He'll be back

Tennessee's tight end depth may be a little better than it first appeared.

Brent Slusher, who was listed as a senior when he arrived at UT last August, is now being listed as a junior. That means he will be eligible to play for the Vols as a senior in 2011.

Slusher is a 6-4, 254-pounder who attended Bell County High School of Pineville, Ky., where he was first-team all-state as a linebacker and a finalist for the state's Mr. Football Award in 2006. Doubling as a tight end, he averaged 25.2 yards per catch as a junior (14 receptions for 353 yards) and 12.0 as a senior (22 receptions for 264 yards), with 5 touchdowns in the former and 8 in the latter. He also compiled a 3.8 grade-point average in the classroom.

He signed with Auburn in 2007 but stayed there just two seasons, redshirting one year and playing sparingly the other. He spent 2009 at College of the Cumberlands and Elizabethtown Community College - both located in his native Kentucky - then enrolled at UT last August.

Slusher saw action in three outings for the 2010 Vols - Game 9 vs. Memphis, Game 10 vs. Ole Miss and Game 11 vs. Vanderbilt - but did not catch a pass.

He could figure in Tennessee's plans for 2011, however, especially since head coach Derek Dooley favors multiple-tight end sets. The Vols are a bit short-handed at the position now that Luke Stocker has exhausted his eligibility. Stocker, a native of Berea, Ky., was the only Vol to catch a pass in every game last season, finishing with 39 grabs for 417 yards and two touchdowns. He concluded his career with 85 receptions for 957 yards and eight TDs. Stocker played in 52 games for the Vols, starting the last 38, and will play in the Senior Bowl later this month.

With Stocker gone, Tennessee has just three scholarship tight ends on its roster for 2011 - Mychal Rivera (6-4, 240), Ben Bartholomew (6-1, 247) and Brendan Downs (6-6, 230). Rivera will be a junior next fall, Bartholomew a senior. Downs graduated early from Tennessee High of Bristol, signed with Vols in December and began classes this week. He will be eligible to participate in spring practice.

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