SEC: Luke Stocker

Day 3 at the Senior Bowl

January, 27, 2011
1/27/11
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The Scouts Inc. team of Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl break down Day 3 of the Senior Bowl practices Insider, and here are some of their thoughts on the SEC players in Mobile:
  • One of McShay’s top performers was Georgia offensive lineman Clint Boling. The thinking going into this week by many was that Boling was probably a guard in the NFL, but McShay now thinks there’s a chance he could play right tackle. Either way, Boling has really helped himself. McShay said, “He has good balance as a blocker, is aggressive and physical, and just knows where he wants to go. He attacks pass-rushers, does a good job with hand placement, and for a guy who's not a great athlete, he's capable of sinking his hips and getting good leverage. The best part of his game is his strength. He's underrated in terms of his overall strength and power at the point of attack. I think out of all the offensive linemen, Boling had the best day today and has the looks of a guy would could be drafted on Day 2.”
  • One of Weidl’s top performers was LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard, who at 6-2 and 250 pounds has been impressive with his power and strength at the point of attack. Weidl said, “You see it when he's rushing off the edge in one-on-ones. He's shocking the blocker and knocking him back. He has shown good recognition skills and awareness dropping in coverage. The added weight might have hurt his range a little bit, but he still shows above-average range so it doesn't hurt him that much. We had concerns about him taking on and getting off blocks and we saw some of that today, but overall it was a good day for Sheppard.”
  • Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy has shown good footwork and might be the most mechanically sound quarterback at the Senior Bowl, according to the Scouts Inc. guys. But arm strength has been a problem, making him someone who could go in the sixth or seventh round or possibly undrafted.
  • Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker, who was singled out earlier in the week for his ability to catch the ball over the middle, has also been the best blocker among the tight ends.
  • Alabama offensive lineman James Carpenter got a shout-out for having a good day against the likes of Clemson’s Jarvis Jenkins and Baylor’s Phil Taylor.
  • Mississippi State linebacker Chris White struggled on Day 3. The Scouts Inc. crew are concerned about his range, and he’s limited in space. He also didn’t get off blocks real well, but they like his fight and effort.
  • Alabama tight end/H-back Preston Dial made a couple of one-handed catches, and the Scouts Inc. crew think he may be a sleeper and a great value pick in the later rounds.

Day 2 at the Senior Bowl

January, 26, 2011
1/26/11
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The Scouts Inc. crew of Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl weigh in on Day 2 of the Senior Bowl practices and how some of the SEC guys fared:
  • Muench’s top performer for the South was Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker, who showed good toughness and was able to wall off blockers. But Muench said catching the ball over the middle was where Stocker made his mark. He made a one-handed catch behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. He took a big hit, but still held on. Muench likes how physical the 6-foot-5 Stocker is, the way he makes plays in traffic and uses his frame to shield linebackers and generally the way he works over the middle. Muench said Stocker caught everything Tuesday.
  • Weidl’s top performer for the South was Georgia offensive tackle Clint Boling. Weidl said Boling projects as a guard, but lined up at tackle and did well during the one-on-one drills. Weidl said Boling moved his feet well, showed some athleticism on a screen play and also demonstrated good inline power and strength as a run-blocker. Weidl thinks Boling helped himself with a good overall showing on Tuesday with the way he held up at tackle.
  • LSU linebacker Kelvin Sheppard has been impressive with his straight-line speed, especially for his size (6-3, 240 pounds), but takes too long to regain his momentum when he has to change directions quickly. He’s quicker than he is fast.
  • Auburn’s Lee Ziemba had some issues lining up inside at guard. Bending at the knees was a problem, which affected his pad level.
  • Arkansas’ D.J. Williams has been impressive with the way he’s caught the ball and has also showcased his athleticism, but the Scouts Inc. crew thinks he’s probably more of a fullback than a tight end in the NFL.
  • Weidl said Alabama offensive tackle James Carpenter showed good feet in pass sets.
  • Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod was beaten by Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller on an outside-in double move during a one-on-one pass-rushing drill.
  • Sherrod’s wingspan was measured at 83 7/8 inches, the longest of any player at the Senior Bowl. His arms were measured at 35 inches, which was also the longest. His hands were 11 inches, which was tied for second.
  • Florida offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert (329 pounds), Arkansas offensive lineman DeMarcus Love (318 pounds) and Ziemba (317 pounds) are among the five heaviest players at the Senior Bowl.

