really just staying healthy, so I can play in fall camp and do everything that I want to this summer, and get healthy."
How many plays will Sebastian see?
"He's just having some issues with his feet," Dykes says. "[He's] just a little sore at times, and just working through it. Some days he feels pretty good, other days he doesn't. It's about like we expected. We've kind of expected that this spring. We thought we might get a little something out of him, but we didn't expect to get too much."
As for what Sebastian expects out of the defense? It's no stretch to say that he's much more confident in the unit after the change in defensive coaching.
"It's definitely encouraging," he says. "You see coach [Art] Kaufman, and you see the stuff on film that they did at Cincinnati, and you see how we're implementing it in our defense, and showing and bluffing things towards our offense, so you just go out here and see the results that we're doing in team, seven-on-seven, skelly, you just do nothing but smile, because this summer, when we're doing these one-on-ones, the seven-on stuff on our own, we'll be able to mess with the offense and do whatever we want. The game's going to be in our hands."
While Sebastian and others have been limited during the spring, unlike last year, there has been a noted dearth in injuries, in part, Dykes says, due to having a full year under the care of strength coach Damon Harrington and his staff.
"I think so. I think that's been the biggest thing, honestly, this spring," Dykes says. "I think guys are learning to work through nicks probably a little bit better, and at the same time, I think they're in better physical condition – bigger, stronger, faster. So many guys were forced into action last year – so many young players, in particular, that really weren't physically ready to play – and those guys had a tendency to go down, as well. The bad thing about injuries is, there's a domino effect. When you have a couple of injuries, typically, somebody else has to go more, and they become injured and it all has to do with fatigue, so we've organized our practices to try and prevent that from happening.
Part of the health of the Bears has been due to a new way of practicing, of spreading out the live periods and breaking them up during individual practices.
"We've broken up the team periods as much as we can," says Dykes. "We've gone a lot more live this spring than we did last spring, but we've stayed much more healthy. We're just trying to get through the game Saturday in a good spot."
What will Saturday look like, exactly? It won't be a spring game, per se. With only nine healthy offensive linemen and a secondary that is still short several contributors, it will more closely resemble the scrimmages that have been a part of the seven full-pads practices, including Wednesday's media-only session.
"We're going to roll the football out there and see what happens," Dykes says. "We'll play a little football, and we'll have some breaks. The thing about it is, when you're an up-tempo offense, the problem you run into is that spring games become a real pain in the rear end. When we were at Louisiana Tech, we ran I think it was in the neighborhood of 70 plays in the first quarter in the spring game one year, so there's no rest. When you're playing against yourself, it's not like your other guys are resting. 22 guys are playing. It's basically like playing 150 plays. That's a bit of an issue. We're going to try to do it based a little bit more on series, move the ball around, make sure we get all the zones of the field covered, work on some special situations, try and mix in a little fun, as well, and some interaction with the fans and that type of thing, try to make it a good experience."
Wednesday saw some intense competition between the defensive line and offensive line, headlined by solid performances from Marcus Manley, Tony Mekari and Harrison Wilfley. Trevor Kelly was also in top form on the interior, which will be a spot that's still up for grabs come fall, given the fact that both the starters from last season -- Deandre Coleman and Viliami Moala -- have declared for the NFL Draft, and sophomore Jacobi Hunter -- who saw ample time last season – still on the shelf because of personal matters that, Dykes says, he will be given more time to deal with before returning to the program.
"That's going to be the big position that's going to be up in the air for us, and we've talked a little bit about it, in terms of getting Moose (Mustafa Jalil) back, what can he do when we get him back, so that's why we felt the need to go out and add Trevor Kelly and David Davis and those guys, because we just weren't sure what we were going to have," Dykes says. "The good thing is, we feel like Marcus Manley is going to be a good player. We think Wilfley is really going to develop into a good player. We think Tony Mekari is making a move and starting to pick things up. Obviously, those guys have a chance to be good players. They just haven't played."
Kelly showed off a good bull rush and rip move on Wednesday in OL-DL work, with Donovan Frazer performing very well against the bull, but J.D. Hinnant falling victim to the rip. Dykes said that he wants to see the now 315-pould-plus Kelly come in to fall camp at about 290.
Manley, for one, is very confident in his role as the starter, and that's where he'll be on Saturday, thanks to the penultimate depth chart released on Wednesday morning.
