Austin Roberts steps in, and steps up, for UCLA in Caleb Wilson's absence

Anyone who wonders what Caleb Wilson is up to these days only needs 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’ second-leading receiver, having made 38 catches for 490 yards and one touchdown. Roberts has made six catches for 77 yards and two touchdowns, including a 12-yard scoring catch against Colorado.

Wilson’s value to the Bruins was probably more accurately demonstrated by the metrics of 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 Robinson-Carr, 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. Clean-up

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.”

Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch


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