Caleb Wilson, Devin Asiasi and Greg Dulcich all impressed under Chip Kelly, but a new star will have to rise in 2022.
With UCLA football’s offseason winding down, it’s time to start looking ahead to the 2022 campaign and what lies ahead for the Bruins on the gridiron. Before scouting opponents and projecting the Pac-12 pecking order, it’s best to look within by picking apart how UCLA will shape up on its own sidelines.
All Bruins will be breaking down every position group over the next week, and the tight ends are up next. To catch up on the positions already covered, take a look below:
TE 1: Michael Ezeike, super senior
TE 2: Hudson Habermehl, redshirt junior
TE 3: David Priebe, redshirt junior
TE 4: Jack Pederson, freshman
TE 5: Carsen Ryan, freshman
TE 6: Michael Churich, redshirt junior
TE 7: Grant Norberg, redshirt sophomore
TE 8: Sam Summa, redshirt freshman
Ever since Chip Kelly arrived in Westwood, the Bruins have had one of the most productive tight end units in the nation.
Caleb Wilson, Devin Asiasi and Greg Dulcich each put up big numbers, all in immediate succession of each other. The next in line remains relatively unclear heading into 2022, though, with not much established talent left at the position.
Mike Martinez’s recent departure throws an additional wrench into the mix, robbing UCLA of their top blocking tight end and changing Kelly’s plan for rotating his tight ends.
Ezeike, a year and a half removed from moving over from receiver, is heading into his second season at tight end. He is in a position to be the top receiving target at tight end, considering he is the only one who has recorded an in-game statistic.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound veteran had three catches for 45 yards and a touchdown in 2021.
Habermehl looks to be the No. 2 tight end at the moment, but he has been a serious challenger for the No. 1 spot ever since spring camp. Like Dulcich, Habermehl came in as a walk-on receiver before changing positions and earning a scholarship, and his 6-foot-6 frame could help him in reel in just as many passes as his predecessor.
Priebe is the most experienced and projected top man behind those two, as he brings solid intangibles and blocking to the table.
Pederson and Ryan were not on the initial scout team debuted Friday, so they appear to be in the rotation as well. The pair of tight ends were among the Bruins’ top recruits this past cycle, and Kelly’s intention to run out four tight ends at a time could help them see the field right away.
Churich, Norberg and Summa will likely feature on special teams, but could come in as extra blockers if the younger options aren’t getting the job done in the running game.
While Ezeike is the biggest name and most experienced option left in the tight ends room, he may not end the year with the best stats.
Ezeike had a few tough drops last season and is still a question mark at his relatively new position. Habermhehl, on the other hand, has more of Dulcich’s big-play tendencies and is already connecting well with quarterback Dorian Thompon-Robinson in practice.
Neither one of them will be able to replicate Dulcich’s numbers on their own, though, so there will probably be more two tight end sets and constant rotation than in the past.
Habermehl could end the year with 400 yards and a few touchdowns on 25 catches, while Ezeike should come in just below that with 275 yards on 18 receptions.
As for the rest of the group, there may be a handful of touches to go around, but nothing significant. Ezeike leaving next offseason, and Habermehl likely departing the year after that, means that Pederson and Ryan will be more important to future UCLA teams than the 2022 edition of the squad.
Still, Kelly and Thompson-Robinson have leaned heavily on tight end over the past four years. It seems as if they plan to do the same, but because there isn’t a clear Dulcich replacement in house, the Bruins may have to do so by committee.
Habermehl is the dark horse pick to lead the tight end platoon, while Ezeike is bound to get his as well. As for Priebe, the freshmen and the walk-ons, Kelly and new tight ends coach Jeff Faris will surely have them ready to step in as effective extra blockers whenever necessary.