SEC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 3, 2011
1/03/11
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Here’s a tentative list of the SEC players scheduled to play in the 2011 Senior Bowl. Players could be added and/or subtracted to this list as we get closer to the Jan. 29 game in Mobile, Ala.

ALABAMA
ARKANSAS
AUBURN
  • Linebacker Josh Bynes
  • Offensive tackle Lee Ziemba
FLORIDA
  • Safety Ahmad Black
  • Punter Chas Henry
  • Offensive guard Marcus Gilbert
  • Center Mike Pouncey
GEORGIA
  • Offensive tackle Clint Boling
KENTUCKY
LSU
  • Defensive tackle Drake Nevis
  • Linebacker Kelvin Sheppard
MISSISSIPPI STATE
  • Defensive end Pernell McPhee
  • Offensive tackle Derek Sherrod
  • Linebacker K.J. Wright
OLE MISS
  • Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe
TENNESSEE

Stocker, Williams both Mackey semifinalists

November, 15, 2010
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Tennessee's Luke Stocker and Arkansas' D.J. Williams have both been named semifinalists for the 2010 Mackey Award, which goes annually to the top tight end in college football.

Stocker is third on Tennessee's team this season with 28 catches for 306 yards and a touchdown. Williams is second on Arkansas' team with 42 catches for 491 yards and three touchdowns.

Here's the list of the eight semifinalists:

Five SEC players on Mackey watch list

August, 16, 2010
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Five players from the SEC have been named to the preseason watch list for the 2010 John Mackey Award, which goes annually to the top tight end in college football.

Making the list from the SEC were:
While White certainly deserves to be on the list, it's hard to believe that his teammate, Orson Charles, didn't make it. Here's betting when they start reeling off the top tight ends in the country at the end of this season, Charles will be one of the names at the top of that list.

SEC media days lineup: Day 3

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The SEC media days wrap up today with Auburn, Tennessee, LSU and Ole Miss taking center stage.

Here's the complete lineup:

From 9:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. ET: Auburn and Tennessee

The players attending for Auburn are offensive tackle Lee Ziemba, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Aairon Savage.

The players attending for Tennessee are tight end Luke Stocker, defensive end Chris Walker and linebacker Nick Reveiz.

From 11:50 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. ET: LSU and Ole Miss

The players attending for LSU are quarterback Jordan Jefferson, linebacker Kelvin Sheppard and cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The players attending for Ole Miss are offensive tackle Bradley Sowell, defensive tackle Jerrell Powe and defensive end Kentrell Lockett.

SEC position rankings: Receivers

July, 22, 2010
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It’s a great year for receivers/tight ends in the SEC.

Six wide receivers and two tight ends made my list of the top 25 players in the league heading into the 2010 season.

Here’s how the receiving corps, including the tight ends, rank in the SEC:

[+] EnlargeGreg Childs
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireGreg Childs caught 48 passes for 897 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
1. Arkansas: The Hogs have five players returning who combined for 22 touchdown catches last season. Junior receiver Greg Childs led the SEC in league games in receiving yards, yards-per-catch and touchdown receptions. D.J. Williams is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the country, and junior receiver Joe Adams has few peers after the catch. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino says sophomore Cobi Hamilton might be the best of the bunch. In short, Ryan Mallett will have his pick of who to throw to this season.

2. Georgia: Junior receiver A.J. Green is one of the most feared offensive threats in the SEC and is considered by many to be the top receiver in the country. If you get the ball in the vicinity, he’s going to catch it. The Bulldogs will have more than just Green, too. Tight end Orson Charles is a mismatch nightmare for defenses, and receivers Tavarres King and Kris Durham will also make their share of plays. The Bulldogs go three-deep at tight end with Aron White and Bruce Figgins backing up Charles.

3. South Carolina: If you have smaller cornerbacks, you want no part of the Gamecocks’ twosome of Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley. Jeffery’s 6-foot-4 and Gurley is 6-5, and they both can go get the football. Jeffery finished his freshman season with six touchdown catches and has NFL written all over him. Sophomore receiver D.L. Moore, another 6-4 guy, was one of the stars of the spring, and the Gamecocks have a couple of options at tight end, although Weslye Saunders may be in hot water with the NCAA. Even so, former fullback Patrick DiMarco ended the spring No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end.

