Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera has a buddy who's pretty good at the whole "perspective" thing.
"He always tells me you're a deep breath away from being the No. 1 guy no matter what," Rivera said after practice this week. "So I try to prepare like that every week. Just be ready for anything."
Right now, as UT prepares to play Ole Miss on Saturday (TV: WVLT, noon), Rivera is a concussion and a staph infection closer to being the No. 1 tight end.
Though senior tight end Luke Stocker, who again wore a red, non-contact jersey at Thursday's practice because of those injuries and ailments, is expected to be available, Rivera, the excitable junior-college transfer, has received the lion's share of repetitions with the first-team offense.
It's nothing new for Rivera, who has gained experience through actual playing time, as UT's pro-style offense provides plenty of opportunities for the No. 2 tight end.
"I haven't seen much difference in Mike," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "Mike goes out and performs every day at a high level and we're comfortable with him."
Rivera looked as comfortable as he's been all season Saturday against Memphis.
Rivera did exactly what a tight end is supposed to do, as he found space in the middle of Memphis' defense and hauled in short, but meaningful passes to finish with a career-best three catches for 29 yards. He caught one pass apiece in the second, third and fourth quarters and two of the three were good for first downs.
"It feels great," Rivera said. "I came a long way since I first got here in the first practice. I'm just getting better every day and that's what I'm trying to do. I know that will come better with the next game."
Rivera proved he could be an every-down tight end at California's College of the Canyons, where he hauled in 35 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns after one redshirt season at Oregon. His ability to find holes in the defense and actually catch the ball - a skill not carried by all starting tight ends in the country - is what he considers the strengths of his game at this point in his career, his sophomore year.
There's plenty of time to improve and plenty of areas to improve upon, said coach Derek Dooley, a former tight ends coach in the NFL for the Miami Dolphins.
"The thing that has held him back is the knowledge of the offense and understanding the concepts," Dooley said. "There's a real difference between memorizing what to do and then really understanding the concept so you can play plays on principle. Minimizing his mental errors has been the biggest challenge.
"But he's got good size, good athleticism, very good hands, he's a tough guy and he works hard. He's got a lot of good qualities to start with."
Rivera wasted little time getting his hands on the ball when he arrived at UT. He was the first Vols player to touch it on a meaningful play, as he returned a UT Martin squib kick 7 yards to open the season.
He considers that his "Welcome to the SEC" moment.
"I knew stuff was on," he said.
It could very well be "on" Saturday if Stocker's injuries prove to be too much. After a bit of prodding, Rivera admitted with a laugh that it's made this week of preparation a little different than others, but "I'm giving the same amount of effort I do every week, busting my butt."
"I know that no matter where you go in the country, you're going to have to wait your turn," Rivera said. "I learned that a long time ago, and everybody has to wait their turn. For some very few guys, it falls their way. But what better guy to wait my turn behind than Luke? He's a kind-hearted, great guy and he helps me out wherever he can.
"I'm just trying to be where he is."