"This is mine to keep," Manley says.
Last season, Manley was in the doghouse of former defensive tackles coach Barry Sacks ("Oh, yeah," Manley laughs), but now that Fred Tate has taken over, Manley's experienced quite a bit of growth.
"It's a lot faster, a lot tougher, a lot more technique that's involved with it, and I think the redshirt year made me more prepared for that," Manley said. "I just work on little things every day, like, one day, I have to keep my feet moving, and the next day, I'll have to use my hands more. Each day, I just worked on a different thing until I started improving overall."
Part of that growth has been due to the change in coaching.
"I've just got to stay a lot more focused, and worry about my technique and things like that," Manley says. "I think I'm more prepared now, than just coming in last year. I like this technique a lot better, just getting off vertically. I like it a lot."
• Wide receiver Chris Harper turned his ankle during practice and left on crutches.
"He twisted his ankle doing some stuff, but I don't think it was anything serious," Dykes said. "He wasn't going to do anything in the spring game, so he can not do anything on crutches."
• More on Hunter from Dykes: "We're just kind of waiting to see kind of what's going to happen with him right now. We anticipate having him back, but we'll see. He's got some personal issues he's dealing with right now, so we told him he could have some time away, and he asked for a little bit more, so we'll grant it to him."
• Stefan McClure was listed as a cornerback on the depth chart, after earlier being listed as a safety/nickel by Dykes and his defensive staff. He won't see action on Saturday, but his position will continue to evolve through fall camp.
"We'll see. He's bounced around a little bit. I wouldn't put too much on the depth chart now," Dykes said. "He's the one that can do it (play both). From a body standpoint, from a body-type standpoint, and athleticism and probably from a maturity standpoint, as well. I think he's the one guy who could probably do that."
• Saturday will also go a ways towards determining who will take over for Vincenzo D'Amato as the starting placekicker. On the depth chart, the top spot is shared by Noah Beito and James Langford, the transfer from Cal Poly.
"I think that Noah Beito was really good early, and I think probably the consistency that you'd like to see hasn't happened yet," Dykes said. "I think there's been some days where he hasn't been maybe as sharp as he'd like to be. Langford's the same thing. Langford has a huge leg. He can really hit the ball. He's got a chance to be a really good one, but he's just got to be more consistent. Matt Anderson's growing and going through the same things. At times, he looks really good. That's a battle that we kind of anticipated during spring, that there would be some ups and downs and we'd be somewhat inexperienced. Summer will be big for them. As we move into fall camp, we'll put them in a lot of stressful situations and see which guys react the best to that and make a decision."
Langford's game experience – and big leg – will help his cause.
"I think the funny thing about those guys is, it's all confidence," Dykes said. "That's what it is. The mentally-tougher the kid proves, the better they are. That was the great thing about Vince last year; he was a mentally tough kid. He had a lot of confidence, and when something didn't go his way, he reacted incredibly well and believed in himself and grinded through it. That's unfortunately rare in kickers, a lot of times, and this group's just maturing and getting more confident. We'll find a good kicker out of the bunch."
One thing Dykes does not want to do is split duties – one kicker for PATs and another for field goals, or one kicker for short field goals and another for the longer tries.
"I think Langford's leg strength gives him an obvious edge when it comes to long kicks, but I'd rather have one kicker," Dykes said. "Given my preference, I'd rather have one kicker, but we'll see how it plays out."
Sebastian a True Student-Athlete
Sebastian will walk in graduation exercises this spring, and is only one class short of actually graduating from Cal in less than four years. That will make his redshirt junior season potentially his last, if he so chooses.
"What I'm going to do is I'm going to hold off one class until the end of fall, and take that last class in the fall, so I have a reduced course load. Pretty much, I go to class once or twice a week, and everything else is just training and film," Sebastian said.
With potentially two more seasons to play (2014 and 2015), Sebastian hasn't given much thought to staying beyond this season.
"I have not thought that far. I know I'm going to take my GRE this summer, for grad school applications. You have to apply to the education program," says Sebastian, who wants to go into broadcast journalism. "I'm looking at some of the potential avenues that I can through the Berkeley graduate school programs. You can't be at a Berkeley education, so if I have the opportunity to do that again, the option is definitely there."
Practice 14: Clean Bill of Health
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