When Steve Pickren joined the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga football program, one of his primary strengths was his ability to "set the edge" as a tight end.
It appears he's brought a little edge, too.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder, who transferred to UTC from the disbanded Alabama-Birmingham program along with offensive lineman Hunter Kennedy, is making the transition back to tight end, where he started his UAB career in 2012. After a redshirt season, he made two starts at the position but then was moved to defensive end and spent time both there and at offensive tackle last season.
"I'm glad to move back," he said after Wednesday's practice. "It feels good to get back and stretch my legs out. Last year I had to wear knee braces because I was on the line, so I really didn't sprint any, so it's been good. I've been able to get a lot of work in, but I still have some work to do."
The biggest adjustment has just been trying to get used to catching the ball. Pickren has struggled in that regard, although in a recent rainy practice he was 4-for-4 in catching passes thrown his way -- each reception drawing cheers from the coaching staff and offensive players.
"He turned into Superman when the rain came," tight ends coach Chris Harr said. "Everybody else was dropping the ball, and he couldn't miss."
Harr went on to say that Pickren has "come along pretty well for us."
"He's a smart kid that has learned the plays fairly quickly," Harr said. "He's a big, physical kid that can drive you in the ground; we haven't had a kid like that playing tight end that can set the edge in a long time.
"As far as the pass game, he's progressed. He doesn't look half bad running routes. When he gets going, he's pretty fast. ... We've really been surprised by that. He can be a vertical threat. It's not what we signed him for -- we signed him to set the edge -- but watching him run and get out, if we can work on the hands a bit, he can be a threat for us."
The off-field adjustment seems to have been a bit tougher. One of the perks of being at UAB was being able to see his brother Joe daily, but he said the UTC program has embraced him.
He also admitted to liking the fact that he's working in a "championship culture."
"Everyone here is grinding for a championship," he said. "UAB didn't have that my first two years. Last year we saw it coming together but we didn't get too far with it, so it's great to see this team so developed and working well together -- like a family already."
Fourth-down conversions ...
The Mocs will hold a free kids' clinic Saturday at 11:45 a.m. and a Southern Conference championship rings ceremony just prior to the Blue-Gold game at 2 p.m. at Finley Stadium. ... Defensive backs Sema'je Kendall (knee) and C.J. Fritz (knee), who have been limited as they work toward a return, started getting a lot more work in the defensive backfield as the spring wore on. ... Receiver Drae Bowles (hand) sat out the last scrimmage and was held out of practice this week. ... Head coach Russ Huesman pointed out defensive linemen Taylor Reynolds, Isaiah Mack and D.J. Prather, defensive back Jeremiah Hay and receivers Bingo Morton and Will Young as particularly having improved through the spring. "Those are all young guys we needed to keep coming along," Huesman said.
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.