Stocker's stock going up

The little break in Jeff Cottam's leg could be the big break his backup has been needing.

With Cottam sidelined for the remainder of spring practice, Luke Stocker has been thrust into the No. 1 tight end spot for the Tennessee Vols. Obviously, this is not the way Stocker envisioned earning first-team status but he is determined to make the most of his big chance, nonetheless.

"I feel bad for Cottam, and he knows that," said Stocker, a 6-6, 250-pound sophomore from Berea, Ky. "Me and him are good friends. But this is a great opportunity for me to step up and get a lot of reps with the ones (first-team players) this spring."

Stocker has the route-running and pass-catching skills to be a Jason Witten-type weapon for the Vols. The Kentucky native indicated as much by catching 86 passes for 888 yards his final two years at Madison Southern High School.

Former UT offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe and former Vol tight ends coach Matt Luke raved about Stocker's versatility last fall but both aides are now at Duke. So, what can Stocker do to catch the eye of new coordinator Dave Clawson and new tight ends coach Jason Michael?

"I just have to have good technique," Stocker said. "Make the catches and make the plays I can make."

He made four catches as a redshirt freshman last season. The receptions netted just 11 yards but one was a clutch three-yard touchdown grab at Alabama. With 2007 tight ends Chris Brown and Brad Cottam moving on to the NFL, Stocker should be good for 20 to 30 receptions this fall in Tennessee's new West Coast offense.

"Coach Clawson likes to throw the ball to the tight end," Stocker noted, "so I'm pretty excited."

With Jeff Cottam sidelined, Stocker and converted offensive guard Cody Pope are the Vols' only scholarship tight ends until signee Aaron Douglas arrives on campus this summer. As the only true tight end available for duty this spring, Stocker will never have a greater opportunity to showcase his skills

Although he made just one reception in last Saturday's scrimmage, it was a leaping seven-yard touchdown catch that showcased his soft hands and surprising athleticism. He has gained 15 pounds since arriving at college but apparently has not lost any of his speed or agility.

"I was a little undersized (235 pounds) when I got here," he recalled. "I'm about 250 now, and my blocking technique is a lot better. That's where I've improved the most."

Now that he's a bigger guy, Stocker should play a bigger role in Tennessee's offensive scheme. Like most young players, he simply needs to prove himself dependable on a play-in, play-out basis to earn the trust of his coaches.

"I've just got to be consistent," he said. "I've got the technique. It's just a matter of the small things, the details – whether it's blocking, running my routes or whatever."

Although the switch to a new offense and a new coordinator has forced him to learn several new wrinkles, Stocker is a quick study who seems to be developing a solid grasp of Clawson's scheme.

"It's all similar stuff," he said. "It's just different terminology. It's more numbers than words. It's not a lot of different plays."

Maybe not. But, with Cottam sidelined, Luke Stocker will be involved in a lot more of those plays.

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