- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is a good time for Joseph Fauria to be a tight end ... er ... wide receiver.
"No, I'm still a tight end," said UCLA's dominant, albeit difficult to define Fauria. "My weight and height haven't changed. My assignment hasn't changed that much. I'm just doing a little more than the other. I'm still a tight end even though the roster says wide receiver."
Officially, the roster lists Fauria as the "Y Receiver," a position the 6-foot-7, 255-pounder is expected to excel at in the scheme that coordinator Noel Mazzone brought with him from Arizona State when he joined Jim Mora's staff. He'll certainly be more active in the passing game than he was in UCLA's previous, run-first pistol attack.
"It's something your body has to get used to," said Fauria, who like his teammates has been grinding away in the summer heat of San Bernardino about 80 miles east of campus. "There's a reason O-linemen don't run routes. They are blocking, going forward for run blocks and backwards for pass blocks. When you change it up and run full speed, you need to change your body. Now that I'm not run blocking or cut blocking the whole game, my body needs to get used to running routes 60-70 plays a game. It will take some getting used to and it's more catching."
When you look around the Pac-12 and some of the tight ends -- Fauria, Austin Seferian-Jenkins at Washington, the Stanford duo of Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo, USC's duo of Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble and Oregon upstart Colt Lyerla-- it's clear that the days of the tight end being a fourth- or-fifth receiving option are long gone. Fauria, and the aforementioned players are the next evolution of tight end.
"It trickles its way down," he said. "It starts in the NFL. You have guys breaking records and being game-changers. Tight ends, we're changing the whole offense. In turn, that changes how defenses play. You see bigger safeties getting pulled in the first round. Now it's trickling down to college. Colleges realize we have these big, fast tight ends. We had a guy as the first tight end drafted last year [Stanford's Coby Fleener] and we have even more guys this year.
"We are changing the dynamic the way the tight end is used. Back when my uncle [Christian Fauria] played, they were tough SOBs who were down blocking on defensive linemen. Now we're guys who can outrun linebackers and out-physical safeties and corners. It's a tough matchup for defenses."
And UCLA will look to exploit that mismatch -- which is music to Fauria's ears.
"It's good to see the change and that we're moving the ball down the field," he said. "Last year, I don't want to say it was boring, but it was monotonous. Get 2 or 3 yards and hope to break one once in a while. Now we're stretching the field and we're fast on the outsides."
Fauria, who is from Encino, declined to talk about what went wrong during his time at Notre Dame and why he opted to return to Southern California following the 2008 season. But now that he's here, he plans to make the most of the opportunity. Last year he caught 39 balls for 481 yards and six touchdowns. Look for those numbers to shoot up in the new offense.
"Last year, we weren't really a pass-happy offense. At all," he said with a sarcastic laugh attached to it. "I realized that going into the season whenever I did get the ball, I had to get those yards because I might not see another ball the rest of the game. That taught me to fight for those extra yards because chances are it won't happen again. The system actually helped me more than it hurt. It helped with my will to catch the ball and my will to get yards after the catch."
And now the system has changed. And so has the position -- well -- technically.
22hChantel Jennings and Kevin Gemmell