4. Alabama: The best thing about Alabama’s passing attack last season was the way Greg McElroy was able to spread the ball around. And when the Crimson Tide needed a play, it was always somebody different stepping up. Julio Jones is healthy now and should return to his freshman form. He’s one of the league’s most physical receivers and a tough matchup for anybody one-on-one. His running mates at receiver, Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, are also big-play threats in their own right. They combined for five touchdown catches a year ago, and each averaged more than 16 yards per catch.

5. LSU: Even with Brandon LaFell's departure, the Tigers are still brimming with talent at the receiver position. Terrance Toliver returns for his senior season after catching 53 passes for 735 yards a year ago. The 6-5, 206-pound Toliver will have plenty of help, too. Russell Shepard has moved to receiver full time after spending most of his freshman season at quarterback. Shepard is a dynamic athlete who just needs to learn the ins and outs of the position. Also look for receiver Rueben Randle to make a big jump from his freshman season. Randle has the size and speed to be a great one.

6. Auburn: Darvin Adams didn’t get the credit he deserved last season after catching 10 touchdown passes and coming out of nowhere to be the Tigers’ go-to guy in the passing game. He’s not going to surprise anybody this season, not after the way he flourished a year ago in Gus Malzahn’s system. Terrell Zachery also returns after catching five touchdowns and averaging 18.3 yards per catch. Emory Blake and DeAngelo Benton are two more wideouts the Tigers expect big things out of along with tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen. The newcomer to watch is freshman slot Trovon Reed.

7. Florida: When you consider all of the great receivers the Gators have had over the years, it’s a little strange to see them in the middle of the pack. The potential is there for a breakout year, but there’s a lot of questions that still need to be answered. Can Deonte Thompson be more consistent? Is Andre Debose as good as everybody around the program thinks he is, and how do the Gators ever replace Aaron Hernandez’s production at tight end?

8. Tennessee: It’s always nice to have a tight end who can make things happen after the catch, and senior Luke Stocker returns as one of the steadiest playmakers on the Vols’ roster. Senior receivers Gerald Jones and Denarius Moore have also made their share of plays the past few seasons. Moore is the faster of the two, but Jones is crafty in the open field and can turn short tosses into big gains. The Vols also can’t wait to get a look at freshman Da’Rick Rogers in an orange jersey. He’s one of the highest-rated freshman receivers coming into the league.

9. Kentucky: Randall Cobb alone probably merits a higher ranking. He’s that good and one of those guys who’s always ending up in the end zone. Cobb scored 15 touchdown last season. Chris Matthews (6-5, 222 pounds) has great size and can also run. The second season in the program is when junior college transfers typically catch on, and Matthews showed this spring that he might be ready to take some of the pressure off Cobb. The Wildcats still need some of the other younger receivers to make a move this season and build more depth.

10. Ole Miss: The starters are seniors Markeith Summers and Lionel Breaux, and both were regulars in the rotation a year ago. But Summers is the leading returning receiver on the team, and he caught 17 passes, which tells you what a big part of the passing game the Rebels are losing in Shay Hodge. Summers has big-play ability and averaged 23.2 yards per catch last season. The player who could really jump-start the Rebels’ passing game is sophomore Jesse Grandy. He was electric as a return specialist a year ago, but only caught four passes.

11. Mississippi State: Chad Bumphis was one of the most promising freshman receivers in the SEC last season, and junior college newcomer Leon Berry also made an immediate impact in his first season in Starkville. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen will be the first to tell you that the Bulldogs are still a little thin at receiver, especially running the spread. Junior Marcus Green is solid at tight end.

12. Vanderbilt: As much as Larry Smith struggled at quarterback last season, it wasn’t like he had a bevy of big-play targets to throw to. John Cole was the Commodores’ most consistent receiver, but he couldn’t do it alone. This season, they’re hopeful that redshirt freshman Brady Brown can keep coming and that a pair of 6-4 true freshmen, Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, can make immediate impacts. There’s not a player on the team who caught more than one touchdown pass a year ago. Tight ends Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan will also play key roles.

