With start of season approaching, UCLA football players settle into new roles
Redshirt junior Matt Lynch attempted just three passes for UCLA football in his first three seasons with the program. Lynch made the position change from quarterback to tight end in spring practices in March. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Coral Smith
Aug. 8, 2019 5:57 p.m.
Amid shifting roles, the team’s pieces are starting to come together.
With the start of the season just three weeks away, UCLA football players have started adjusting to their new or increased roles for the upcoming season.
“For me, it’s just taking my position, doing my job, … knowing our assignments and just doing everything that we’re told to do to put our players in the right positions to make plays,” said redshirt junior tight end Devin Asiasi.
Redshirt junior tight end Matt Lynch spent his first three years as a backup – first to former Bruin Josh Rosen, and then last year to former Bruin Wilton Speight and then-freshman quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson.
But during the offseason, Lynch began taking reps as a tight end, with the goal to provide more of an impact on the field this year. With the position change, Lynch had to start from scratch, going back to the basics of catching and blocking, but coach Chip Kelly said he has excelled in his new role.
“The ultimate compliment you would probably (give) is he really looks like a tight end right now,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t look like a quarterback playing another position, he looks like a tight end and he fits in really well with that group. … He always knew what the tight end did, but the techniques and nuances of the position, he’s really starting to pick those up.”
Lynch said his prior experience at the quarterback position has been an advantage when he works with receivers, oftentimes giving them insight into how quarterbacks think.
“A lot of the times, in the meetings, even (tight ends coach Derek Sage) would be like, ‘Hey (Lynch), what are the quarterbacks looking for in this, what do they want the tight ends to do there?’ so it’s kind of nice to have that translation with me being in the room,” Lynch said.
The rest of the tight ends, along with Lynch, are working to fill the void left by former Bruin Caleb Wilson, who was drafted to the Arizona Cardinals as the last overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Wilson racked up 965 receiving yards with the Bruins last season, best among NCAA tight ends.
“The biggest thing I got from (Wilson) was just the hard work that he put in each and every day,” Asiasi said. “(Wilson) came in with a hard hat and his lunchbox and every day just went to work, so I try to follow those footsteps. This position is not easy, there’s a lot of extra hours you have to put into it, so for me it was just taking that role and trying to put in the hours that it takes for you to play the position.”
Lynch also credited Thompson-Robinson for maturing as a player during the offseason, as the rising sophomore worked to build on his rookie campaign that consisted of seven starts in 10 games played.
“(Thompson-Robinson and backup quarterback redshirt sophomore Austin Burton), they’re ballin’ right now, … they’re commanding, they’re being quarterbacks,” Lynch said. “They’re able to have that leadership and grow as a quarterback when they have that base understanding of the offense, so I think that will benefit us going into this year.”
On special teams, players have also started to settle into their roles, including 31-year-old graduate transfer punter Wade Lees, who has found his place as a mentor for the younger players on the team.
“I think the one thing that (Lees) brings is a sense of maturity, he’s got obviously a different background than a lot of kids,” Kelly said. “You look at him and (redshirt freshman punter Collin Flintoft): (Flintoft’s) going into his second year of college and (Lees) is like 30. So there’s a wealth of experience he can bring, … so I think his maturity has really helped, especially with the other specialists.”
With the season opener against Cincinnati on the horizon, Asiasi said he is ready to go and willing to fill whatever role is necessary for the team to win.
“It’s been a long time coming. But for sure, I’m just looking forward to getting out there with my teammates and going out and winning,” Asiasi said.