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A shortage of linebackers doesn’t figure to be a problem for UCLA this season

A shortage of linebackers doesn’t figure to be a problem for UCLA this season
UCLA defenders Adarius Pickett (6) and Krys Barnes bring down Fresno State wide receiver Justin Allen in the second quarter on Sept. 15, 2018, at the Rose Bowl. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Krys Barnes looked to his left and to his right last season, wondering who might be there.

UCLA all but ran out of linebackers.

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Josh Woods’ season was over before it began after he tore a knee ligament in training camp. Jaelan Phillips, Je’Vari Anderson and Mique Juarez had their seasons cut short because of concussions. Bo Calvert played in only five games because of injuries.

The Bruins were so thin at the position that walk-on Jayce Smalley became a regular part of the rotation.

Improved depth has been one of the most encouraging signs of early spring practices. Woods remains in a yellow jersey as he continues his recovery, still unable to participate in most drills, but he’s provided pointers from the sideline. Calvert is back, leading the team in a recent series of stretches. Also returning is Anderson, part of a group that intends on going from a weakness to a strength even with the departures of Phillips, Juarez and Rahyme Johnson.

“Having them back out there is good,” Barnes told reporters after practice Tuesday. “We’re all teaching each other.”

The returners will bolster a group that also includes Barnes, Smalley, Keisean Lucier-South, Tyree Thompson, Lokeni and Leni Toailoa and Odua Isibor. The team is seeking a reliable pass rusher after recording only 15 sacks last season.

Barnes said he’s been encouraged by the early practice sessions.

“We all came out here flying around,” Barnes said. “We have better knowledge of what we’re doing now, so it’s just more fixing up where we left off” the previous day.

No longer identical

Grandma will be able to tell them apart now.

Cornerback Elijah Gates cut his hair and changed his number, no longer resembling a doppelganger for receiver Dymond Lee.

Gates is wearing No. 20 this spring and said he intended to make another change to No. 12 for the season. Like Lee, he wore No. 9 last season but intimated it wouldn’t work anymore with both players likely to participate on special teams.

The players had such strong resemblances that Gates’ grandmother confused Gates with Lee when she watched a game on television.

Gates, who has taken over the starting cornerback spot created by the departure of Nate Meadors, said he’s not really obsessed with what’s on his jersey.

“I’m trying to make the number look good, so that’s what my job is,” Gates said. “I don’t really care what number I get.”

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Gates made his first interception of the spring Tuesday. Quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson telegraphed the pass as if he was still confusing Gates with Lee.

“I don’t know what DTR was looking at,” Gates said. “He probably thought I was a receiver and was just going to take it and go to the house.”

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