SEC Media Days lineup

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
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Here's the lineup of players attending next week at the SEC Football Media Days in Hoover, Ala. The three-day event will run from July 21-23:

Alabama: RB Mark Ingram / LB Dont’a Hightower / QB Greg McElroy
Arkansas: QB Ryan Mallett / TE D.J. Williams / DE Jake Bequette
Auburn: OT Lee Ziemba / LB Josh Bynes / DB Aairon Savage
Florida: C Mike Pouncey / DE Justin Trattou / SAF Ahmad Black
Georgia: WR A.J. Green / P Drew Butler / FB Shaun Chapas
Kentucky: WR-QB-PR-KOR Randall Cobb / DE DeQuin Evans / TB-KOR Derrick Locke
LSU: QB Jordan Jefferson / LB Kelvin Sheppard / CB Patrick Peterson
Ole Miss: DT Jerrell Powe / DE Kentrell Lockett / OT Bradley Sowell
Mississippi State: DB Charles Mitchell / QB Chris Relf / OL Quentin Saulsberry
South Carolina: FB Patrick DiMarco / LB Shaq Wilson / DE Cliff Matthews
Tennessee: TE Luke Stocker / DE Chris Walker / LB Nick Reveiz
Vanderbilt: LB Chris Marve / RB-RS Warren Norman / LB John Stokes

The SEC's All-Star teams

July, 13, 2010
7/13/10
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As a kid, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game was the only all-star game worth watching.

It’s still that way, especially when you get to watch the Home Run Derby the night earlier with your boys and see their wide-eyed amazement at how far those guys can hit the ball.

So in keeping with the spirit of tonight’s Midsummer Classic between the American and National leagues, I’ve chosen my football all-star teams for the SEC’s Eastern and Western divisions heading into the 2010 season.

What criteria did I use in picking the teams?

In short, if a group of coaches, media members and fans were all in a room, what players would be selected at each of the positions if you were playing a game that weekend against the other division?

I’m sure there won’t be any disagreements with my picks.

EASTERN DIVISION

OFFENSE

    [+] EnlargeBrantley
    Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireJohn Brantley has large shoes to fill in Gainesville.
  • QB: John Brantley, Florida
  • RB: Washaun Ealey, Georgia
  • RB: Jeff Demps, Florida
  • WR: A.J. Green, Georgia
  • WR: Alshon Jeffery, South Carolina
  • TE: Luke Stocker, Tennessee
  • OL: Clint Boling, Georgia
  • OL: Carl Johnson, Florida
  • OL: Cordy Glenn, Georgia
  • OL: Stuart Hines, Kentucky
  • C: Mike Pouncey, Florida
DEFENSE

  • DE: Cliff Matthews, South Carolina
  • DE: DeQuin Evans, Kentucky
  • DT: Omar Hunter, Florida
  • DT: Ladi Ajiboye, South Carolina
  • LB: Justin Houston, Georgia
  • LB: Chris Marve, Vanderbilt
  • LB: Danny Trevathan, Kentucky
  • CB: Janoris Jenkins, Florida
  • CB: Stephon Gilmore, South Carolina
  • S: Ahmad Black, Florida
  • S: Janzen Jackson, Tennessee
SPECIAL TEAMS
WESTERN DIVISION

OFFENSE

    [+] EnlargeJulio Jones
    Tom Hauck/Getty ImagesJulio Jones' protypical height and weight (6-4, 211) create matchup problems for opposing secondaries.
  • QB: Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
  • RB: Mark Ingram, Alabama
  • RB: Trent Richardson, Alabama
  • WR: Julio Jones, Alabama
  • WR: Darvin Adams, Auburn
  • TE: D.J. Williams, Arkansas
  • OL: Derek Sherrod, Mississippi State
  • OL: Lee Ziemba, Auburn
  • OL: Barrett Jones, Alabama
  • OL: DeMarcus Love, Arkansas
  • C: William Vlachos, Alabama
DEFENSE

  • DE: Pernell McPhee, Mississippi State
  • DE: Marcell Dareus, Alabama
  • DT: Jerrell Powe, Ole Miss
  • DT: Drake Nevis, LSU
  • LB: Dont’a Hightower, Alabama
  • LB: Kelvin Sheppard, LSU
  • LB: Josh Bynes, Auburn
  • CB: Patrick Peterson, LSU
  • CB: Neiko Thorpe, Auburn
  • S: Johnny Brown, Ole Miss
  • S: Mark Barron, Alabama
SPECIAL TEAMS

  • K: Josh Jasper, LSU
  • P: Tyler Campbell, Ole Miss
  • KR: Jesse Grandy, Ole Miss
  • PR: Demond Washington, Auburn

A closer look: The SEC's best players

July, 7, 2010
7/07/10
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Now that everybody is in agreement with my list of the top 25 players in the SEC (yeah, right!), let’s take a closer look.

