KNOXVILLE - It seemed like a nearly perfect combination.

First-year Tennessee football coach Derek Dooley worked with tight ends at LSU and with the Miami Dolphins, and he's a noted fan of the versatility of that position.

Tennessee senior Luke Stocker is considered by many one of college football's best tight ends - or the best, according to

The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Stocker could have left after last season for the NFL but hung around for several reasons, one of them being a chance to be a go-to guy in the Volunteers' passing attack.

Junior college transfer quarterback Matt Simms, who likely will start the Vols' Saturday season opener against UT-Martin, quickly struck up a friendship with Stocker after enrolling in January and has said several times that the tight end would be a major asset for the offense.

It seemed nearly perfect.

But then the Vols started preseason practice, and Stocker's name rarely figured prominently in the team's major scrimmages. He caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the first one before largely disappearing from the statistics in the final two.

"I wouldn't have guessed that," Simms said last week.

Stocker wouldn't have, either.

"It's been a little frustrating," Stocker said.

But it's already ancient history, he and Simms say.

"Just [last] week, I felt like me and Matt have really started getting on the same page and making the plays when the opportunity is there," Stocker said. "He's getting the ball out on time, and I'm making the plays, and we've grown a lot together just here recently."

About them not clicking early in camp, Stocker said: "Sitting back and looking at it, I understand that opportunities were there, and we just missed them. I feel like my role in the offense is going to be there, for sure. It's just that in the scrimmages, it didn't work out.

"We didn't make the most out of opportunities when they were there, but I feel like I've had a good camp and have put myself in position to have a good season."

That would certainly please Dooley.

"There's no question that Luke's one of our most experienced and certainly one of our best players," the coach said. "And there's no question that we're going to ask him to do a lot of things for our team."

Other contacts for Wes Rucker are and