Young tight ends make progress, but plenty left to do

Dooley focuses on 'hard position'

Brent Brewer looks back at Tuesday's scrimmage and ahead to Saturday's

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Tucked away in a far corner of Haslam Field on Thursday, Tennessee's tight ends were yards away from the passing and catching that was hogging the spotlight of the open viewing period.

The everyday blocking drill wasn't exactly must-see TV, but it had the attention of coach Derek Dooley, who barked instructions at UT's three tight ends as he engrossed himself in the exercise.

It was clear he had the group's full attention.

"Coach Dooley coached tight ends in the NFL," junior starter Mychal Rivera said, referring to Dooley's two years under Nick Saban with the Miami Dolphins. "Anytime he comes over there, your ears perk up a little bit."

Dooley was with the tight ends for an extended period of time Thursday, Rivera said. After a scrimmage in which Rivera nabbed just one pass for 6 yards, freshmen Brendan Downs and Cameron Clear went without a catch and the offense, as a whole, struggled to generate consistent yards on the ground, the unit had plenty of work to do.

"Tight end's a hard position in our offense," Dooley said. "You have to probably understand conceptually the offense better than any player except the quarterback. You've got to understand the run game schematics, you've got to understand the protection schemes like a running back and you've got to understand the routes concepts like a receiver.

"We put a lot on the tight end, and it's hard on them. They're struggling."

On top of that, it's one of the few areas on the team where Dooley, as he noted last week, doesn't feel better about than he did at this point last season.

Departed senior Luke Stocker was the Vols' highest pick in the 2011 NFL Draft for a reason. In his final two years at UT, Stocker was a major weapon in the Vols' passing attack, compiling more than 800 receiving yards and grabbing seven touchdowns.

In his senior season, Stocker was a lot of things that Rivera, Downs and Clear aren't, simply because they don't have the seasoning.

That hasn't influenced Dooley to shy away from criticizing the group.

Asked if Downs and Clear "showed up" after Tuesday's scrimmage, Dooley jokingly confirmed that the players were, in fact, at the scrimmage and said he was "usually screaming at them." Asked about Rivera on Thursday, Dooley said his projected starter had been "a little inconsistent."

"He shows flashes that he can be a really good tight end for us, and then he kind of goes in some funks where he makes some mistakes," Dooley said. "His challenge is to be able to perform at the level he's capable of performing all the time."

Rivera's focus from the spring to the summer didn't change. Route-running and increasing his strength were at the top of his to-do list, as he hoped both would help him build off the 11 catches for 112 yards he compiled as a junior-college transfer sophomore last season.

Right tackle Ju'Wuan James, though, has noticed a more cerebral Rivera when he crouches next to him on the offensive line.

"He's studying a lot more," James said. "He knows a lot of his stuff, the calls. He's helping me out on calls and I help him."

At the beginning of camp, the young UT offensive line infamously set a goal to make running back Tauren Poole the first running back in SEC history to run for 2,000 yards. To even sniff that lofty standard, there will have to be contributions coming from more than just the tackles, guards and center, James said.

Sometimes, as center James Stone said Thursday, the key block that spawns a long touchdown run comes from the tight end. That's why Rivera, even when he and his fellow tight ends are tucked away on another part of the practice field, is considered one of the guys with the tight-knit offensive linemen.

"We try to get Mike in there with us now just so he can know what's up," Stone said. "We've got to bring Mike along with the run blocking because he's used to being a tight end and running routes."

Andrew Gribble may be reached at 865-342-6327. Follow him at http://twitter.com/Andrew_Gribble and http://blogs.knoxnews.

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Comments » 14

UTbassdrummer writes:

Rivera and Clear could be excellent, with a bit of experience. Stay on it, boys.

also.....first?

voloffaith writes:

in response to UTbassdrummer:

Rivera and Clear could be excellent, with a bit of experience. Stay on it, boys.

also.....first?

Down on Downs? Yes I know Clear had *power and Downs was lower. Shore it up fellas the Grizzlies are coming to town with paws out to claw to the end...

richvol writes:

Dooley's frustration with the offense is starting to concern me. Is our defense better than expected or can the offense just not grasp what they need to?

My worry is that coaches tend to over complicate things at times. If that line just focused on hitting the guy across the LOS from them they might just overpower people with their tremendous physicality.

CroKev writes:

in response to richvol:

Dooley's frustration with the offense is starting to concern me. Is our defense better than expected or can the offense just not grasp what they need to?

My worry is that coaches tend to over complicate things at times. If that line just focused on hitting the guy across the LOS from them they might just overpower people with their tremendous physicality.

Other than QB, TE is the most difficult and versatile position on offense in the NFL and UT's offense reflects that. They have to be like decathletes - possessing the right balance of power and speed. They're the heroes who catch passes over the middle where they're going to get popped by LB's and safeties with a head of steam. Anybody remember Mark Bavaro from the Giants?

pingkr62 writes:

in response to richvol:

Dooley's frustration with the offense is starting to concern me. Is our defense better than expected or can the offense just not grasp what they need to?

My worry is that coaches tend to over complicate things at times. If that line just focused on hitting the guy across the LOS from them they might just overpower people with their tremendous physicality.

I understand your concern, but it is a bit early in fall practice. We still have three weeks to prepare, and a couple of winnable games early. I believe we will be fine. G.B.O.!