Which position led the way?

That would be wide receiver. Six of the 25 players were receivers or split ends, and that doesn’t include Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams or Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker.

Here’s the breakdown by position:
  • Wide receiver: 6
  • Defensive back: 4
  • Defensive line: 4
  • Linebacker: 3
  • Running back: 3
  • Offensive line: 2
  • Tight end: 2
  • Quarterback: 1

I’m sure you’re wondering what the breakdown is by school, too, so here goes:
  • Alabama: 6
  • Arkansas: 3
  • Georgia: 3
  • South Carolina: 3
  • Florida: 2
  • LSU: 2
  • Auburn: 1
  • Kentucky: 1
  • Mississippi State: 1
  • Ole Miss: 1
  • Tennessee: 1
  • Vanderbilt: 1

Notice that six of the top 16 players were from defending national champion Alabama. Not only that, but all six were underclassmen. And if you want to take it a step further, the five that will be draft eligible next year could all be taken in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft if they decide to turn pro.

Speaking of underclassmen, 13 of the 25 players on our list were juniors, including the top seven. There were eight seniors, four sophomores and no freshmen.

The only non-starter to crack the list was Alabama running back Trent Richardson, who didn’t start a game during his freshman season. Then again, Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus was No. 5 and only started in four games a year ago. Georgia running back Washaun Ealey came in at No. 23 and started in two games.

The only player who was injured for the bulk of last season and made the list was Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. He blew out his knee in the fourth game against Arkansas and was done for the season, but was back on the practice field this spring and went through some contact work.

The largest player on the list was Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerrell Powe at 6-foot-2, 320 pounds. The smallest player was Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins at 5-11, 186 pounds.

Finally, where did all these terrific players come from?

The state producing the most players on our list was Florida with five. Georgia and South Carolina were both close behind with four apiece.

Here’s the state-by-state breakdown, according to where the player went to high school, with the player’s college in parentheses:
  • Florida 5: Patrick Peterson (LSU), Mike Pouncey (Florida), Pernell McPhee (Mississippi State), Trent Richardson (Alabama), Janoris Jenkins (Florida).
  • Georgia 4: Kelvin Sheppard (LSU), Darvin Adams (Auburn), Clint Boling (Georgia), Washaun Ealey (Georgia).
  • South Carolina 4: A.J. Green (Georgia), Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina), Cliff Matthews (South Carolina).
  • Alabama 3: Marcell Dareus (Alabama), Julio Jones (Alabama), Mark Barron (Alabama).
  • Tennessee 3: Dont’a Hightower (Alabama), Randall Cobb (Kentucky), Chris Marve (Vanderbilt).
  • Arkansas 2: D.J. Williams (Arkansas), Greg Childs (Arkansas).
  • Kentucky 1: Luke Stocker (Tennessee).
  • Michigan 1: Mark Ingram (Alabama).
  • Mississippi 1: Jerrell Powe (Ole Miss).
  • Texas 1: Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)

Here’s the complete Top 25 countdown:

