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Walker Is Eager to Start His Season

Times Staff Writer

Senior Wesley Walker played a key role for UCLA’s defense last year. He started 11 of 12 games and seemed to fill a void every time a linebacker got hurt.

He started eight games at outside linebacker and three games inside when Justin London was sidelined because of an ankle injury. But this season, Walker is the linebacker on the mend and he’s looking to play in his first game Saturday against Washington at the Rose Bowl.

“I’ve been trying to get as many reps as possible this week,” said Walker, who tore cartilage in his right knee on the first day of training camp in August.

“I feel healthy. I’m not back to the level where I could be, but I think I can definitely make an impact on the game. But, who knows, the coaches may want to wait another week.”

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Walker had arthroscopic surgery on the same knee at the end of last season, which forced him to sit out spring practice.

“It’s been frustrating to have something so similar happen again on the first day of practice,” Walker said. “It’s been hard to deal with. What has helped is seeing the team get off to such a good start. I’m happy for everyone else. But it just makes you want to be out there even more.”

Defensive coordinator Larry Kerr said Walker, who is eligible to redshirt, still has a chance to make a difference this season. Even with UCLA rotating John Hale, Bruce Davis and Aaron Whittington at outside linebacker, Kerr said that Walker would get his opportunity once he’s healthy.

“He’s working his way back in, but it’s hard when you’ve been out that long and the other guys have gained that experience from practicing and playing,” Kerr said. “It’s just one of those things where he has to come back and earn his keep a little bit.”

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Coach Karl Dorrell said he expected three players who have not played this season because of injuries to get some time on Saturday -- Walker, redshirt freshman quarterback Ben Olson (hand) and sophomore receiver Matthew Slater (leg).

“Some of the guys who have been injured look good,” Dorrell said after Wednesday’s practice. “Wesley is looking better and better, and Ben is getting more reps. Matthew Slater doesn’t seem to have any setbacks with his injury.”

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Washington Coach Tyrone Willingham on playing the Bruins: “UCLA, honestly, could be the best team we have played so far. That is saying a lot -- we have already played California, we have already played Notre Dame, two teams that I mention that are ranked. But they honestly could be the best team we will have played so far.” ... Jeff Miller, a defensive end from Westlake Village Westlake, has committed to the Bruins.


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