UCLA football eager to utilize powerhouse trio of tight ends
Rising redshirt sophomore Jordan Wilson is one of three tight ends expected to be heavily utilized by Chip Kelly this season. Wilson recorded 155 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns last season. (Keila Mayberry/Daily Bruin staff)
By Hanson Wang
April 13, 2018 12:09 am
Chip Kelly’s offenses at Oregon were known for their breakneck tempo between plays and for overwhelming defenses with blazing-fast athletes.
In Philadelphia, he relied heavily on similar spread and run/pass option schemes while emphasizing tight ends in the passing game since NFL defenses were much speedier.
UCLA’s wealth at tight end points to an offense based on the coach’s three-year stint in the City of Brotherly Love rather than his more renowned stop in Eugene.
The Bruins could have the most talented trio in the country that play the same position with rising redshirt junior Caleb Wilson, rising redshirt sophomore Jordan Wilson and rising junior Devin Asiasi.
“We’re spread out all over the field,” said Jordan Wilson, who started six of the last seven games last season. “I think that could cause real matchup problems during the season.”
Even though all three technically play tight end, they aren’t entirely interchangeable. Each player causes defensive mismatches with their combination of size, speed and route-running.
It’s easy to see why having all three on the field at once could be a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators.
Caleb Wilson is still recovering from foot surgery that ended his season before it was halfway done last fall. His injury ended a promising year that started with a 15-catch, 208-yard effort against Texas A&M.
Out of the three players, Caleb Wilson is listed at the lowest weight – 235 pounds – but he leverages that into an advantage in the middle of the field. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the highest-graded tight end in the country with a 79.2 percent catch rate and 205 receiving yards last season coming after the catch.
Asiasi, who sat out last season after transferring from Michigan, has seen the lion’s share of first-team reps during team drills. The 6-foot-3-inch, 275-pounder is a good run blocker and even lined up as an H-back in the backfield on several plays last week. His physique outsizes most collegiate linebackers and all defensive backs, making him an ideal red zone target.
Jordan Wilson came on strong toward the end of last season with Caleb Wilson out with an injury. The redshirt freshman recorded 15 of his 16 catches in the latter half of the year.
At 6 feet 4 inches and 250 pounds, Jordan Wilson is built almost identically to former Stanford product Zach Ertz, who caught 169 passes and nine touchdowns in three NFL seasons playing under Kelly.
But with Kelly’s preferred rapid tempo, the tight ends need to improve their endurance, run-blocking and route-running in order to limit substitutions.
“(It) took a lot to adjust to the tempo,” Jordan Wilson said. “We have to adjust to some footwork stuff in the run game. Coach Kelly wants it a certain way, and of course, we’re going to do it that way.”
A fourth tight end, rising sophomore Moses Robinson-Carr, switched to defensive end this spring and is enjoying first-team reps since rising redshirt junior Rick Wade is out with an injury.
“(I like) just having a motor every single down,” Robinson-Carr said recently. “The position switch was pretty awesome, because I feel like I could play more aggressively.”
But given the remaining tight ends on the roster, UCLA’s offensive success should rely heavily on that position.