Tennessee center Cooper Mays has yet to make his 2023 season debut after undergoing a “minor procedure” early in training camp.
Third-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel provided an optimistic update on Mays’ status in his Monday press conference but didn’t commit to the senior making his season debut against Florida.
“He was with us last week. Warmed up with us (before the Austin Peay game),” Heupel said. “We made a decision pretty early in the week that he probably would not play in that football game and anticipate him having a good week of practice here and being ready.”
While Heupel was optimistic but non committal about his starting center’s status for Saturday’s SEC opener, Florida head coach Billy Napier told the Gainesville media that he expects Mays to play.
“The center has been out. I think they’ll get him back,” Napier said. “I think he makes it go, his ability to communicate, really dictate the tempo and pace of the game.”
The second-year Florida coach hits the nail on the head with Mays’ importance to Tennessee’s offense. The preseason Third Team All-SEC selection is crucial to Tennessee’s offense playing at the tempo Heupel wants it to on top of being a strong all around offensive lineman.
In Mays’ absence, senior guard Ollie Lane has started for Tennessee. Senior offensive tackle Dayne Davis has also filled in and played reps at center. If Mays returns against Florida, Lane will move back to left guard where he’ll split playing time with Texas transfer Andrej Karic.
Kickoff between Tennessee and Florida is at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe are on the call for ESPN.