Chip Kelly works around multiple injuries, looks to improve tackle game
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Leni Toailoa is one of many players to move up on the depth chart due to injuries at the position this season. Toailoa is currently listed as the third middle linebacker. (Daniel Leibowitz/Daily Bruin staff)
By Hanson Wang
Oct. 30, 2018 6:53 p.m.
UCLA lists true freshman Elijah Wade as the primary backup at one of its outside linebacker positions.
The backup at the other spot?
Also Elijah Wade.
Wade didn’t duplicate himself, but his position epitomizes one of the biggest problems coach Chip Kelly has had to face in his first year in Westwood – injuries, especially to the linebacker corps.
“You have to play with who you got,” Kelly said recently. “We knew that (the) linebacker (position had) a depth problem for us to start with, and then obviously losing some of those guys has hurt us.”
The Bruins listed eight different players at first or second string for their four linebacker positions at the start of the year, but only three had starting experience. Senior inside linebacker was Josh Woods expected to lead the group, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury in fall camp.
In his place, redshirt junior Tyree Thompson has started every game alongside junior Krys Barnes, providing a modicum of consistency at a position akin to a revolving door.
“You see how we started in the beginning of the fall, people have been dropping,” Thompson said. “You have to step up. Everybody prepares the same every week, from day one, so it’s the next man up.”
Sophomore Jaelan Phillips, redshirt sophomore Mique Juarez and junior Je’Vari Anderson have all been ruled out for the rest of the season with concussions. Freshman Bo Calvert went into the injury tent against Arizona and didn’t return for that game or the following one against Utah.
UCLA’s depth has also been affected by an indefinite suspension to redshirt sophomore defensive end Marcus Moore, who had been filling in at outside linebacker. Sophomore Rahyme Johnson hasn’t played this season since the Oklahoma game for an unspecified reason.
Junior Lokeni Toailoa and redshirt sophomore Leni Toailoa, as a result, have been continually switching between the inside linebackers and outside linebackers in order for the Bruins to get enough bodies on the field.
“I moved from outside to inside during the end of fall camp,” Leni Toailoa said. “(Lokeni) moved outside a couple weeks ago and he just got moved back inside because somebody went down in our (position) room, so he had to come back.”
Injuries have also affected other positions to a lesser degree.
Freshman wide receiver Kyle Phillips hasn’t played in over a month and has been wearing a yellow jersey designated for injured players during practice. Freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson has resumed practicing but wasn’t fully cleared for the Utah game. His status is still unknown for Saturday.
Kelly also announced that redshirt junior cornerback Colin Samuel suffered a torn ACL – which he sustained covering a kickoff – that will knock him out for the rest of the season.
Kelly said he counted 24 missed tackles while reviewing film of his team’s 41-10 loss to Utah on Friday.
UCLA only had one practice in pads last week due to the shortened time between games, but moved back to its customary two full days in pads this week.
The Bruins have given up a combined 614 rushing yards in their last two games, so the defense continues to work on its tackling technique in practice.
“Our effort’s there, we just gotta make sure that we use the right technique when we’re tackling,” Leni Toailoa said. “During team periods or something, you just hear ‘keep your leverage,’ ‘leverage, leverage’ (and) little things like that. It’s all just in the back of your mind while you’re playing.”