Step­ping up at tight end

Los Angeles Times - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Ben Bolch ben.bolch@la­times.com Twit­ter: @latb­bolch

Any­one who won­ders what Caleb Wil­son is up to th­ese days needs only to check his Twit­ter feed.

Af­ter learn­ing that he would un­dergo sea­son-end­ing surgery for a foot in­jury late last month, the UCLA tight end tweeted, “I’m built for this. I’ll be back and bet­ter.”

A week later, Wil­son pro­vided an up­date on his sta­tus. “Was told surgery went very well,” Wil­son tweeted. “Locked in on com­ing back bet­ter than ever and be­com­ing the best team­mate I can be.”

Team­mate Austin Roberts’ Twit­ter feed has been a bit more whim­si­cal. His re­cent so­cial me­dia ac­tiv­ity in­cluded a retweet of for­mer NFL re­ceiver Chad John­son say­ing “I love you” to some­one who blew his horn at John­son. There was also a tweet read­ing, “Can’t com­plain about hav­ing a lot on my plate when my goal is to eat.”

The only sim­i­lar­ity between Wil­son and Roberts that’s es­sen­tial to the Bru­ins is their pro­duc­tiv­ity as the team’s pri­mary pass-catch­ing tight end. Roberts has as­sumed that role af­ter Wil­son was in­jured against Colorado on Sept. 30, ne­ces­si­tat­ing the in­ser­tion of screws to sta­bi­lize his foot.

“They’re both re­ally good route run­ners and matchup problems,” UCLA coach Jim Mora said. “Caleb has a lit­tle more height, but I think Josh [Rosen] has a lot of con­fi­dence in Austin as well. He’s shown to be a very ca­pa­ble guy. I’m ex­cited to see him step up.”

The 6-foot-2 Roberts has some ground to make up on the 6-4 Wil­son out­side of the height depart­ment. Wil­son was the Bru­ins’ sec­ondlead­ing re­ceiver, hav­ing made 38 catches for 490 yards and one touch­down. Roberts has made six catches for 77 yards and two touch­downs, in­clud­ing a 12yard scor­ing catch against Colorado.

Wil­son’s value to the Bru­ins was prob­a­bly more ac­cu­rately demon­strated by the met­rics of foot­ball­study­hall.com. Rosen had tar­geted Wil­son on 20.1% of his passes, ac­cord­ing to the web­site, com­pared with a com­bined 4.6% for Roberts and Jor­dan Wil­son (no re­la­tion to Caleb), the team’s other pri­mary tight ends.

Wil­son’s ab­sence could also pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity for fresh­men Jimmy Jag­gers and Moses Robin­sonCarr, who are wait­ing to make their de­buts.

“We have good tight ends in the pro­gram,” UCLA of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Jedd Fisch said, “and it’ll be fun to see some of those guys take on big­ger roles.”

Fisch was then asked how dif­fer­ent Roberts was from Wil­son as far as the style of his play.

“Not that dif­fer­ent,” Fisch said, smil­ing.

Mr. Cleanup

UCLA has al­lowed only three sacks over its last three games.

Much of the credit goes to the of­fen­sive line, re­ceivers who have run their routes well and Rosen re­leas­ing the ball in a timely man­ner. There’s also an­other less ob­vi­ous con­trib­u­tor.

“Kind of the un­sung guy in there,” Mora said, “is Soso.”

That would be Soso Jam­abo, the tail­back who strug­gled with pass pro­tec­tion as re­cently as train­ing camp. He’s be­come more than pro­fi­cient in that depart­ment, one of the rea­sons he’s sup­planted Bolu Olorun­funmi as the team’s top ball­car­rier.

“He’s got a re­ally good feel for it,” Fisch said. “He un­der­stands pro­tec­tions re­ally well, and that’s a huge ad­van­tage for a run­ning back.”

Mora said it’s not un­usual for highly touted run­ning backs to strug­gle with pass block­ing in col­lege be­cause it’s a skill they were rarely asked to uti­lize in high school.

“If you’ve got a Soso Jam­abo in high school, you’re ei­ther run­ning it or you’re get­ting him out of the back­field and try­ing to throw it to him,” Mora said, “so the great guys com­ing out of high school aren’t guys that have typ­i­cally pass-blocked a lot. But he came in here and for three years he’s re­ally worked hard at it and we’ve seen great im­prove­ment.”

Danny Moloshok As­so­ci­ated Press

TIGHT END Caleb Wil­son runs with the ball against Texas A&M. Wil­son had sea­son-end­ing surgery for a foot in­jury af­ter be­ing hurt against Colorado.

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