By Jonathan Okanes
Cal Bear Blog
BERKELEY – Cal’s football team was doing some timed runs when head coach Sonny Dykes had a realization.
Dykes watched defensive end Brennan Scarlett run – for the first time.
No, Scarlett isn’t an incoming freshman who graduated early to go through spring drills with the Bears. Scarlett has been part of Cal’s program since 2011, when he arrived on campus as a high school All-American and one of the top players at his position in the country.
But Monday, which marked the beginning of 2014 spring practice for the Bears, was the first time Scarlett suited up since November of the 2012 season. Multiple breaks in his hand and an ensuing infection forced him to miss all of last year, including spring ball.
Since Scarlett was last on the field, Dykes took over as the team’s head coach. And while he has gotten to know the redshirt junior well off the field, Monday marked the first time Cal’s coach could watch his potentially dominating defensive end do his thing on the Memorial Stadium turf.
“He was like, ‘That’s the first time I’ve seen you do something athletic,’” Scarlett said. “He’s been here for over a year.”
Scarlett is one of a handful of key defensive players returning from injury this spring that the Bears hope can play a significant factor in improving the team’s fortunes in 2014. Dykes and his staff still plan on being cautious with their recovering athletes, but just having players like Scarlett, safety Avery Sebastian and cornerback Stefan McClure back on the field Monday was a comforting sight.
“It was good to see some guys back out there,” Dykes said. “Some guys showed up a little bit.”
Scarlett flashed glimpses of his immense potential during his first two seasons at Cal and much was expected of him in 2013. His absence left a big hole along the Bears’ defensive line.
A healthy Scarlett in 2014 will go a long way in reshaping Cal’s overall defense under new defensive coordinator Art Kaufman.
“To his credit, he did a good job of hanging in there,” Dykes said. “His attitude has been positive. He’s had some unfortunate things happen to him, but I thought his attitude has been good. He’s a guy I think we’re probably going to count on for some leadership as well. I think he’s become more comfortable in that role. I’m anxious to see him emerge and continue to get better.”
Scarlett is anxious to be productive again as well, and Monday marked a significant step in making that happen.
“It feels really good to finally be able to join the group and get back into things,” Scarlett said. “It was good to be out there with my brothers and being coached up by the coaches. It was very frustrating last season, especially not being able to come in and contribute with obviously having such a rough season. It was definitely tough, but by the same token, it makes it so much better to come back now and actually be able to do some stuff.”