Yes, we’ve reached this part of the preseason again. You know, the part when we’re told that the Arizona Wildcats are planning to get their tight ends more involved in the offense.
It rarely ever happens—tight ends have only caught 14 passes over the past two seasons—but they insist this year is different.
“I know that’s definitely a question that arises every year, but this year it’s looking pretty good for the tight end position group so far,” said senior tight end Bryce Wolma. “We’re on the field a lot more than we have been in the past, both in the run game and the pass game so it’s definitely been been fun to get out there and be involved a little bit more.”
Fourth-year tight ends/inside receivers coach Theron Aych is well aware of the narrative that surrounds his position group.
“I told [Wolma] exactly what to say to you,” he joked. “But no in all seriousness...yes, the tight ends are going to be involved. We’ve got some good guys we’re developing.”
Wolma is one of three scholarship players Arizona has listed at tight end. There is also Roberto Miranda, a freshman from Germany who is listed as a wide receiver but can line up at both spots.
Redshirt sophomore Zach Williams, listed as a tight end, can do the same.
Wolma is the only established player in the group, accounting for 10 of the team’s tight end receptions over the past two seasons. He caught five passes both years.
That still pales in comparison to his production as a true freshman when he reeled in 28 passes for 241 yards and a touchdown—the rare year Arizona did use its tight ends. (Though it’s worth noting that was under a different head coach.)
“Bryce has been here for four years, he is a solid Pac-12 contributor, so obviously we’re excited about him and hopefully what he can do this season,” Aych said.
Doing what he can to ensure that he’s more involved this season, Wolma often jokes with new starting quarterback Grant Gunnell that the tight ends are always open.
“I tell him that all the time on the field and stuff and joke around like, ‘man, check it down,’” Wolma said. “Three yards, four-yard flat route, I’m always open. So we joke about it but in reality it is. And in this offense, in this scheme, the tight end is open a lot.”
Head coach Kevin Sumlin said the Wildcats plan to use more two tight-end sets this season.
They like how Stacey Marshall, a JuCo product who enrolled in January, complements Wolma. At 6-foot-5, 238 pounds, Marshall has drawn praise for his ability to block and be a receiving threat.
Some folks in the industry were surprised that Marshall only had one Power 5 offer coming out of Hutchinson Community College.
“That was one of the reasons Coach Sumlin and I went up and recruited him, because we knew he was that guy that can bring a two-fold part to the tight end position where he can put his hand on the ground as well as be able to be a flex guy, a move guy,” Aych said. “Or we can line him up and he can turn into a Gronk hopefully someday.”
On the flip side, if Arizona wants to play power football it can pair Wolma with Connor Hutchings, a senior walk-on who’s listed as a tight end/offensive lineman.
“I think that’s something that really gives us a unique group this year that we haven’t had,” Aych said. “That ability to be able to flex guys out and also playing in the box.”