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Arizona’s promise to use tight ends more was evident in first scrimmage

arizona-wildcats-tight-ends-bryce-wolma-jordan-paopao-alex-lines-stacey-marshall-zach-williams-2021 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

To say Bryce Wolma was skeptical about Arizona’s plan to utilize the tight end position more would be an understatement.

The fifth-year senior had already decided to return for 2021 when he spoke to both new head coach Jedd Fisch and tight ends coach Jordan Paopao about their plans for his final season of college football. Both shared their desire to make his position much more a part of the offense.

“I was like, okay, I’ve heard that spiel before, we’ll see if that’s really true,” Wolma said Sunday. “I believed them but I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I’d heard that before. When I came in the spring it turned out to be all true.”

Wolma, who has played in 41 games in four seasons, has 42 career receptions but 28 of those came during his freshman year. That was the final season of the Rich Rodriguez era, while in three years under Kevin Sumlin he’s only had 14 receptions and other Arizona tight ends have been responsible for just six catches in that span.

It’s hard to imagine that lack of production will continue based on how much the tight ends have been involved in training camp. During Sunday’s scrimmage Wolma was one of three UA tight ends to catch a pass, and TEs were targeted five times in 21 pass attempts during 11-on-11 periods.

“It really has been a dream come true,” Wolma said. “Just being on the field. The change from what it’s been to what it’s now has been a tight end’s dream. This is the first time in a while I’m like super excited to play football.”

Paopao, Arizona’s first dedicated tight ends coach since 2017, said he envisions using a rotation of four players this season. Wolma, Stacey Marshall and UNLV transfer Alex Lines have been used in three-TE sets (along with fullback Clay Markoff) and Zach Williams has also been in the mix.

That group will be mostly used in short-yardage and goal-line situations, an area Paopao said his guys still need to get better at.

“Talking from a tight end perspective, we’ve got to be more physical, we’ve got to do a better job of winning blocks,” he said.