Bucs tight end Luke Stocker understands the disappointment fans have felt during his injury-riddled three-year career in Tampa Bay and admitted he has been frustrated at times himself. Stocker told PewterReport.com that if he can stay healthy he feels he can have an impact on the Bucs offense in 2014.
Everyone it seems has given up on Buccaneers tight end Luke Stocker. By reading Internet message board posts or listening to callers on sports talk radio, it would seem that the release of Stocker is a forgone conclusion. Some might even say the signing of free agent Brandon Myers and the drafting of rookie Austin Seferian-Jenkins is proof the Bucs organization is also close to giving up on Stocker.
But one person who hasn’t given up on Stocker is Stocker himself. The Bucs' 2011 fourth-round draft pick talked about the frustration of his first three years in the NFL.
“Disappointing is an understatement,” Stocker said. “I came in here with really big expectations and it just seems every year I get hurt. The first two years were small things, nagging me and keeping me from really getting all the reps I needed. And then last year another small nagging calf injury cased me to miss the first few weeks and then the first big injury of my career that I had to have surgery on. It has just been a whirlwind of stuff. It has been frustrating and a lot to overcome. But that is what I am trying to do now.”
Stocker was highly regarded by previous general manager Mark Dominik and the scouting staff, so much so they gave up a 2012 fourth-round draft pick to move up in the 2011 draft to take him. Essentially the Buccaneers spent two fourth-round picks to acquire the 6-5, 256 pound University of Tennessee product.
PewterReport.com asked Stocker if the rash of injuries suffered since his rookie season has dampened his enthusiasm or made him appreciate the opportunity to get on the field feeling 100 percent healthy.
“It is a bit of a roller coaster, both kinds of emotions,” Stocker said. “A lot of things run through your head. It is just one of those things where you can’t stay down on. There are times you feel down but you have to get back up. And every time you get back up you have to go a little higher. And that is what I am trying to do now, just elevate my game.
“We have a lot of great tight ends in here now and the competition is great. But I am playing a pretty good level. I have done some good things and I just have to continue to build on those.”
All professional athletes deal with insecurities at times particularly when a younger player is drafted high to play the same position as you do. Stocker admitted he wasn’t immune to the self-questioning after Tampa Bay spent a second-round draft pick on Seferian-Jenkins, although the Bucs' release of Tom Crabtree instead of Stocker should be viewed as a slight vote of confidence from the team.
“All those thoughts go through your head, a million different scenarios in your mind about what could happen or why,” Stocker said. “But at the end of the day you have to try to put yourself in their (the organizations) shoes and think they have to do that to protect themselves. I am a guy who has had some injuries in the past and hasn’t lived up to expectations. And if you have a good player in the draft you can’t pass them up.”
As PewterReport.com has noted this offseason, Stocker appears to be in the best physical shape of his soon-to-be fourth year of his career and has been demolishing the blocking sleds in practice. Of all the tight ends on the roster, Stocker is by far the most physically imposing and said on Tuesday he has been getting stronger each offseason.
“Absolutely (I have gotten stronger) and I feel like I am getting to the point, if I can stay healthy, that I can become a dominant blocker as a tight end, one of the top guys in the league as blocker,” Stocker said. “At this point I am just trying to carve my niche in this team and carve my role in. And whatever that be, that is what I am trying to do.”
Something that is not easy for most young players is grasping a new offense. Stocker is now working on learning the third one as he enters his fourth season in the NFL, which is a contract year, but likes what he sees from Jeff Tedford’s scheme.
“I have been rehearsed in learning offenses,” Stocker said. “Yes, this is my third offense. This offense is going to be really good for everybody in the offense. Everybody will get a lot of touches and the ball will be spread around a lot and you have got to love that.”
Another thing Stocker likes about the new offense, is the player who will be under center, quarterback Josh McCown.
“It is great to be around a guy like that and something I haven’t experienced as a player,” Stocker said. “A real veteran guy who has been around the block and knows the ins and outs of the game and what it takes to win and he is bringing it to this team, and has just been a tremendous leader. It is really fun to be a part of.”
With just 28 career receptions for 257 yards and one touchdown in three seasons, Stocker knows his career needs a jump start. So far his time in the NFL has been filled with more valleys than mountains, but Stocker is keeping his goals this year very simple.
“You know I want to just be the best player I can be,” Stocker said. “I think if I can stay healthy a lot of other things will come and so my focus right now is just taking care of my body and being in the best shape I can be in and prepared for the season.”
Copyright © 2011 Pewter Report, PewterReport.com and Pewter Insider. All rights reserved. PewterReport.com, the official site of Pewter Report, is an independent source of news and commentary and is not affiliated with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or the NFL.