BERKELEY-For more than two weeks, the Cal football team's 6-foot-3, 280-pound offensive lineman Matt Summers-Gavin has had to sit by and idly watch his teammates through the great majority of fall camp. Sidelined with a bone bruise in his knee, the big fella has been chomping at the bit to get back into the swing of things. Today, he did just that.
"It's pretty exciting to be out here," Summers-Gavin said. "I was kind of anxious this morning and last night, but it feels good. It was incredibly frustrating, especially when you're on crutches, because you just feel useless on and off the field. Getting the crutches off was the first thing, and then the little boot thing I had, and it's just been rehab since then. I feel pretty good right now."
The Bears held a short morning practice on Monday-their first game-week session of the season-and Summers-Gavin was thrilled to put the pads on and get back at it.
"He looked fine and he ran well," said head coach Jeff Tedford.
But just because Summers-Gavin has made his return does not mean that Saturday's starting offensive line is settled.
"We'll see what happens tomorrow," Tedford said. "Today we didn't do a whole lot. We'll practice tomorrow and see how he does tomorrow and throughout the week. I'll tell you on Thursday after he goes through the whole week."
Tedford also spoke about the interior linemen and how the two guard spots will shake out going into Saturday's season-opener.
"It'll be settled by the end of the week," Tedford said.
Even Summers-Gavin doesn't know where he may be come Sept. 4.
"We'll see, it looks like left guard or right tackle," Summers-Gavin said. "It's just wherever I can fit in, that's where I want to play."
Tedford has said that there is a chance that Summers-Gavin will stay outside because of the greater depth on the interior, but at this juncture, things are still up in the air.
"I don't know their motivation for it, but I know our guard play has been pretty good in my absence," Summers-Gavin said. "They've gotten a lot better and they've worked pretty hard. It's been fun to watch, but at the same time, it's been difficult to just watch, because I want to be a part of it. I don't know if it's a matter of depth. It's just a matter of putting the best five on the field, and I want to be a part of that five. I'm not sure how I'm going to be instituted. I'm just going to do whatever the coaches tell me."
Summers-Gavin was pleased with how his knee responded in Monday's practice, but the real test will come in the next few days as he participates in back-to-back practices and more full-contact.
"It feels alright right now," he said after trudging up the eastern stands. "I didn't really get a chance to test it out, but the coaches said that I looked pretty good for the first day. I just have to keep working really hard and just keep putting in work.
"Running was fine. Doing the sprints, I felt fine. Football is about driving your feet, getting in space and a lot of movement, so I've got to be for-sure that my knee can withstand all that."
Summers-Gavin missed five games last season due to injury, including losses to USC, Oregon, Washington and Utah, and when he went down on Aug. 8, there was fear that the injury bug had bitten yet again.
"When it first happened, I was like, 'This really hurts,'" Summers-Gavin chuckled. "It was more like, 'What the hell is this? I hope this isn't serious.' I got off the field, and they felt it, and they said it might have been a patellar tendon. Luckily, it wasn't anything like that. It was just a little bone chip, a two-millimeter bone chip, and they said three-to-six weeks from when it happened, and it was three weeks yesterday."
In one of his first practices back since being cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, linebacker David Wilkerson has gotten right back to the business of fighting for significant playing time at rush backer.
"Today was really his first time putting the shoulder pads back on, and so we'll go through the week here and see how it works out," Tedford said of his freshman outside linebacker. "We get into some real football tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday, but I'm sure he'll be fine."
Tedford was optimistic that Wilkerson will continue where he left off as far as pushing for the chance to either start or back up on the outside.
"I hope so," Tedford said. "I don't see any reason why he wouldn't. He missed a couple days of practice, of course, which, for a freshman, that's always not the best thing, but he stayed into it mentally. Hopefully, there's not too much rust there. I think, maybe, it was a blessing in disguise, because it gave his (broken right) hand some time to heal too, because he was having a hard time with his hand."
When asked who would be among his defensive leaders this season, Tedford mentioned back-up safety Sean Cattouse, who was beat out by sophomore Josh Hill in fall camp for the starting spot at free safety.
"The safeties are pretty close, in the secondary, as a whole," Tedford said. "There's really some depth and I think a lot of competition. All four corners are very close, the safeties are very close, and so it's nice to have competition and it's nice to have some depth, because it's a long season.
"(Cattouse) is more of a verbal leader than anything. He's a guy who speaks up, and so a lot of the other guys lead by example, but I think, overall, as a total unit, they lead each other very well, but Cattouse has leadership capabilities."