UCLA redshirt sophomore cornerback Anthony Jefferson has gone nearly two years without playing in a game.
He played three games as a freshman in 2010 before breaking a foot and sat out in 2011 after back surgery. Jefferson's return this spring comes at a time when the Bruins are struggling to stay healthy in the secondary.
"He has length, size and speed, all the traits you want to see in a cornerback," defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin said.
Jefferson had those gifts at Los Angeles Cathedral High. Martin tried to lure him to Washington when he was the Huskies' secondary coach. He is being reminded of what he liked about the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore.
Jefferson received more reps Tuesday with cornerback Aaron Hester being held out of practice after having concussion symptoms Saturday. His injury was part of an epidemic in the secondary that left the Bruins with only four healthy scholarship players at cornerback, and one of them, Brandon Sermons, played with a cast on his right wrist and hand.
Jefferson is well-versed in medical attention, having spent nearly two years being poked and prodded.
"My mindset is to be on the field this year," Jefferson said. "It's been tough, but football is tough."
Martin has seen improvement since spring practice began, which he attributes to Jefferson's health.
"He's feeling better and that makes his attitude better," Martin said. "In that transition, his learning is better. When you're feeling down, it's tough to learn."
Dietrich Riley to have surgery
Safety Dietrich Riley is expected to have neck surgery Monday, which would force him to sit out the 2012 season. He was injured Oct. 29 against California and was taken to a hospital after tackling Golden Bears running back Isi Sofele.
Riley will have surgery similar to one Peyton Manning had last year. UCLA Coach Jim Mora arranged for Manning to talk with Riley about the surgery. He can be a redshirt this season and have two years of eligibility remaining.
Running backs shined during 11-on-11 drills Tuesday.
Dalton Hilliard and Jordon James both had jitterbug-like touchdown runs. But Steven Manfro had two, adding to his resume this spring.
"He has great awareness in space," Mora said. "He's one of those guys who can maneuver his body. Every day he does something impressive. Every day I'm like, 'What is he going to do today?' He doesn't disappoint."
Mora said that the quarterback competition would be more evident after Saturday's scrimmage. Richard Brehaut, Mike Fafaul, Brett Hundley, T.J. Millweard, Jerry Neuheisel and Kevin Prince have split the reps through the first two-plus weeks. "That will funnel down a little after Saturday," Mora said. … Wide receiver Jerry Johnson sat out because of an injured quadriceps and, by the end of practice, there were 28 players unavailable because of injuries.