There’s been little easing into things for UCLA’s young tight ends.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson went from the fringe of the rotation to a mainstay to the top option in only a few weeks after injuries to Caleb Wilson and Austin Roberts.
True freshman Moses Robinson-Carr lost his redshirt because of the player shortage.
Senior Alex Van Dyke became a rookie of sorts when he switched to tight end from receiver to help fill the void of available bodies.
“It’s time to step up,” said Robinson-Carr, who made his debut on offense last week against Oregon after having played previously on special teams. “We’re playing grown-man football.”
That can involve growing into a new position. Van Dyke recently offered to move to tight end during a post-practice conversation with offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, viewing it as an opportunity for more playing time after being buried on the depth chart at receiver.
“Coach Fisch, he liked that I took initiative,” said the 6-foot-4, 215-pound Van Dyke, whose size helped ease the transition. “He was excited for it, just like I was.”
Van Dyke said there’s plenty of overlap between his new and old positions.
“You still gotta block, still gotta catch, run, still the same parameters of being a receiver, so it’s not that big of a transition,” he said. “Just the guys are bigger across from you.”
Jordan Wilson said it was “definitely exciting” to welcome Van Dyke into the tight ends meetings to help bolster their depleted ranks. UCLA coach Jim Mora said earlier that he was hopeful Roberts could return against No. 12 Washington on Saturday from the sprained ankle he suffered against Oregon. Caleb Wilson (no relation to Jordan) will miss the rest of the season with a foot injury.
Jordan Wilson is also a bit banged up, wearing a protective brace on the elbow he sprained against Colorado on Sept. 30. He’s been the leading receiver among the replacements, catching five passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. Van Dyke and Robinson-Carr have not caught a pass this season.
Replacing Caleb Wilson’s presence may be just as important as making up for the loss of his production.
“Caleb was a big part of our [tight ends] room and he kind of set an example of how we’re all supposed to play,” Jordan Wilson said, “so now that he’s out, we just gotta all step up in all areas of our game, so that’s what we’ve been trying to do.”
The Bruins designed a motion play for Robinson-Carr last week that didn’t go as planned. He’ll try again Saturday, emboldened by the experience of having been on the field.
“It’s not really nervous, it’s just like you’re here now, your team needs you, so it’s exciting,” Robinson-Carr said. “If the ball comes to you, catch it.”
UCLA announced that its coaches locker room inside the Wasserman Football Center would be named after alumnus and former assistant coach Carl D. Peterson after Peterson made a commitment of $1.25 million to the new facility.
Peterson coached receivers for four seasons under Pepper Rodgers and Dick Vermeil before joining Vermeil with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles and later becoming president, general manager and chief executive of the Kansas City Chiefs.
“I’ve known Carl personally for almost my entire life and this gift is indicative of what a selfless man he is,” Mora said in a statement. “Carl’s ties to UCLA football run deep, and his generosity will ensure that his legacy is linked not only to the program, but also to the Wasserman Football Center. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for making a difference in the lives of our student-athletes.”
UCLA has now raised more than $50 million in private funds toward its $65-million goal for its football facility.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch