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Football: All systems go in Sebastian’s comeback

Suddenly, things are looking up for Avery Sebastian.

When we last saw Sebastian on game day, he was being carted off the turf after tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2013 opener against Northwestern. That catastrophe came on the heels of suffering a concussion during fall camp that was scary enough an ambulance rolled into Memorial Stadium to take him to the hospital.

But the redshirt junior safety from McDonough, Ga., is on his way back. He participated in Cal’s spring workouts, doing whatever he felt his body would allow, and expects to be in the mix Saturday (11 a.m.) when the Bears hold their spring game.

Plus, by the end of this spring semester he will be just one class shy of earning his degree in American studies.

That will give Sebastian an array of options. He plans to take just a single class in the fall, allowing him to concentrate on all things football.

In the meantime, he intends to take the GRE this summer to become eligible for grad school. Asked about his plans for the fall of 2015, when he’d be able to play his final football season, Sebastian admitted, “I have not thought that far.”

Unspoken is the possibility he could enter the NFL draft in 2015. But he wants to study broadcast journalism and can easily envision himself doing so at Cal.

“You can’t beat a Berkeley education, so if I have that opportunity to do that again (as a grad student), the option’s definitely there,” Sebastian said after practice Wednesday.

Right now, Sebastian is just happy to be healthy once again.

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Football: Kicker job remains open competition

The competition for placekicker will continue into fall camp, coach Sonny Dykes said after Wednesday’s practice.

Sophomore Noah Beito had the upperhand early in spring camp, but the depth chart released on Wednesday showed Beito, senior James Langford and redshirt freshman Matt Anderson separated by “or.”

For all the troubles the Bears experienced last season, placekicker was an oasis of consistency. Graduating senior Vincenzo D’Amato converted 17 of 20 field goal attempts and all but one of his PAT tries.

“Vince was a mentally tough kid,” Dykes said. “If something didn’t go his way, he reacted incredibly well, just believed in himself and grinded through it. That’s unfortunately rare in kickers a lot of times.”

Dykes and his coaching staff will be looking for that mental toughness when they choose among the three candidates in August.

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Football: Cal Spring Football Experience

Coach Sonny Dykes said the Bears will run about 80 plays Saturday during their Cal Spring Football Experience.

The occasion won’t be strictly a spring game. There are lots of festivities planned to go with the scrimmaging, but a full-fledged spring game isn’t practical, Dykes said.

“When you’re an uptempo offense the problem you run into is spring games become a real pain in the rear end,” he said. “When we were at Louisiana Tech we ran I think in the neighborhood of 75 plays in the first quarter of the spring game one year.

“There’s no rest. You have 22 guys playing, so it’s basically like 150 plays. That’s a bit of an issue.”

Dykes said Saturday’s free event will have a mix of fan interaction. “Try to make it a good experience,” he said.

Gates will open at 10 a.m., with the scrimmage beginning at 11 a.m. Pac-12 Networks will televise the proceedings.

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Football: Wilfley, Manley earn top spots on depth chart, but D-tackle remains a question mark

As the Bears prepare for Saturday’s spring practice finale — the Cal Spring Football Experience — there is improved depth and experience almost everywhere on the field.

Except defensive tackle.

With junior Mustafa Jalil shelved while recovering from offseason knee surgery and sophomore Jacobi Hunter out for personal reasons, the Bears have no one at the position with any Division I game experience who will participate on Saturday.

“That’s going to be the big position that’s up in the air for us,” coach Sonny Dykes said Wednesday after practice.

Cal released a depth chart earlier in the day, and redshirt senior Harrison Wilfley and redshirt junior Marcus Manley are listed as the starting defensive tackles.

Wilfley was recruited as a tight end, then moved to defensive end, the position he played at American River College. The 6-foot-5 Sacramento native redshirted last season because of a shoulder injury, and this spring was moved to defensive tackle.

