August 17, 2008

Stocker rising through fall camp

Rather than get frustrated last season behind Chris Brown and Brad Cottam, once he returned from injury, Luke Stocker instead got inquisitive.

Though Stocker appeared in all of Tennessee's 14 games in 2007, and one of his four receptions produced a touchdown, he might have benefited most as an understudy of Cottam, a third-round NFL Draft pick, and Brown, who inked a free agent deal.

"I learned a lot. Both those guys are older, they played a lot here and they had a good knack for the game," said the 6-foot-6, 245-pound sophomore from Berea, Ky. "I watched a lot of film, and they kept giving me pointers and hints."

By spring camp it was evident that Stocker had begun a transformation into a more complete tight end. He shared the Harvey Robinson Award with Ahmad Paige as the offense's most improved player, and Stocker seemed almost instantly develop a rapport with new position coach Jason Michael.

"I've said it since the spring, he's continued to get better every day," Michael said. "He's taken advantage of every opportunity he's gotten. It was unfortunate for us that Jeff (Cottam) was out in the spring, but Luke took advantage of that.

"He had a good scrimmage (Saturday). He had a nice catch in the passing game, but he's really evolved towards being the total package with where he's gotten in terms of the run game. He's getting better each day."

Stocker further is becoming more valuable every day. While Jeff Cottam recovers from a broken bone in his leg suffered in spring camp and an ailing back, Tennessee officials still are awaiting word on the eligibility of Brandon Warren, whose appeal rests with the NCAA. Freshman Aaron Douglas continues to adjust and improve, but Stocker remains the only tight end on the Vols' roster who participated in all of spring camp and each practice of the fall.

And his coaches can tell.

"He's more comfortable with the offense, understands when he gets the football, understands coverages," new offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. "He's a smart football player. Just confident. He's just gotten so many reps. Some guys get reps and don't ever get comfortable with it. He just understands the game."

Stocker understands nothing better than his role with the team. He got just one real opportunity in Saturday night's second major scrimmage of fall camp, but he delivered with a leaping catch in traffic.

"I feel like I've had a pretty good camp so far," Stocker said. "Every time I get a chance, I try to make a play. That's what I'm here for. (When) the ball's in the air, I feel like I've got to go attack and get it done.

"It's just a mindset. I feel like Brad Cottam and Chris Brown both are gone, and it's my time to step up."

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