With former UCLA football tight end Caleb Wilson moving onto the NFL, head coach Chip Kelly needs to find someone to replace him, but in that search, the tight end position could further evolve with the many tools they have at their disposal.
During his time in the NFL, UCLA football head coach Chip Kelly had evolved his offense. One of the things he picked up in those four years was the calculated use of tight ends. The primary reason for this was to use the big receivers at the end of the line to gain a numbers advantage for his offense.
Whether it was for a run or a pass, having an extra guy (or two or three) on the end to help block and open up holes would give Kelly the choice to keep it low or throw it downfield. The interesting thing he brought to UCLA was not just the use of the tight end, but the use of up to three tight ends.
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Enter Caleb Wilson, arguably the best tight end in the nation at the start of the 2018 season. He not only had the best hands on the team but for a player that is 6’5, 235-pounds, he was able to get downfield in a hurry and make defenders miss tackles in the process.
His skills not only advanced UCLA’s offense but helped others to shine whilst he was receiving extra coverage. In these moments, when Caleb was not catching balls, he was acting like a decoy or setting a block to help another play develop. Though he was among six tight ends that logged play time, he was the go-to guy in the passing game, so even though Kelly will need to replace him, he has plenty of players to step up into the role.
Last season, Caleb Wison was the team’s leading receiver with 965 yards. The next TE with the most yards was Devin Asiasi with 130. Jordan Wilson was 3rd with 17 yards, though you also may remember that Jordan filled in for Caleb during the second half of the 2017 season after Caleb was injured. Last season, he caught for 155 yards.
Jordan Wilson is a reliable pass catcher, but Asiasi has the talent that is most similar to Caleb’s, so he should get starting gig. But Kelly is going to continue to use a lot of tight ends, if not for receptions, then for blocking in both new offensive coordinator Justin Frye’s and Kelly’s schemes.
In 2018, Kelly and Frye used several formations to try and get an advantage on the line. Here are a few examples of their unorthodox setups.
The picture in the last tweet is an example of what Kelly has done with his extra tight ends. As Chris Osgood points out, the right side of the line is heavy with tight ends which is to help secure that side for run protection. If Kelly wanted to go right, the runner would have had some protection, but it would not be advantageous as it would be 5-on-3, in favor of USC.
Instead, they head left where Osgood points out, Andre James, Michael Alves and Boss Tagaloa had the advantage of one-on-one, and with an additional blocker, Joshua Kelley (27) has a few different gaps he can choose from.
In this case, Kelly used the tight ends on the right to gauge where USC’s defense was focusing. He saw that there was a numbers advantage on the left, so that became the playside. It is the small details like this that have helped Kelly find holes in the defense and have his offense capitalize.
So there will be a lot for the tight ends to do next season. Not only do they add committed Mater Dei TE Mike Martinez to the mix, but the Bruins also have Drew Platt, David Priebe, Matt Alaimo, and Greg Dulcich to help out. Except for Alaimo, the other three tight ends have game experience. That is a huge positive for Kelly’s offense heading into next season.
So not only will we continue to see specialized plays for tight ends, but we will see more innovative formations, especially with Justin Frye working a lot closer with Kelly after this weekend’s promotion to offensive coordinator.
Even though the Bruins could have used Caleb Wilson’s skills for another season, it seems that they have plenty of talent to work with in 2019. And considering how this coaching staff develops players, we should see multiple Bruins stepping up next season. Is it August 31, 2019, yet?