- Peter Yoon, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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UCLA linebacker Akeem Ayers clearly hasn't been the same dominant player over the last month that he was the first month of the season and he's looking to change that around.
A return to health might help.
Ayers said he has been battling through a bruised shoulder and a severe case of turf toe and that the turf toe -- which causes acute pain and swelling in the joint of his big toe--has been harder to shake because of all the planting and change of direction required in football.
"The toe controls this whole body right here," he said. "This is my first time having it and I heard people talking about turf toe and I’m like ‘How are you going to let your toe hold you out? You should be able to continue what you’re doing.’ But it’s a big thing. It feels like it just holds the whole body together."
The injuries both happened during the Texas game in Week 4, Ayers said. In the first four games of the season, he dominated with 29 tackles, 5.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. In the four games since, he's had 16 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one forced fumble and one pass breakup.
"We’ve got to get him back to being the player that he is," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "Some of that is because we move him around so much maybe he’s out there too much. But he’s capable of more production and we’re hopeful that will happen starting this Saturday."
UCLA gave up 362 yards a game before Ayers injured his toe and has given up 484 yards a game in the four since. He said he's "close to 100%" now and expects to return to form this weekend against Oregon State.
"My shoulder healed quicker than my foot when I thought my foot would heal quicker," Ayers said. "It definitely plays a big part in how I've played, but at the same time, I just can’t worry about that. I have to keep fighting through it."