When he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 draft, tight end Luke Stocker was immediately penciled in as the Bucs future at the position. Having to battle through a hip injury throughout 2011 and playing behind veteran Dallas Clark in 2012, Stocker has yet to see a legitimate opportunity to start for the Buccaneers – until now.
“They are handing it to me in training camp,” Stocker said after practice Tuesday. “'It's yours and you have to take it and run with it.'”
Stocker, who was activated off the Active/PUP list Monday, saw some extended action during Tuesday's practice but still in non-contact situations. Although he is being held back again, Stocker is not having any further health issues. But this time around, Stocker lets it be known that his current injury is not the same as ones he's dealt with in the past.
“I don't feel like mentally I've had a setback at all,” Said Stocker. “Physically, obviously, I've missed a lot of time in training camp. Everyone needs training camp to get in football shape. I've been doing everything I can and protecting my calf at the same time. It's just a matter of getting back into football shape.
“Last year I don't think I missed much time, maybe a game. Rookie year I missed a lot of time. That was a big setback. That was also a big lower body injury. I was on crutches for some time. This is nothing similar to that. It'll be nothing like that. “
Head coach Greg Schiano doesn't appear to be as enthused as Stocker does when talking about the injury and time missed.
“You look up and you’re into the preseason schedule, so you miss that grind, that chunk of time that I think is really a big part of what he needed,” Schiano said when addressing Stocker's situation. “So I don’t know what that’s going to do to his progress, we’re going to have to see. But it’s certainly not the optimal way to go about it, that’s for sure.”
Tampa Bay has competition in at the tight end position for the former Tennessee Volunteer, which is a group of tight ends that are all hoping for playing time and to make a mark on the team. And Stocker has taken notice to that.
“It is an interesting group. You don't really have anyone that's really seasoned, that has had a lot of success as an individual,” Stocker said about the tight end group. “Tom Crabtree won a Super Bowl but individually everyone is trying to get to the point where they breakthrough in their career. You see a lot of guys just battling out there and I'm really excited to get back out there.
“Across the board, no matter what position you are, he (head coach Greg Schiano) always preaches competition. Obviously in a position like tight end, like we were talking about, we have nobody that's seasoned. I've played in the league three years but I've never been a true starter, (or) every down tight end. So that's what we're all fighting to be. We're all fighting for that breakthrough in our careers.”
But Stocker has an advantage over the rest. This is his second full year under offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan's offense and he thinks he, as well as the rest of the team, are comfortable with the offense.
“It's not even compared to last year and where we were at, where I was at,” Stocker said. “I think I speak for the whole offense and all the guys that are coming back. It's night and day on how comfortable we are now and the understanding of it.”
Stocker will continue to push forward in his recovery in hopes of get some playing time this preseason heading into the regular season. However, for now, the 25-year old tight end will rely on the Buccaneers training staff as that is all he can do right now as well as remain confident.
“I think it will be great to get in there and get a lot of plays in, the more the better to a certain extent,” Stocker said. “But the trainers have a plan for me and I'm just following the plan.
“I think that I have showed promise. I think that I have showed them I can do things. It's a matter of consistently doing good things and consistently doing the things they need me to do.”