We know how the Bucs felt about tight end Luke Stocker upon his arrival. Based on the team's decision to trade up 12 spots in the 2011 draft to select Stocker early in the fourth round, we can presume the former Tennessee Volunteer was quite coveted by Tampa Bay.
But both fans and the Bucs remain unsure about what, exactly, the team has in Stocker. Is he the potential asset in the passing game we think he could be? Is he truly the willing and physical blocker that he seems to be?
Because of Stocker's misfortune with injuries last season, we don't really know those answers. He missed all of training camp and the preseason with a hip injury. When he finally returned, Stocker later suffered a knee injury, the severity of which was downplayed by the team. While he played through the pain, at times, he seemed limited.
It was not something you would have predicted from a player who started 38 straight games at Tennessee.
Now that Stocker seems to have recovered, the Bucs' new coaching staff hopes the real Stocker finally will be revealed. They don't know what they'll find, but they have high hopes.
But make no mistake – Stocker must prove himself.
"His role will be defined when training camp starts, but I think with Luke right now, the focus is just to get better and learn the offense and define his role," tight ends coach Brian Angelichio said. "Your role can always change for better or worse. He's in the process now of improving on the fundamentals and techniques and doing what it takes to become a complete tight end in this league."
The presence of veteran Dallas Clark – assuming he avoid his rash of injuries of the past two seasons – means Stocker doesn't yet have to play a major role as a receiver. That probably will come later. For now, what the Bucs are looking for is consistent blocking from their tight end position.
This was never a strength of the now-departed Kellen Winslow, and it's not what Clark is known for, either.
When Stocker was injured last season, the Bucs practically had a weekly parade of free-agent tight ends at One Buc Place participating in tryouts. Those yielded very little (remember how they had to settle for tackle Demar Dotson as a fallback option at blocking tight end?).
So, Stocker has to be that guy. It's a critical role for an offense that's supposed to run the ball early and often, especially when offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan calls for perimeter runs -- the tight end helps set the edge at the end of the offensive line.
Can Stocker rise to the occasion?
"Certainly that's a point we hope he can get to, to hold that point of attack," Angelichio said. "That's a tough thing to do in this league. There aren't a lot of guys in this league at the tight end position who can consistently hold those blocks. Regardless of whether we're throwing the ball or running the ball, you have to be able to block."
If the Bucs were right about Stocker in the 2011 draft, and seeing how he's finally healthy, you have to like his chances for success.
Posted by Stephen Holder at 11:28:38 am on June 22, 2012