Blocking takes center stage for Caleb Wilson, UCLA tight ends
LOS ANGELES — Caleb Wilson developed a pair of UCLA’s most reliable hands by not paying attention to the field in Norman, Okla. Instead of watching his father Chris coach for the Sooners from 2005-09, Wilson and other coaches’ sons crept to an open space near the back of the field and played catch. He tossed the ball with the sons of then-head coach Bob Stoops and assistant coach Cale Gundy.
Since those carefree childhood days Wilson has never really thought about catching the ball. The redshirt sophomore tight end still catches passes effortlessly for UCLA now, but he’s adding more to his arsenal. Entering UCLA’s second year using the tight end position, Wilson has worked to improve his blocking ability to maximize his chances on the field.
“I was always confident in the pass game, but in the run game I used to get a little nervous because I was on the lighter end,” Wilson said. “But I’ve gotten stronger and I’ve gotten better with my hands. I’m just trusting my feet.”
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Wilson can now be included in UCLA’s jumbo packages, earning the trust of the coaches during run situations. At his weight, he won’t blow an opponent off the ball, tight ends coach Rip Scherer acknowledged, but he doesn’t necessarily have to. He’s a coach’s son, brought up around the game from infancy. His blocking comes from his brain as much as it does from his body now.
“He’s very effective,” Scherer said. “He knows himself, he knows his strengths, he knows his liabilities.”
Wilson had 16 receptions for 220 yards last season, his first with the Bruins after transferring from USC, where he was a walk-on tight end. Scherer said it’s rare that a catchable ball will fall from Wilson’s grasp. The one-time Gardena Serra High quarterback’s long legs, usually covered completely in white tights at practice, have an unexpectedly short stride when he runs, but like his blocking, it’s effective.
“He runs a little funny and guys have fun with him, but somehow, the ball finds him,” Scherer said.
Under offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, UCLA’s tight ends will have opportunities to impact the passing game. At Michigan, where Fisch spent two years as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, the Wolverines had the back-to-back Big Ten Tight End of the Year in Jake Butt, who also won the John Mackey Award last year, honoring him as the top tight end in the nation.
Wilson is the leader of UCLA’s deep and versatile tight ends group. He and Austin Roberts are the only tight ends with playing experience and excel most in the pass game. Redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson, a former basketball player who put on 35 pounds since coming to UCLA, is turning into a 247-pound presence in the run blocking game. True freshmen Jimmy Jaggers and Moses Robinson-Carr are natural tight ends from high school with experience in both facets of the game who need more seasoning at the college level.
The unit will not benefit from Michigan transfer Devin Asiasi on game days however, as his NCAA appeal for immediate eligibility was not successful.
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