CroKev writes:

in response to GhostOFLaneKiffinFan:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

What is the URL for USCw fans? I don't really have the time to visit it but maybe somebody else on this forum does.

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to richvol:

Dooley's frustration with the offense is starting to concern me. Is our defense better than expected or can the offense just not grasp what they need to?

My worry is that coaches tend to over complicate things at times. If that line just focused on hitting the guy across the LOS from them they might just overpower people with their tremendous physicality.

Seems that way don't it? If it were only that simple but it's just not. If you try to just fire off towards the guy in front of you, you may be blocking air when you get there. No matter how big and good you are. Not just against the ends but most all these d linemen are good and fast, too.

A lot of teams are just lining up with 3 down linemen now. Say 2 LB's move right up to you, which one should you take? Should you take either? Depends on where the play is designed to go and you gotta know that. As a TE If you shoot out at the d-end you leave a big hole on your side that a blitzing LB (or stunting lineman) will happily fill. In a 4 front if you shoot out at the tackle and he's stunting on a pass you better hope you have a big enough back to pick him up. Even then, who will get the charging DE? And it goes on and on and on....

turner_c writes:

No wonder they are struggling, our projected starter has layed down according to his pic. LOL

Caspian writes:

in response to CrippledCoon:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Aim for the eagle and bag the pheasant, so you don't eat crow. But it starts with aiming for the eagle.

Caspian writes:

in response to richvol:

Dooley's frustration with the offense is starting to concern me. Is our defense better than expected or can the offense just not grasp what they need to?

My worry is that coaches tend to over complicate things at times. If that line just focused on hitting the guy across the LOS from them they might just overpower people with their tremendous physicality.

I like Dooley's expressed frustration with the offense. It would concern me more if he was Mr. Sunshine at this point in the Fall practice. I don't care how well or bad things are going -- neither the players nor the fans nor the media need to be hearing much optimism right now. The players need to stay focused on improvement and maintain a "head down, bum up" mentality. No one was as good as Bear Bryant at bad-mouthing his own players and talking up the opposition. And then, on game day, his team would simply and methodically run over you.

DennisVols writes:

I like hearing Dooley’s concern about this team. We, as fans would love to hear everything positive to ease the nerves following the past 3 years. We long to be considered one of the top teams in the conference again but let’s face the reality here. There were 19 scholarship players lost during the Fulmer to Kiffin to Dooley switch. 70% of the starting lineup this fall will be freshmen and sophomore kids. Nothing is as it should be at UT. The positive is limited to the fact that our sophomore players have game experience that many junior players in the country have, this coaching staff has experience in developing talent and appear to be doing so by not being satisfied with were they are at but rather pushing them to where they need to be .
There will be improvements this year and some possibly better than many will expect. At this point I don’t want to hear rah rah from HCDD. I want the truth. The truth is we are still rebounding and rebuilding. While many of the empty scholarship positions have been filled the experience level is not. The best thing we can hear from HCDD is that he is not happy and that they want more from this year’s team.
Keeping it Real
GoVols!!!

keviningeorgia writes:

in response to DennisVols:

I like hearing Dooley’s concern about this team. We, as fans would love to hear everything positive to ease the nerves following the past 3 years. We long to be considered one of the top teams in the conference again but let’s face the reality here. There were 19 scholarship players lost during the Fulmer to Kiffin to Dooley switch. 70% of the starting lineup this fall will be freshmen and sophomore kids. Nothing is as it should be at UT. The positive is limited to the fact that our sophomore players have game experience that many junior players in the country have, this coaching staff has experience in developing talent and appear to be doing so by not being satisfied with were they are at but rather pushing them to where they need to be .
There will be improvements this year and some possibly better than many will expect. At this point I don’t want to hear rah rah from HCDD. I want the truth. The truth is we are still rebounding and rebuilding. While many of the empty scholarship positions have been filled the experience level is not. The best thing we can hear from HCDD is that he is not happy and that they want more from this year’s team.
Keeping it Real
GoVols!!!

Thumbs up!

HtownVol writes:

I really expected to hear much more from Cam Clear.

He has the size that made Stocker a threat in the passing game and I have heard that he ia a excellent athlete (in high school).

Since he has been practicing with UT I have yet to hear anything posotive from Clear.

With UT having an Offense that on paper looks to be one of the best in the SEC it will be crucial that the TE opens the field in the air and ground.

Tyler Bray is one of the top SEC QBs, the O-Line is light years from the disaster that was 12 months ago, Hunter,D Rogers and Arnett have as much talent as any WR trio in the SEC and behind Poole we have two 4 star RBs. If that is not (on paper) a good Offense I dont know what is. Also, the O-Line is stacked with almost ten 4-star O-Linemen and 3 High School All-Americans.

Could it be the TE position will be a bump in this Offense??The one missing piece?

I am sure that 99% of UT fans expect for UTs Offense to win games and we hope to not need our Defense to win games, only to keep us in games.

GO VOLS

givehim6 writes:

Good to hear UT football news, tired of the Texas A&M and who should be in the east thing. Anyway, Remember when Dooley first came to UT he talked about multiply TE sets? I would like to see a set with Clear blocking and Rivera going into a slant formation. With Clear's size he needs to learn to block at least this year. This wounld be one less thing fof Bray to worry about, his blind side.

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