Monday is not merely the first day of football training camp for Cal. It’s a reunion of sorts for a handful of the Bears’ best defensive players who missed most or all of last season.
Defensive end Brennan Scarlett, tackle Mustafa Jalil, linebacker Nathan Broussard and safeties Stefan McClure and Avery Sebastian combined to play just six games last fall when Cal’s defense surrendered nearly 46 points per game.
All of them have recovered from injury and they figure to dramatically improve the Bears’ defense.
“Seeing these guys in summer workouts, how strong and fast they’re looking, I think when we all get together on the field it’s going to be something special,” said Scarlett, sidelined all of last season by complications from a broken hand.
Coach Sonny Dykes, speaking at Bay Area College Football Media Day at Levi’s Stadium, shares Scarlett’s eagerness, but also is a bit anxious.
“It’s going to be fun seeing them all lined up out there. It certainly hasn’t happened yet,” he said.
Will they all be on the field for the Aug. 30 opener at Northwestern?
“That’s the goal,” Dykes said. “To have those guys out there, we’ll actually look like a good football team, a team that’s ready to play some good defense and have some experience and some size and some strength.”
Broussard, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in camp last August, has been moved from outside to middle linebacker.
“We think Nathan Broussard’s got a chance to be really good,” Dykes said. “You throw him into the mix and you can make the argument that maybe five of the top six or seven guys (on defense) didn’t play last year or played very little.”
Scarlett agreed. “I think Broussard will be a big surprise for people. No one’s seen him play inside linebacker.”
Jalil, highly rated out of high school, returns after a nagging knee injury that kept him sidelined all of last season. Dykes’ only up-close impressions of him so far came during 2013 spring ball.
“He’s like a phantom. You hear about him and you think he really exists, but you’re not quite sure,” said Dykes, beginning is second season in Berkeley. “In the spring (of 2013), the offense really had a hard time blocking him.”