Manley came to Berkeley from City College of San Francisco a year ago, and was redshirted.

Trevor Kelly, who arrived this spring as a transfer from College of San Mateo, also is playing the position, along with redshirt freshman Tony Merkari. Kelly, at 6-2, 315 pounds, needs to drop about 20 pounds, Dykes said.

The total D-I game day experience of those four players: Zero.

The Bears’ experienced player at the position is Jalil, once a top-10 national recruit at his position. He remains a question mark after missing all of last season.

Dykes said Jalil underwent surgery to alleviate pain in his knee caused by a lack of cartilage. Doctors tell the coaching staff the surgery was a success, but Jalil was held out of spring ball to let the knee recover fully.

“He’s feeling much better, but he hasn’t done much,” Dykes said. “He’s got to get in shape, get his weight down and give himself a chance to be a player.”

Still, Jalil was enough of a question mark that the Bears signed JC defensive tackles Kelly and David Davis, who will arrive in August.

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Football: Final week of spring ball begins

Cal worked out in shoulder pads and helmets for its 13th of 15 spring practices on Monday and coach Sonny Dykes continued to see improvement.

“I thought we had a pretty good day,” he said. “It was competitive, a pretty physical day. Everything’s smoother, timing is better, execution is better, things are happening faster.

“You can kind of see it starting to take hold and that’s encouraging.”

The Bears will hold practice in full pads on Wednesday, then again for Saturday’s spring finale. They will scrimmage on both days.

Cal also expects to release a two-deep chart on Wednesday.

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Dykes is seeing consistent progress from a defense that was among the nation’s worst last season.

“Our guys are competing, especially on the back end,” he said. “Our young players, the corners and safeties, have really improved. It’s much more competitive now.

“The thing we’ve got to do is just limit the big plays. If we can make people drive the football, then I think our defense will be where it needs to be.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done, a lot of guys have got to improve. But I’m liking the progress we’ve been making.”

The Bears allowed 45.9 points per game last season, and consistently were victimized by long scoring plays.

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Junior defensive end Puka Lopa sprained his ankle during Saturday’s practice and may not practice again this spring, Dykes said.

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Sophomore running back Khalfani Muhammad is not certain to participate Saturday because he could be running with the track team in Cal’s Brutus Hamilton meet.

Dykes said he’s not concerned, suggesting that Muhammad is in football shape and has gotten plenty of practice time this spring.

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Football: Dykes pleased by Bears’ efforts on both sides during longest scrimmage of spring ball

Coach Sonny Dykes was smiling and encouraged Saturday after the Bears’ longest scrimmage session of spring ball.

Cal ran close to 90 live plays during a closed workout, and Dykes saw things he liked on both sides of the ball.

“I actually thought it was really good, thought it was clean for the most part,” Dykes told reporters afterward. “We didn’t have a ton of penalties. Thought the guys executes pretty well on both sides. Had some big plays on offense.

“I thought defensively we did a lot of good things. Gave up a couple big plays — we’ve got to get those fixed. I like the way guys are running around, flying to the ball. Our tackling’s much improved.”

Dykes said the Bears will run another 60 to 70 live plays during Wednesday’s workout, then about the same number next Saturday when they host what they are calling the Cal Spring Football Experience, wrapping up spring workouts.

“We’re getting a lot of live work done and I think it’s helping us,” Dykes said.

He’s also pleased that the team has not sustained any significant injuries during spring ball, despite running perhaps three times as many live plays as a year ago.

“It shows our team is in better shape, more physically developed, stronger,” he said. I’m excited about the progress we’re making that way.”

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Football: Espitia finds a home at linebacker

Maximo Espitia played quarterback, running back, safety and punter at high school in Oregon. Since arriving at Cal in the fall of 2012, he has seen time at fullback, tight end, wide receiver and safety.

Now, entering his junior season, Espitia is a linebacker.

