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2018 UCLA Football Spring Preview: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends Look to Keep Improving

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Talent and youth abound with the UCLA receiving core.

Theo Howard catches a pass during Spring Practice 2017 while receivers coach Jimmy Dougherty watches.
Joe Piechowski

Over the last few years, next to the offensive line, there has not been a unit that has received more criticism than our wide receivers, and while last year the group improved, there were still issues with our receiving core whether it was suspensions, drops, or injuries issues still plagued the team during the year.

Wide Receivers

Who’s Gone?

  • Jordan Lasley
  • Darren Andrews
  • Mossi Johnson
  • Eldridge Massington
  • Alex Van Dyke

While the suspension to Jordan Lasley caused him to miss three games, and his 21 dropped passes over last two seasons caused plenty of angst for Bruins fans, Lasley was a standout last year. Lasley had one of the most dominate seasons ever by a UCLA receiver garnering him honorable mention All-Pac-12. With NFL.Com projecting him to drafted in the second our third round of the 2018 NFL Draft and their third rated wide receiver in the draft. His experience is going to be missed.

Darren Andrews was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award and second on the team with 60 receptions for 773 yards. Andrews had a team-high 10 touchdowns and caught a touchdown pass in seven of UCLA’s nine games. Andrews was a honorable mention All-Pac-12 selection by the coaches. Andrews will most likely get a chance with a NFL team, but probably will not be drafted.

UCLA also loses the services of Eldridge Massington and Alex Van Dyke.

With the departure of the above mentioned wide receivers, UCLA looses almost half of the receiving yards gained by UCLA receivers last year.

Who’s Back?

  • Theo Howard, Jr.
  • Christian Pabico, R-Sr.
  • Demetric Felton, R-So.
  • Dymond Lee, R-So.
  • Stephen Johnson, R-Jr.
  • Audie Omotosho, R-So.

With all of the coaching changes that took place with the arrival of Chip Kelly, one of the survivors was wide receiver coach, Jimmie Dougherty. His holdover on the staff helped secure a very good receiving recruiting class, but we will get to that in a minute.

Losing Andrews and Lasley, who together accounted for almost half of the yards gained by receivers last year is significant, a glass half full approach would be to say that there has to be a group of receivers that will return that accounted for the other half of our receiving yards. So let’s take a look at who those returners are.

Last year was the coming out party for Theo Howard, who many in Bruins Nation have felt had been under utilized in his previous two years at UCLA. Howard played in 13 games and made 10 starts at wide receiver. He ranked third on the team with 56 catches for 594 yards. Without a doubt, Howard will be a huge part of UCLA’s offense next year as his speed and experience will be huge for the offense.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Southern California Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Christian Pabico fits the bill of a type of wide reciever that Chip Kelly would utilize. Pabico came out of high school and walked on to UCLA and worked his way from scout team player to eventually seeing action in all 13 games in 2017. Pabico even made one start at receiver (at Washington). Pabico caught 18 passes on the year for 280 yards and a touchdown.

Demetric Felton will be an interesting player to watch this year. He obviously received a look at running back last year, and while his size is going to limit his long-term viability at running back, I predict he will turn in to dual-threat type of player that could really benefit with the way Kelly uses his running backs.

Dymond Lee presents some intriguing physical attributes, as he stands as one of the taller receivers at 6-2. Lee saw action in two games last season (at Utah, Kansas State). Lee did not catch a pass, but did complete one, for one yard, at Utah. With Lee’s size and ability to fight through contact at the line scrimmage; he battles for balls and his frame allows for him to do that. I’m interested to see how Lee looks during spring practice. He should be a factor in wide receiver depth chart this year and see some time.