No. 1: Mark Ingram, RB, Jr., Alabama

No. 2: A.J. Green, WR, Jr., Georgia

No. 3: Ryan Mallett, QB, Jr., Arkansas

No. 4: Patrick Peterson, CB, Jr., LSU

No. 5: Marcell Dareus, DE, Jr., Alabama

No. 6: Julio Jones, WR, Jr., Alabama

No. 7: Dont'a Hightower, LB, Jr., Alabama

No. 8: Mike Pouncey, C/G, Sr., Florida

No. 9: Pernell McPhee, DE, Sr., Mississippi State

No. 10: Jerrell Powe, NT, Sr., Ole Miss

No. 11: Trent Richardson, RB, So., Alabama

No. 12: Stephon Gilmore, CB, So., South Carolina

No. 13: Kelvin Sheppard, LB, Sr., LSU

No. 14: Randall Cobb, WR/QB, Jr., Kentucky

No. 15: Janoris Jenkins, CB, Jr., Florida

No. 16: Mark Barron, S, Jr., Alabama

No.17: Darvin Adams, WR, Jr., Auburn

No. 18: Alshon Jeffery, WR, So., South Carolina

No. 19: D.J. Williams, TE, Sr., Arkansas

No. 20: Cliff Matthews, DE, Sr., South Carolina

No. 21: Clint Boling, OT, Sr., Georgia

No. 22: Greg Childs, WR, Jr., Arkansas

No. 23: Washaun Ealey, RB, So., Georgia

No. 24: Chris Marve, LB, Jr., Vanderbilt

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee

How can Tennessee beat Oregon?

June, 25, 2010
6/25/10
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This is annoying: The SEC and Pac-10 only play one game in 2010 and, on paper, it doesn't look like much of a game.

Oregon, which figures to be ranked in or near the preseason top 10, visits a Tennessee team on Sept. 11 that is on its third coach in three years and is clearly rebuilding.

(Volunteers fans: Release your Lane Kiffin curses ... now!)

And yet.

While Ducks fans over on the Pac-10 blog seem to believe this is going to be a butt kicking, I'm not so sure. Maybe it's because I was covering Auburn during the Phillip Fulmer glory days and can't imagine the Vols ever being anyone's patsy (in fact, I was covering preps and recruiting for the Mobile Register when a guy from Williamson High School by the name of Tamaurice Martin -- some called him "Tee" -- picked the Volunteers over Auburn).

Or maybe it's because the last time a highly ranked Pac-10 team thought it was going to deliver a whipping in Neyland Stadium, California face planted in 2006.

My hunch is this will be a competitive game. So, with that said, here are three keys for Tennessee to score the upset over the Ducks.
  1. Tauren Poole & Luke Stocker: The Volunteers are completely -- completely as in all five 2009 starters are gone -- rebuilding their offensive line. Oh, and their QB, whoever that ends up being between junior college transfer Matt Simms and true freshman Tyler Bray, will be seeing his first college action the previous weekend vs. UT-Martin. That's not good. But Poole at running back and Stocker at tight end are good. Perhaps even very good. The Ducks' defense is a veteran unit and extremely fast. They also run a lot of stunts, which can confuse a young O-line. But they aren't very big. So keep it simple on offense and get the ball to your money guys. Word on the street is Poole can make plays even when the blocking isn't perfect. And when the Ducks start obsessing about Poole, that would be the perfect time to dump it to the 6-foot-6, 253-pound Stocker and see what he can do in the secondary. A big target like Stocker could help a young QB gain some confidence, at which point he can start looking for his wideouts.
  2. Boise State & Ohio State: QB Jeremiah Masoli running coach Chip Kelly's spread-option offense was often a thing of beauty. But, you may have heard, Masoli won't be a problem in Knoxville. Further, it seems like defenses that have more than just one week to prepare have more success against the Ducks' spread-option -- see a pair of early-season losses to Boise State and the Rose Bowl defeat to Ohio State. The Vols will have the entire summer to familiarize themselves with Oregon's misdirection, as well as to get accustomed to the Ducks' extraordinary pace (their no-huddle is as fast-paced an offense as you will see). Ohio State often won one-on-one matchups up front. The Vols have some solid talent, experience and depth with their front seven, though it won't match the Buckeyes. Boise State often out-flanked the Ducks with an outstanding game plan. Wait a second! Where did that new, hotshot defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox come from? Boise State! Wilcox has faced the Ducks each of the past two seasons. He knows their scheme and their personnel. That's a huge advantage.
  3. Atmosphere: Before Cal's 2006 visit, the Bears downplayed the experience of playing in front of 100,000-plus fans. Southern humidity? Who cares! And then the Bears wilted, mentally and physically. One Cal player told me later that Neyland was such a "freak show" -- his term -- that it was a significant distraction. My guess is Vols fans thought their trip to Berkeley, where student protesters were living in trees, was a bit of a "freak show," too. But the Ducks won't be used to the atmosphere -- both the stadium size as well as the weather (summers in Eugene often demand a sweater at night). Aggravating matters, they will be sending out a mostly green QB to handle the pressure on the road. Senior Nate Costa has started only one game: at UCLA in 2009. Sophomore Darron Thomas came off the bench as a true freshman vs. Boise State in 2008 and led a stunning comeback, but he redshirted last year. In other words, instead of a two-year starter leading the Ducks' complicated offense in a hostile environment, they will be relying on an unproven guy. A couple of early mistakes, and that atmosphere could prove a significant factor.

