No one waited longer for Cal’s spring football practice to begin than Brennan Scarlett.
Regarded as perhaps the Bears’ best defensive player, Scarlett is back on the field after a 17-month layoff for a broken hand and a string of complications.
“It has been a long time,” the junior defensive end said Saturday after the Bears ended the first half of their four-week spring workout schedule.
By the time Cal kicks off its 2014 season at Northwestern on Aug. 30, it will have been more than 21 months since Scarlett played in a game.
“It’s going to be a great day to run out on that field again,” Scarlett said.
Scarlett was moved from outside linebacker to defensive end a year ago, but never played in 2013 while his left hand — broken for the second time in a month’s span in November 2012 — slowly recovered.
He had a piece of bone grafted from his hip in January 2013, then suffered a bad infection that stalled his recovery. A month into last season, Scarlett knew his season would be lost.
Coach Sonny Dykes is more than eager to see him on game day. “I think he can be a dominant player,” Dykes said. “He’s not there by any stretch of the imagination yet. He’s long, fast, smart … and rusty.”
Since spring ball began on March 31, Scarlett said he’s quickly picked up the technique necessary to play on the defensive line, a position he hadn’t played since early in high school.
“After the first practice I knew I was going to be fine,” he said. “Got my confidence back, made a few plays.”
Dykes said the Bears are counting on the 6-foot-4, 265-pounder to provide a pass rush for a defense that recorded just 18 sacks last season.
“That’s one of my strengths, definitely,” Scarlett said. “I’ve got the speed to get back there quick, and I’ve got the power. I’m just trying to put it all together and really put pressure on the QB.”
The Bears practiced in pads and shorts Saturday after going through a fully padded practice Friday night, during which they held two live contact segments totaling 70 plays.
A year ago, Dykes said the coaching staff would have “had to beg them to practice” the day after such a physical workout, and that 10 players would ne shelved by injuries. Neither was the case Saturday.
“We had intensity. We had pop,” Dykes said. “It’s a different football team. Our mentality is much improved. We’re much more physical, much more tough.”
Sophomore wideout Kenny Lawler was the star of Friday’s scrimmage sessions with nine catches for 160 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore running back Khalfani Muhammad skipped Saturday’s workout to compete in sprint events at the 114th Big Meet against Stanford at Edwards Stadium. He helped the Bears win the 400-meter relay and finished second behind teammate Tom Blocker in both the 100 and 200.
Projected starting safeties Avery Sebastian (Achilles) and Stefan McClure (knee), who have practiced on a very limited basis so far this spring, could be “more in the mix” next week, Dykes said.
Dykes said that sophomore Noah Beito of Scotts Valley is the frontrunner to win the placekicking job held the past two seasons by departed senior Vincenzo D’Amato.