Stephen Johnson is another receiver that should see some time during Spring Practice. Johnson was a high school quarterback that made the move to wide receiver, and while his time on the field has been limited, this might be the year that Johnson gets a chance to get back on the field as a result of the young group of receivers the Bruins have,

Audie Omotosho is another young UCLA receiver that brings some size to the table. At 6-2 Omotosho came to UCLA out of high school in Plano, Texas listed by ESPN as a four-star prospect and the No. 48 wide receiver in the nation. Omotosho did not see action last year as he rehabbed from a knee injury. A recent Twitter post from Omotosho showed a video of him doing some aquatic knee rehabilitation with the quote, “Injury, Surgery, 6 Months Rehab... Simply an Opportunity for a Greater Legacy.”

Who’s New?

4-Star wide receiver, Kyle Phillips, the No. 57 wide receiver, No. 43 prospect in California, No. 330 overall WR looks to be the only newcomer that will participate in Spring Practice. Phillips is 5-foot-11, 176-pounds and had 59 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns for San Marcos as a senior last year. Participating in Spring Practice will definitely be a big advantage for Phillips as he looks to hopefully contribute early for the Bruins.

Tight Ends

Who’s Gone?

Austin Roberts declared for the NFL Draft in January and is not considered to be among the top 10 tight ends drafted in the 2018 draft according to ESPN. With that being said, Roberts will definitely get a look with a NFL team.

Injuries were the name of the game for UCLA tight ends last year. Caleb Wilson, Austin Roberts, and Jordan Wilson all suffered injuries last year, but their injuries provided a silver lining for the Bruins.

Who’s Back?

  • Caleb Wilson, R-Jr.
  • Jordan Wilson, So.
  • Devin Asiasi, R-So
  • Moses Robinson-Carr, So.
  • Jimmy Jaggers, So.

Tight end definitely has the potential to be an area of strength for UCLA as Spring Practice rolls around due to the experienced players that are returning.

Caleb Wilson is expected to return from the injury that prematurely put an end to his 2017 season in which he totaled 38 catches for 490 yards in the five games he played. With none of us in Bruins Nation forgetting Wilson’s school-record 15 receptions in the comeback win over Texas A&M for 208 yards.

Caleb Wilson should prove to be a huge weapon for whatever quarterback ends up behind center for the Bruins.

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Transfer Devin Asiasi is now eligible after sitting out last year after transferring from Michigan. His 6-3 275 pound frame might be a perfect fit for certain looks in Chip Kelly’s offense. Kelly needs the tight end to be able to block, and Asiasi’s frame looks to make him a perfect fit for this role. His experience at De La Salle on both sides of the ball might produce some interesting options for UCLA coaches.

Redshirt freshman Jordan Wilson went from being on the outside of UCLA’s tight end rotation last year to its top option in only a few weeks after injuries to Caleb Wilson and Austin Roberts hit the Bruins. Wilson ended up with 16 receptions for 155 yard and two touchdowns.

The Bruins also have sophomore Moses Robinson-Carr, who played mostly special teams, but lost his redshirt because of the player shortage at tight end last year. Robinson-Carr even made his first career start in the game against Cal and aught one pass on the season for four yards.

Jimmy Jaggers, did not see any game action last year, but should have a chance to see some action this year. He will be another big body for Kelly’s offense, and with Kelly’s track record of coaching up talent, I am sure that he will build on the strengths of Jaggers which include his big frame.

Outlook

Last year the Bruins passed for 4,427 yards. In Kelly’s time at the University of Oregon as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, he never had a quarterback pass for over 3,000 yards. Granted, those gaudy UCLA numbers of last year were put up because UCLA trotted out one of the worst defenses in the history of UCLA, but the UCLA offense is most likely going to do what Chip Kelly does, which is effectively run the ball with inside zone runs and outside zone runs. I was reading an article that talked about Kelly’s inside zone run and the fact that one year at Oregon they ran the play 202 times and averaged almost seven yards on the play.

While UCLA does return talent at wide receiver, it is going to be a young group, a group that will play with an inexperienced quarterback, whether it is Devon Modster or Dorian Thompson-Robinson.

While the wide receivers might not be the most experienced group, our tight end group is the opposite. Due to injuries last year, UCLA was able to get multiple tight ends experience. The flexibility of this group should help Kelly with running the ball and at the same time provide reliable options for the passing game.