Caleb Wilson is well-aware of the success that new UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch can bring to a tight end.
Michigan’s Jake Butt flourished with Fisch as the Wolverines’ passing game coordinator the past two years, piling up a combined 97 catches for 1,200 yards. A strong blocker as well, Butt won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end after the 2015 season.
“I’m enjoying this offense,” redshirt sophomore tight end Wilson said. “I kind of had an idea that tight ends would be included. … So I knew if we did our job and did what we were supposed to do, we’d be included.”
A Mackey Award might be a lot to ask for from Wilson, who grew up as a quarterback and spent last season playing mostly on passing downs, but Wilson is doing his part to become a more complete tight end.
“I’ve definitely focused on improving my run-game blocking – just being a dependable guy in that situation, where they can trust me for three straight downs and they don’t have to pull me for run situations,” Wilson said. “Last year … I was always confident in pass game, but in run game I used to get a little nervous because I was on the lighter end.”
Wilson came on strong at the end of the year, reeling in 10 of his 16 catches over UCLA’s final three games, including a season-high four against rival USC.
Most of that late-season success came after the Bruins had largely abandoned their attempt at running a traditional-style offense, with their tight ends starting to operate more like receivers.
That shift, which helped Wilson find more playing time, was by necessity as much as by design, as Wilson was far from the only UCLA tight end that was either new to the position or undersized. The entire unit was composed of players converted from other positions.
With an added year of experience and strength training for those converted players, as well as an influx of young traditional tight ends, the Bruins look much more prepared to properly utilize a tight end in their offense this season.
“We look like tight ends more now,” said tight end coach Rip Scherer. “That’s the goal each year, to elevate the position.”
The Bruins brought in two freshmen who played tight end in high school in 250-pound Jimmy Jaggers and 270-pound Moses Robinson-Carr. And the older guys spent the offseason bulking up to contribute more as run blockers.
Caleb Wilson said he put on weight and now checks in around 237 pounds, while redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson is up around 247, more than 30 pounds heavier than he was when he first showed up at UCLA.
“We all know that the guys who can run-block well and do what coach asks us to do are going to be the ones who are going to play on Saturday,” Jordan Wilson said.
Thus far, it looks like Caleb Wilson will be the guy playing the most Saturdays. He’s displayed good hands and route-running ability throughout fall camp, settling in as junior quarterback Josh Rosen’s second-favorite target behind redshirt senior wideout Darren Andrews.
“He runs a little funny and guys have fun with him, but somehow the ball finds him,” Scherer said of Caleb Wilson. “I think our quarterbacks have confidence in him because he makes those catches. It’s unusual to see him not catch a catchable ball.”
And Caleb Wilson’s added strength and run-blocking prowess mean that he’ll be able to stay on the field more, even in run situations.
“He’s never going to be a guy that probably, at 235 pounds, is going to knock you off the ball, but you don’t have to be that as a tight end,” Scherer said. “At the end of the play, if your body is in position between the defender you’re supposed to be blocking and the ball carrier, and they haven’t pressed the ball carrier or squeezed the ball carrier’s running lane, you’ve done your job.”
More often than not throughout fall camp, Wilson has done just that.