Injury report: Jeff Baca nearing a return

UCLA guard Jeff Baca, recovering from a broken ankle that required surgery on March 31, is progressing more quickly than anticipated and may begin practicing recovering as early as next week, coach Rick Neuheisel said Friday.

If all goes well, Baca could be ready to play in Week 2 against San Jose State.

"We’ll be prudent as to when he actually gets back on the field," Neuheisel said. "We want to make sure he’s ready. But we’re excited that he’s getting ready to be at that point."

Baca (6-4, 305) broke his ankle during spring practice and had screws inserted to help the healing. He was supposed to be out for up to six months and had targeted the Sept. 24 game against Oregon State as his return date, but, barring any setbacks, is ahead of that schedule.

His return would add depth to a thin position for UCLA. Baca sat out last season because of academic ineligibility, but was a 13-game starter at guard in 2009 and an eight-game starter as a freshman 2008. He would almost certainly move into a starting role upon his return.

In other injury news:

  • Taylor Embree, out since the first week of training camp with a strained calf, went through individual drills Friday and should be ready to return to a full practice Monday. Neuheisel said Embree, the team's leading receiver the last two seasons, was "a little better than questionable" to play the Sept. 3 season opener at Houston.

  • Offensive lineman Chris Ward, who sprained his ankle Tuesday and has not practiced since, is also expected to rejoin the action on Monday, according to Neuheisel. "He’s guaranteed me," Neuheisel said. "And who can ever ignore Dr. Ward."

  • F-back Damien Thigpen, out with a pulled hamstring, did not scrimmage Friday and Neuheisel said he was "questionable" for next Saturday's season opener.