Ben there, done that

Family tradition means an awful lot to the Bartholomews ... just not quite as much as playing time.

Like his grandfather Sam (a Tennessee blocking back from 1937-39) and his older brother Will (a Vol fullback from 1998-2001), Nashville's Ben Bartholomew signed with the Big Orange to play fullback. When the coaching staff asked him to move to tight end last spring, however, he was excited to do so.

Surprisingly enough, Will was excited about the move, as well.

"My brother's happy anywhere I can get on the field and contribute to the team," Ben said. "The Lord's blessed us with good blocking bodies, so anything we can do - tight end or fullback - it would be great."

So, what exactly constitutes a "good blocking body?"

"I guess wide shoulders and strong in the weight room," Ben said.

At 6-1 and 245 pounds, he has the requisite wide shoulders and toughness to be an outstanding blocker. He finds blocking from the tight end position a little tougher than blocking from the fullback position, however.

"It is different," he said, "but over the past year I've caught up on it well. It's a harder block but it's even more critical that your steps are perfect."

Lining up next to an offensive tackle, rather than behind the quarterback, is the easiest part of Bartholomew's adjustment to his new outpost. So, what's the hardest part?

"Just getting the little things - the right angles on your steps and the exact depth on your route and things like that - is probably the hardest thing," he said.

The second-hardest thing is learning the new routes he has to run. They're a lot more involved than drifting into the flat as a fullback.

"I've been working on route-running, day in and day out," he said. "I'm just trying to be the best I can."

Bartholomew's transition has been made much easier by the fact he has a tight end's hands. Although he did not record a catch as a sophomore last season, he caught the ball exceptionally well in scrimmages last spring and preseason.

"I have better hands than my brother; I tell him that," Ben said with a laugh. "I'll keep working on it and hope to be there when the quarterback needs me."

Young Bartholomew is learning his craft behind perhaps the SEC's premier tight end. Luke Stocker averaged 13.4 yards per catch on 29 receptions as a junior last fall, with five receiving touchdowns.

"He's been a great tight end, a great person to look up to," Ben said. "We compete with each other day in and day out. He's going to be a great player, and I think that helps us all."

Although he is a long-shot to beat out Stocker, Bartholomew could see considerable playing time this fall. That's because first-year UT head coach Derek Dooley likes to use two-tight end sets.

"That's good to hear," Ben said. "We're just going to be the best we can be, so he can be confident in using two tight ends."

Even though Tennessee's No. 2 tight end projects to play a lot this fall, young Bartholomew isn't ready to concede the No. 1 job just yet.

"I'm competing for the starting job every day," he said, flashing a confident grin.

Obviously, how productive Stocker and Bartholomew are at tight end this fall will depend a lot on how good Tennessee's quarterback play is. Bartholomew is impressed with what he has seen from the QB candidates to date.

"I really like the progress they're making," he said. "They're doing a really good job communicating with us, getting better and working on themselves each day."

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