Monday night practice notes: Anthony Jefferson shedding injury history

Maybe the wind helped as it whipped passes off course Monday night, making for the worst quarterback performance yet through UCLA’s spring practices. Or maybe this is how Anthony Jefferson was always meant to play.

The rising junior was once a four-star athlete in the class of 2010, a rangy 6-foot-1 specimen pegged by Rivals.com to have “blue chip” size, agility and ball skills. But a variety of ails set him back, from a broken foot his freshman year to back surgery in 2011.

Last season, his eight appearances resulted in just five tackles — four of which came at Washington State. On Monday, however, he looked like a solid rotation player, sticking close to receivers on several routes and using his long frame to break up passes.

“I think that finally, he’s feeling more healthy,” head coach Jim Mora said. “I think finally, AJ is getting back to what he once was physically. I think it’s showing in the way he plays, the confidence he plays with and the plays he’s making on the ball.”

It was only one practice, however, so there’s plenty of work lies ahead. That said, Jefferson has offered evidence that he can become

“I feel great,” he said. “It’s just been a long time coming in and finally feeling really good. Just gonna run with it and go from there. It’s been very frustrating, but God has a plan for me.”

– Cornerback Ishmael Adams, who redshirted last season after undergoing shoulder surgery, still hasn’t had a bad practice. He didn’t look quite as stellar as he has on some other days, but matched up well against senior Shaq Evans through one-on-one drills. The key for him has been his vision.

“Just working on my eyes,” Adams said. “That’s a big part. If you see too much, as far as jamming, or just having zone eyes or man eyes. My eyes are a big thing for me. Just not seeing too much, or else I get lost.”

– Over a month ago, freshman Paul Perkins appeared on SI.com despite not having yet taken a collegiate snap. Brett Hundley, who played with Perkins at Chandler (Ariz.) High, touted him as a soon-to-be “monster.”

The 5-foot-10 back hasn’t separated himself from the rest of the running back committee, but did reel off a long touchdown Monday night that ended in him stepping out of safety Randall Goforth’s diving tackle.

“Step in the right direction. It’s one play,” Mora said. “I’m sure there were some breakdowns on defense. We were going live and I’m not sure everyone was ready to go live yet. But it’s certainly good to see him make that play.”

– Safety Dietrich Riley no longer had a sling for his separated right shoulder, but will need to be evaluated on Tuesday before potentially returning to practice. Still working back into peak condition after undergoing neck surgery a year ago, he has worn a red jersey through contact sessions.

“I think he needs to be back out here,” Mora said. “I think for him, for his psyche, and just getting in the flow of it. And eventually, getting back into contact, that’s important for him. We need him. We’re light and we need him to get work.”

Damien Thigpen is well enough to jog after having surgery on his torn ACL in December. He’ll likely be back in time for some portion of summer camp, but Mora said they’ll hold him out for a portion of the season if necessary.

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