“We’re going to stick him there, leave him alone, and hopefully he can find a home,” Cal coach Sonny Dykes said after Friday’s 11th of 15 spring practices.

In fact, Espitia has been one of the pleasant surprises of spring ball for the Bears after being moved to his new spot at outside linebacker for the first workout on March 31.

“I know he doesn’t really know what he’s doing yet, but he does some things naturally,” defensive coordinator Art Kaufman said. “Just his movement skills, his reads and being in position as much as anything else.”

Dykes said Espitia has performed at a consistent level through spring workouts and has a solid chance to compete for a starting job next fall.

“That’s definitely something I’ve been waiting to hear,” Espitia said. “Now that I’ve finally heard it, it’s my time to see what I can do.”

Recruited to Cal as fullback then moved almost immediately to tight end, Espitia was basically without a position last fall after coach Jeff Tedford was fired because Dykes’ offense rarely utilizes either position.

He was shifted to a slot receiver position, then volunteered to try safety late in the season when injuries left the Bears shorthanded. Linebacker was another position of need for Cal, and Espitia has picked things up quickly.

“I had concerns about how physical he would be, and he’s answered those concerns so far,” Dykes said.

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Football: Defensive backs making progress

Coach Sonny Dykes complimented the defense — and especially the Bears’ young defensive backs — after Monday’s closed workout.

“I thought we had a really good practice, was really pleased,” he said. “We’re starting to look better and that’s encouraging. Defensively, guys are starting to figure things out and playing a little faster.

“Guys are making more plays, especially some of those young DBs.”

Dykes singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Darius Allensworth, who had an interception. He said Cedric Dozier is much improved, and noted the efforts of Cameron Walker, Demariay Drew and David Garner.

“It’s good seeing those guys making explosive-type plays,” Dykes said.  ”Guys are developing, starting to play with confidence.”

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Monday’s chapter in the battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot went to Austin Hinder. Dykes said Kyle Boehm, who has performed well this spring, suffered a setback with a pulled muscle in his lower back.

“It’s a good competition between those two guys,” Dykes said, “Austin had a better day today. He was much improved. But they’re competing back and forth, trading blows.”

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Junior linebacker Nate Broussard, recovering from offseason knee surgery, won’t do any contact work during spring ball as a precautionary measure, Dykes said.  “He’s moving around great, feels good,” Dykes said.

But safety Avery Sebastian (Achilles) is getting more time on the field, putting him a bit ahead of the recovery schedule of fellow safety Stefan McClure (knee), who is battling a strained calf muscle.

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Football: Brennan Scarlett shaking off rust, excited to become Bears’ ace pass rusher

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.”

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Football: Dykes encouraged by O-line progress

Coach Sonny Dykes is beginning to see progress in one area the Bears must show substantial improvement — offensive line.

“They’re obviously a lot better,” Dykes said after Wednesday’s workout. “They know what they’re doing. We’re having some continuity in some spots. There’s a semblance of depth.

“We’re a year stronger in the weight room, a year more physical, a year better shape. There’s a lot of positives.”

Positions are fairly set at several spots, including left tackle, where sophomore Steven Moore has settled in to protect quarterback Jared Goff’s blindside, with sophomore Christian Okafor and junior Brian Farley dueling for the right tackle position.

Dykes said 6-foot-3, 310-pound sophomore Chris Borrayo has been “a stabilizing force” at left guard. Senior Alejandro Crosthwaite is starting at right guard and junior Jordan Rigsbee is the center.

But Cal awaits the return in fall camp of senior Chris Adcock (knee) and sophomore Matt Cochran (shoulder), and they could change the equation. Both will get the chance to compete at center and/or guard.

Redshirt freshman Aaron Cochran, a massive 6-8, 355-pounder, has shown glimpses of his significant potential. “He’s the unknown,” Dykes said.

“It’s got a chance to be a group that’s going to play tough and develop some continuity if we can get some depth issues sorted out,” Dykes said.

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