Staff Photo by Patrick Smith Tennessee junior tight end Luke Stocker runs into the end zone to score against Western Kentucky during the second quarter of Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers won their first game under coach Lane Kiffin 63-7.
KNOXVILLE -- The tight end position is tough enough to master on its own, but the Unversity of Tennessee's Luke Stocker has been asked to do even more this season.
Lining up alongside five new offensive linemen, the experienced Stocker has been asked to help the Volunteers line up before most snaps.
That was rarely needed last season, when the Vols lined up an experienced front five that almost always included no fewer than four seniors.
Stocker said life with the new-look offensive front has been every bit the adjustment he expected. Long gone are the days of grizzled veterans Chris Scott, Jacques McClendon, Vladimir Richard and Cory and Cody Sullins.
"The Sullins were really good about that stuff," Stocker said of presnap reads. "They're both really smart, so there wasn't much going down the line that wasn't supposed to happen.
"Of course, we also had a senior quarterback (Jonathan Crompton) last year, and by the end of the year he was calling all the plays right, too."
By the way, Crompton's also gone.
Stocker and fullback Kevin Cooper of Chattanooga are the only proven players in UT's new-look backfield.
"I feel like they count on me to make sure everything's going right -- that all the calls are right and what not," said Stocker, a talented, 6-foot-6 target who flirted with an early departure to the NFL before he opted for one more year at UT.
"At least when it comes down to the end/tackle/guard call, and who we're supposed to block, they count on me a little bit to get that call right," Stocker added. "I do feel like I'm the guy out there that if something doesn't sound right, I'm the one that's got to change it before the play."
Stocker has at least some experience in that area.
"There were times last year where the whole offensive line depended on me," he said. "At Florida, I had to see the safety rotations, the corner blitzes and all that and make calls for the whole line. I've been in that situation before, so it's not new waters for me."
"It was hard at first. But all of a sudden it just clicks, and you're good with it."
Young left tackle Dallas Thomas -- who was praised Tuesday by first-year coach Derek Dooley as a bright spot this spring -- said Stocker has been a blessing to his bigger but less-experienced teammates.
"Luke's kind of like having another O-lineman out there," Thomas said. "He's seen it all, you could say, and he's proven what he can do on this level. He's a guy no one minds listening to."
With that said, Stocker and his coaches would like to see the young offensive line take charge of its presnap responsibilities, which would free up arguably UT's top target to do what he does best -- excel in the passing game.
"I think we might throw old Luke a ball or two," offensive coordinator and former tight ends coach Jim Chaney joked. "I think we might have something there. What do you think?"
Stocker has remained steadfastly optimistic about the line's ability to learn on the job.
"We're going to have some growing pains, but overall, they're making progress and going in the right direction, which is key," he said. "These guys have talent, and they work hard. Everybody's got to start somewhere. You can't really prove anything until you get a chance."
Thomas's performance at left tackle has been a pleasantly unexpected development.
"I tell you, the guy who has been the most consistent and really has a chance to be a good player is Dallas Thomas," Dooley said. "Of all the guys, he seems the most comfortable. He's playing with the best technique, consistently. He's playing the most aggressively.
"As long as he continues on this path, he can be a good player for us."
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