KNOXVILLE — Mychal Rivera is finding himself in all kinds of new places on the football field this spring.
Sometimes he's split out wide as a receiver.
Other times he's in a three-point stance next to a tackle or a step behind another tight end.
He's even lined up in the backfield at times.
Calling the Tennessee senior a tight end might be misleading.
"That is something new and different," he said. "Moving me around, that's one thing I'm really happy about. That's one thing that I'd love to do -- play fullback, play tight end.
"I love to move around and just be versatile in any way I can."
Through nine spring practices, Rivera has had plenty to love. The Volunteers are using him and the sophomore duo of Cameron Clear and Brendan Downs in different capacities at different points on the field. Ben Bartholomew, another senior who started seven games at fullback last season, also is working in that group.
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said after Wednesday's practice that the goal with moving his tight ends around within the offense is a way to get good players on the field. Tight ends coach Charlie Coiner added it's a means of creating depth and developing players. Like coach Derek Dooley, both assistants like the unit as a whole.
"We are comfortable with that right now," Chaney said. "I think I spoke with you guys the first time we got together [last week], I thought the tight end room was an awesome room for Charlie right now. There's maturity in there. With Bart being able to play in the backfield and on the line [and] all four of those kids being able to play in the backfield and on the line, that just gives you a lot of flexibility.
"They're a fun group to be around. They understand the game, and we're real pleased with where they're at."
Rivera, the veteran of the group, caught 29 passes for 344 yards last season, though the 6-foot-3, 251-pound former Oregon Duck had just 10 receptions in UT's final seven games. The 283-pound Clear caught just one pass, but he started two games, came on late last season and has drawn rave reviews from coaches this spring. Downs, at 6-foot-5, provides a nice target for quarterbacks and has improved his physicality.
"If you've got a bunch of good tight ends, let's get them on the field," Chaney said. "Those are just formations and putting people in different spots. I could do the same formation if we had three good wide receivers, and I'd put those guys out there.
"I don't know if that's anything creative, it's just trying to get good players on the field."
Coiner said he wants his unit to conceptually see and understand "the whole picture" of a play, regardless of where a player might line up. He admitted there have been some growing pains in having to understand everything. That's where Rivera and Bartholomew have been valuable.
Dooley noted again earlier this week how complex the position is in the offense. The tight end can be "anywhere on the field," Coiner said, and the player is involved with nearly every aspects of the offense. It includes everything from run blocking and pass protection to route combinations and reading coverages.
"There are only so many minutes in practice, and you've got to work all those things," said Coiner, a nine-year NFL coaching veteran with Chicago and Buffalo. "Sometimes I have to farm them out. I'll farm them out to [running backs coach Jay] Graham, and he'll work on running-back stuff. I'll farm them out to [offensive line coach Sam] Pittman, and he'll work on the pass protection.
"As a tight ends coach and as a tight end, that's just part of what you do."
It's also a fun part of the gig.
"The hard part is the mental part, knowing what you're going to do," Coiner said. "The fun part is I'm not lining up in the same spot every day doing the same thing over and over again. These guys, they look at the script each day at what's coming at them, and it's a hodgepodge sometimes.
"I think it makes it fun. I think they enjoy and embrace it. Most good tight ends I've been around enjoy the fact that the offense is really dependent on them knowing what to do."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...