No, Jaelan Phillips wanted everyone to know, he was not being careless with a scooter when he sustained a wrist injury that forced him to watch spring practice in a yellow jersey.
“Imma clear things up about this ‘scooter accident’ thing,” the UCLA outside linebacker tweeted in April. “I got hit by a car … don’t get it twisted.”
Phillips ended his tweet with an eye-rolling emoji. He could have used the same symbol to summarize his freshman season.
Phillips was in and out of the lineup after sustaining a severe ankle injury against Memphis on Sept. 16, making only one more start the rest of the season.
He was extremely productive when he did play, his seven tackles for loss ranking fourth on the team, but it still felt like an opportunity lost.
All of which makes Phillips even more eager for the Bruins’ season opener against Cincinnati in less than two weeks.
“I’m just ready,” Phillips said Monday. “Just crawling out of my skin ready to jump out there and make plays.”
Phillips had shed the white protective cast he wears over his wrist in practice when he met with reporters, with the only visible remnant of his scooter mishap a thin scar about an inch long.
One surgery wasn’t sufficient to repair the damage, so Phillips needed a second procedure that prolonged his recovery. He said he’s now fully recuperated.
If there was one benefit to his being injured last season it was that it prepared him for being back on the sideline during spring practice.
“I think I built up a lot of mental fortitude just going through that last year, so it really was nothing,” Phillips said of the wrist injury. “I just brushed it off.”
Phillips studied the new coaching staff intently in the spring, trying to learn the nuances of a 3-4 defense that’s more attacking as opposed to last season’s scheme that could have been described as bend and break. He said he’s familiar with the new alignment because his high school team ran it and thinks it perfectly suits his style of play.
“I love to play fast, high-motor, high-energy, flying around the field,” Phillips said, “and I think that’s how you make plays as a defense.”
UCLA coach Chip Kelly said he was impressed with Phillips’ athleticism, which allows him to cover all of the skill positions when he’s not blitzing the quarterback.
“He’s kind of that rare combination of size and speed,” Kelly said of Phillips, who stands 6 feet 5 and weighs 255 pounds. “So it’s good to have him back.”
Phillips is so freakishly sturdy that he noted last spring his wrist wasn’t the only thing hurt in the scooter ordeal.
“Naw I left a big … dent,” Phillips tweeted along with a smiling emoji.
UCLA’s defensive staff has been bolstered by an additional coach: Josh Woods.
The inside linebacker who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week has rejoined position meetings in a new capacity.
“He’s kind of taking over a coach’s role now,” linebacker Lokeni Toailoa said. “Josh is probably one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, on the field and off. It’s just little things that he would see that other guys just didn’t see.”
Taoiloa said the inside linebackers have dedicated the season to Woods. The occupancy of their meetings has grown since the team moved Bo Calvert and Leni Toailoa from outside linebacker to inside linebacker in the wake of Woods’ injury.