Luke Stocker is a 6-6, 245-pound sophomore tight end with the quickness and agility to be more than a short-range target. He turned a toss over the middle into a 55-yard gain in the Vols’ second full-scale scrimmage of the spring.
The other offensive honoree is Ahmad Paige, a 6-1, 180-pound redshirt freshman receiver. Paige caught a 38-yard bomb in Scrimmage No. 2.
A track star in high school, Paige has the kind of speed to provide a real home-run dimension for the Vols this fall.
“He can run,” offensive coordinator Dave Clawson said. “It’s one thing to run in track and run straight ahead. It’s another thing to take that speed and use it on a football field. I think he learned to do that a little bit.”
At a mere 175 pounds, Paige’s weight was lacking when he arrived on campus last fall. His effort was lacking a bit, too.
“A lot of times with the young guys it’s just a matter of learning how to play hard for the entire practice,” Clawson said. “He is not there by any means but he’s a lot closer to being there than he was Practice 1.
“He’s a guy that was redshirted and didn’t play at all. Now he’s put himself in a position where he’s going to be competing to get on the field in the fall.”
Will Paige be a factor in September?
“That one’s up to him,” Clawson said. “What kind of shape does he come in? What type of investment does he make in the offseason? Is he gaining weight? Is he getting stronger? Does he get on the JUGS machine and catch a hundred balls a day?
“That ultimately will be up to him because I think if he does those things he really has a chance to impact us.”
Stocker got a crash course in tight end play the past two months because the Vols’ other scholarship tight end, Jeff Cottam, suffered a fractured leg that sidelined him for virtually the entire spring.
“We lost Jeff extremely early in spring, giving Luke Stocker an opportunity to play an awful lot of football,” Clawson noted. “He’s taken every rep with the first offense the entire spring.”
Stocker responded to the increased workload with increased levels of effort and production. That’s why he shares the Most Improved award.
“With Jeff going down, Luke’s challenge this spring was to be an every-down player, not a spot player,” Clawson noted. “In scrimmages he’s gotten 50 plays, and I think he’s had a real good spring.”
Historically, Tennessee tight ends have been blockers who rarely got involved in the passing game. Stocker has a chance to do both.
“I think Luke has an opportunity to be a really dynamic tight end for us,” Clawson said. “He’s a guy that’s developing as a blocker but is also a good space player. He has the ability to win matchups against safeties and against linebackers.”
Like Paige, Stocker mainly needs to maintain a high level of effort and production on a consistent basis.
“I think Luke has shown the ability to do it,” Clawson said. “It’s just a matter of doing it every down for 40, 50, 60 plays a game … whatever we need from that position.”
Although Paige and Stocker have made dramatic progress this spring, Clawson says that progress must continue in the fall.
“The Most Improved award doesn’t mean they’ve arrived,” the coach said. “It just means they’re better.”