The SEC's best 25 players: No. 25

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
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We will start our countdown today of the SEC's 25 best players entering the 2010 season.

Don't confuse this with the top 25 NFL prospects in the league, because it's not. Rather, it's based on what the players have accomplished in college football to this point, their potential for the 2010 season and the impact they have on their teams.

Invariably, there will be some players who burst onto the scene that most of us didn’t see coming. Remember that Mark Ingram guy a year ago.

On the flip side, there will be players rated very highly who stumble through disappointing seasons. Go back and check where former Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead was in this same countdown a year ago. Here’s a hint … the top 5.

Anyway, here we go with No. 25, and we’ll count it down daily through the week until we get to No. 1:

No. 25: Luke Stocker, TE, Sr., Tennessee

2009 numbers: Had 29 catches for 389 yards and five touchdowns.

Most recent ranking: Not ranked in the preseason or postseason countdown for 2009.

Making the case for Stocker: The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Stocker has the frame to easily add another 10 to 15 pounds, which would make him even more effective as a blocker. As a pass-catcher, he’s one of the best tight ends in the SEC and potentially in college football. He thought about turning pro last season and probably would have had Jim Chaney not returned as the Vols’ offensive coordinator. Stocker missed Tennessee’s spring game with a sore shoulder, but it’s nothing serious. First-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley wants Stocker to be a focal part of the offense and knows how to utilize athletic tight ends, which means you could see 40-plus catches out of him next season. He has excellent hands, knows how to get open and is equally good after the catch. He also has a knack for making the tough catch in tight spots. Remember his leaping grab against Alabama last season that put the Vols in position to potentially win that game with a field goal? Tennessee’s young quarterbacks will look for him often in 2010. And why not? Stocker is the surest thing the Vols have on offense going into the season.

SEC loaded with top pass-catchers for 2010

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
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My ESPN.com colleague, Adam Rittenberg, had a good piece earlier Wednesday about the Big Ten being stacked at receiver for this coming season.

And he’s right, the talent at that position in the Big Ten speaks for itself.

But you know what? The SEC is even better, especially when you throw in the tight ends.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
AP Photo/John BazemoreA.J. Green caught 53 passes for 808 yards and six TDs last season.
Six of the SEC’s top 10 receivers from a year ago are back, and two of those – Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones – were named first-team preseason All-Americans by Phil Steele.

Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams was named second team and Tennessee tight end Luke Stocker fourth team.

Indeed, the pass-catching positions should be among the strongest in the SEC in 2010.

Here’s a closer look:

Georgia’s A.J. Green: Already being projected as the top receiver selected in the 2011 NFL draft. He's big, fast and has the body control and leaping ability to go up and catch anything.

Alabama’s Julio Jones: Should be completely healthy to start the 2010 season. Jones is one of those guys who never goes down on the first hit and plays the position like a linebacker. A great blocker, too.

Arkansas’ Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Jarius Wright and D.J. Williams: Think Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett is eager for the 2010 season to get here? We didn’t even mention sophomore Cobi Hamilton, and he may potentially be the most explosive of the group. Childs led all SEC receivers in receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch in league games only last season.

Auburn’s Darvin Adams: One of the breakout players in the league a year ago. Adams had three catches in 2008 and 60 last season, including 10 touchdowns. He’s a natural in Gus Malzahn’s offense.

South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffery and Weslye Saunders: Jeffery may have as much upside as any receiver in the league. He just got better and better as his freshman season progressed a year ago. A big, athletic target who can go get the football with the best of them. Saunders is rated as Mel Kiper’s No. 2 tight end in the country.

Kentucky’s Randall Cobb: You won’t find a more versatile football player anywhere in the country. Cobb is still mastering the receiver position, but is one of the best players in the league once he gets the ball in his hands.

