It was a little more than a week ago that UCLA senior linebacker Josh Woods contemplated his return to the practice field after missing nearly half of last season and most of spring practice with a shoulder injury.
“I’m so excited just to be in a white jersey, just to be out there competing,” Woods said, alluding to having worn a yellow noncontact jersey while watching practice in the spring. “You get to really feel like the brotherhood, just getting my guys better. It hurts being on the sideline and watching and not getting to help, not getting to be hands-on and getting better.”
The ache deepened last week when Woods was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Bruins coach Chip Kelly on Sunday confirmed the severity of the injury, which occurred in practice Thursday.
Linebacker Rahyme Johnson said Woods went down when he tried to scoop a fumble and a teammate ran into his leg.
“I saw the whole play,” Johnson said, “and as soon as it happened, the only thing I thought was, ‘Man, get up [No.] 2, get up, get up.’ ”
Said linebacker Leni Toailoa: “Seeing that he couldn’t get up and walk it off and hearing him scream, we knew it was bad as soon as he fell.”
Woods was more than a projected starter at inside linebacker; he was one of the leaders of the defense and smartest players on the team, earning the nickname “Coach Woods” from linebackers coach Don Pellum.
“He’s everything you want in a football player,” Kelly said, “and that will be a big hole for us to try to replace because we don’t have a lot of depth at that position to begin with. But our thoughts right now are with Josh.”
The Bruins responded to the first significant injury of training camp by inserting junior college transfer Tyree Thompson into Woods’ spot next to projected starter Krys Barnes during a formation drill Sunday. Other candidates to play inside linebacker are Lokeni Toailoa, a part-time starter last season, and Mique Juarez. The team also ran Leni Toailoa and Bo Calvert through drills at the position during practice.
“We’re just going to need dudes to step up and play,” Johnson said.
Woods’ shoulder injury limited him to seven games last season, when he made 30 tackles, including 3½ tackles for loss and one sack. He acknowledged suffering from depression as a result of being sidelined but said his teammates and coaches helped him through the bleak times.
Leni Toailoa said Woods was already pushing through a gloomy few days after his latest injury.
“He was back being happy,” Toailoa said.
It was not immediately known whether Woods intended to return for an additional season of eligibility.
“Everybody was thinking like this was going to be his year,” Leni Toailoa said, “but he went down, so a minor setback for a major comeback.”
Kelly said the Bruins would not hold a formal scrimmage leading up to their season opener, but instead hold live tackling sessions during one or two parts of practice that each span 10 minutes.
“Every day we’ve hit it,” Kelly said, “but we wouldn’t have what I would say is a continuous scrimmage where we’re going to scrimmage for an hour and a half.”
Kelly said he did not plan to take his team to the Rose Bowl before it opens the season there against Cincinnati on Sept. 1.
Kelly, when asked if he found it interesting that he had traded places with Jim Mora, the former UCLA coach and new ESPN football analyst: “No, I don’t find that interesting. Jim’s really good at what he does, and he’s done a lot of good work at the NFL Network, and he’s been on TV before. It’s a great get for ESPN.”
Kelly said defensive backs Octavius Spencer and Keyon Riley, who had been absent from recent practices, were no longer enrolled at UCLA. Spencer recently tweeted a picture of a letter from the school granting him permission to discuss a transfer with other universities. … Defensive lineman Otito Ogbonnia was absent from practice, but Kelly said he was “fine.” … Running back Bolu Olorunfunmi, linebacker Elijah Wade, defensive back Colin Samuel and Calvert were wearing yellow jerseys to signify they were recovering from injuries.