Josh Woods couldn’t hide the smile on his face.
“I’m just so happy,” said the redshirt senior linebacker following Monday’s practice. “I’m so grateful to be back with my brothers and just be able to compete.”
Woods, who missed the entirety of the 2018 campaign due to a knee injury sustained last August, said he could not be more excited to be back in a white practice jersey as a full participant.
“Being sidelined, you really don’t want to take anything for granted,” Woods said. “You just appreciate what you do daily, even the grind and times when people try to say, ‘Camp sucks’ and this and that, I’m just happy to be out here and not be in a yellow jersey, not be in a bed with my leg propped up, not being able to walk.”
Woods also said his knee feels better each time he hits the field, but that he will be required to wear a protective brace for the upcoming season.
“I’m getting more confidence in (the brace) every day,” Woods said. “I just had to get used to the brace a little bit, but other than that, the trainers did a phenomenal job.”
Senior linebacker Lokeni Toailoa said Woods’ return to practice has been a shot in the arm for the defense, given the energy he brings with him.
“Since (Woods) wasn’t able to participate, he just stayed on the sideline,” Toailoa said. “But now he’s back, you hear his voice, he’s on the sideline trying to get all the guys to bring some juice to the defense. It’s kind of different. We needed it.”
Before his injury last summer, Woods was slated to become the Bruins’ lead middle linebacker after posting 60 tackles in 19 games over his first three seasons at UCLA. However, this season, the coaching staff has placed Woods at outside linebacker – a position he played as a sophomore.
Woods said that while he has some familiarity with his new role, he still has plenty to adjust to before the start of the season on Aug. 29.
“I’m just getting used to this defense a little bit as far as sometimes being an edge rusher and things like that,” Woods said. “But with help from coach (Jason) Kaufusi and coach (Jerry Azzinaro), and even having (redshirt senior linebacker Keisean Lucier-South) on the sideline helping me with different calls and techniques, it helps me out a lot.”
Running thin at linebacker
Redshirt senior linebacker Tyree Thompson underwent surgery for an undisclosed injury to his left leg last week, leaving UCLA without a potential starter at inside linebacker.
Thompson started all 12 games for the Bruins last season and recorded 55 tackles. There is no timetable for his return.
UCLA will also be without Lucier-South, who is suspended due to academic reasons. Lucier-South posted 46 tackles and four sacks last season and is expected to be out until the start of conference play on Sept. 21.
Despite the potential loss of two starting linebackers, Toailoa said he is confident in the group’s ability to fill the void.
“I think there are enough guys who can pull their weight and fit in on the defense without no drop-off,” Toailoa said. “There’s a good amount of guys who can do that, all can come in and play and it won’t seem any different.”