LSU’s Terrance Toliver: Kiper recently rated Toliver as the top senior receiver prospect in college football. Toliver had 53 catches last season and will be one of the focal parts of the LSU offense in 2010.

Tennessee’s Luke Stocker and Gerald Jones: Get ready to hear a lot more about Stocker, who’s a terrific run-after-the-catch guy and a tough matchup for anybody at tight end. Jones has battled some injuries, but could be in for his best season if the Vols can find a quarterback.

Here are some other names to watch, in alphabetical order:

Spring superlatives: Tennessee

May, 25, 2010
5/25/10
9:30
AM ET
Where were the Vols the strongest and where were they the weakest coming out of the spring? Today, we’ll take a look.

Strongest position: Receivers/tight ends

Key returnees: Senior receiver Gerald Jones (46 catches, 680 yards, four touchdowns), senior receiver Denarius Moore (40 catches, 540 yards, seven touchdowns), senior tight end Luke Stocker (29 catches, 389 yards, five touchdowns), sophomore receiver Marsalis Teague (13 catches, 147 yards, two touchdowns)

Key departures: Receiver Quintin Hancock (27 catches, 298 yards, two touchdowns), receiver Nu’Keese Richardson (eight catches, 102 yards, one touchdown)

The skinny: Even though the Vols will be starting a quarterback who’s never thrown a pass in an SEC game, they return a collection of pass catchers who’ve played a lot of quality football in this league. Jones and Moore combined for 11 touchdown catches last season. Jones is at his best after the catch, and Moore is the Vols’ best deep threat. Both players have had their issues with injuries, but should be healthy to start next season. Look for the Vols to get more out Teague in 2010, too. He started quickly a year ago, but sort of disappeared. That’s not uncommon for a true freshman. Whoever emerges at quarterback, Matt Simms or Tyler Bray, will want to keep tabs on where Stocker is, especially on key downs. He runs good routes, knows how to get open and is one of the better all-around tight ends in the league. There could be some more help on the way, too, when true freshman Da’Rick Rogers arrives later this summer. He’s a big receiver with speed and great leaping ability and should work his way into the rotation right away.

Weakest position: Offensive line

Key returnees: Senior guard Jarrod Shaw, sophomore tackle Dallas Thomas

Key departures: Tackle Chris Scott, tackle Aaron Douglas, guard Jacques McClendon, guard Cory Sullins, center Cody Sullins

The skinny: There was some promise shown in the spring by several of the Vols’ younger offensive linemen, including true freshman tackle Ja’Wuan James and redshirt freshman guard JerQuari Schofield. Both are penciled in as starters going into the fall. First-year Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is excited about his young talent up front. He just wishes he didn’t have to play so many young guys so soon. James will be the starter at right tackle, while sophomore Dallas Thomas will step in at left tackle. Douglas probably would have shifted over from right tackle to left tackle following a Freshman All-America season a year ago, but left the program in the spring and is transferring to a junior college. Shaw is the only guy up front with any meaningful experience, and all of his starts came at the beginning of last season. Incoming true freshman James Stone will also compete for immediate playing time once he arrives. Down the road, this has a chance to be a very good group. But it’s also a group that will pay the price next season that comes with being so inexperienced in the offensive line in this league.

Vols' seniors select teams for spring game

April, 15, 2010
4/15/10
11:37
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Tennessee's roster has been divided into two teams for Saturday's Orange and White spring game thanks to some intense "War Room" decisions by the Vols' seniors on Wednesday night.

The seniors drafted the two teams for Derek Dooley's first spring game, which kicks off Saturday at 2 p.m. at Neyland Stadium.

"Like the NFL draft, it will be interesting to see if some of the higher picks perform to their value," Dooley said.

At first glance, the White team looks a little stronger, especially on defense with tackles Montori Hughes and Marlon Walls and senior end Chris Walker. True freshman Tyler Bray will quarterback the White team, and he has the top offensive weapon from the spring in his backfield in junior running back Tauren Poole. The Vols' best defensive back, sophomore safety Janzen Jackson, is also a member of the White team.

The Orange team is led by quarterback Matt Simms, the favorite to win the job. Leading receiver Gerald Jones is also on the Orange team along with tight end Luke Stocker and starting offensive linemen Dallas Thomas and JerQuari Schofield.

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