“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Following the Washington State loss two weeks ago, that was the only way head coach Sonny Dykes could sum up the barrage of injuries that bombards his team — and especially the defense — every week. Defensive coordinator Andy Buh calls it a merry-go-round of injuries the team constantly rides.
There have been many minor injuries that take only a week or two to assuage, but many a vital starting athlete has been declared out for the season. This puts Cal between a rock and a hard place, so to speak, as younger and more inexperienced players are forced to step up and compete on less reps come game time. That in turn means the Bears spend the majority of the game simply playing catch-up.
What should be a chance to aggressively compete becomes a chance to simply survive 60 minutes.
The junior missed all of spring training after undergoing surgery for a hand injury, but he was still listed as a starting defensive end on the fall preseason depth chart.
Maybe it was wishful thinking.
Scarlett has sat out every game thus far, and senior Dan Camporeale has taken his place. The outlook for the rest of the season looks bleak. According to Dykes, Scarlett’s hand never properly healed and clearance from the doctor never came. On Oct. 8 the head coach stated it was just about past the point of no return for Scarlett to make any contribution on the field this season.
“I’d be surprised,” Dykes said when asked if he expected Scarlett to play. “He’s got a redshirt year, I think he’ll redshirt.”
Forbes was seen as a stalwart starter coming into the 2013 season, a veteran middle linebacker in a shallow defensive corps. The junior suffered a back injury in the offseason and missed some practices during fall camp, but Dykes said the absences were mostly precautionary measures. Forbes was also still listed as the starter at the Mike position.
Now it looks like Forbes is just buried in the depth chart. He came in off the bench in last week’s 37-10 shellacking against UCLA, but he didn’t log any stats. What’s more, on Tuesday Dykes said that the outing seemed to aggravate Forbes’ back injury again.
“I just don’t know right now that we can count on him being 100 percent,” Dykes said, before adding, “looks like we’ve had a little bit of a setback this week. He didn’t move particularly well yesterday.”
In a very familiar pattern for the Cal defense, Jalil was listed as the starting defensive tackle on the spring preseason depth chart. From there, he alternated the top slot with junior Villiami Moala throughout fall camp.
But Jalil’s path went cold shortly after, as a nagging knee injury forced him to miss the first five games of the year. Following the Washington State tilt, jalil was declared out for the season by the Bears. He was expected to undergo surgery for his cartilage-related injury sometime in the last two weeks.
This isn’t the first time Jalil has undergone season-ending knee surgery, either. After the loss to the Utes last year, Jalil’s season also ended prematurely when he underwent surgery.
Chris McCain is a special case for the Cal defense — but not in a good way. The junior was listed as a starting defensive end on the fall depth chart. McCain started in two of the first three contests of the season, racking up seven unassisted and four assisted tackles, along with one forced fumble.
But on Sep. 29, the Cal football team announced his surprise dismissal “due to conduct detrimental to the team.”
In a press conference the following Monday, Dykes confirmed that McCain would remain at the university as a student under scholarship. Yet the head coach remained vague about the reason for the athlete’s dismissal.
“I told him I wouldn’t discuss it, so I’m not going to,” Dykes said. “It wasn’t just one thing, though — it was a series of things.”
The junior was expected to anchor Cal’s secondary unit as the team’s starting strong safety. In the season opener against Northwestern, he appeared to do just that, recording 11 tackles and an interception in the first two quarters.
But Sebastian was taken out of the game before the end of the first half after injuring his ankle, and he was seen on the sideline on crutches later on. The following Tuesday, Dykes announced that Sebastian redshirt for the season due to a torn Achilles tendon.
It was the second scary injury for Sebastian, who suffered a concussion in the team’s first fall scrimmage on Aug. 12 and was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance. He missed two weeks of practice before being cleared to play once more.
Adcock was listed as the team’s starting center at the start of the 2013 campaign, and he held that position in Cal’s first four games. But just before — literally, as in minutes — the homecoming battle against Washington State, the team announced that Adcock would miss the remainder of the year due to an ACL tear in practice the previous week.
This injury, on top of the bevy of maladies leading up to it, seemed to stupefy Dykes, as he expressed surprise at its occurrence.
“Since I’ve been coaching we’ve never lost an offensive lineman to an acl in practice,” he said on Oct. 8, “and we lose adcock. It just has never happened in practice.”
Late in the 2011 season, then-freshman Stefan McClure suffered a monster of a knee injury: he tore his ACL, MCL and meniscus. The result was a very long recovery process that forced him to sit out all of the 2012 season.
But all that seemed in the past to open up this year. McClure was listed as the team’s starting cornerback, and in the first five contests he recorded 30 tackles, a tackle for a loss a five pass breakups.
Then, in the Washington State game, McClure suffered another knee injury. Initially Dykes had no idea how long McClure would be out, stating it could be anywhere from two weeks to the rest of the season.
The latter estimate proved accurate. After McClure underwent surgery last week, Dykes announced that the player would miss the remainder of the season.
Cal’s running game has struggled this year, if it’s even been alive at all. But the sputtering running backs corps received a blow last week against UCLA, when Daniel Lasco sustained a shoulder injury. He was taken off the field, where he held his arm to his chest and looked to be in pain. Lasco’s injury is only the latest for the team; given the trend, it probably won’t be the last. The sophomore was listed as out in this week’s injury report, and on Tuesday Dykes predicted that Lasco’s injury would take at least two weeks to heal.
“It’s really too early to tell how quickly he’s going to bounce back,” Dykes said.
In Case of Emergency:
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the Bears are certainly feeling desperate. Cal’s defense — and particularly the secondary — has been so ravaged by injuries that in the week leading up to the Washington State game, wideouts Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs logged some practice minutes at defensive back. The secondary is where Cal not only lacks depth but also where many of the injuries have occurred.
Treggs and Harper have both said they’re willing to do whatever it takes to help the team, but Dykes has stressed this is just a last-resort step should the team find itself down too many bodies. The possibility alone, however, shows just how dire Cal’s situation is this year.