Tennessee football has been without its starting center Cooper Mays for the first two games of the 2023 season after the senior underwent a “minor procedure” in early August. But it looks like the Vols won’t go much longer without the center piece of their offensive line.
Head coach Josh Heupel provided an abundance of optimism Thursday that Mays will make his season debut in Saturday’s SEC opener at Florida.
“He’ll be going with us (to Gainesville),” Heupel said. “He’s been really good all week long. Anticipate him being ready to play.”
While it sounds like Mays will play at Florida, how much is still up in the air. Tennessee has frequently rotated offensive linemen through its first two games of the season. Returning from a period of absence and playing 70-plus snaps in Tennessee’s uptempo offense is taxing for anyone but particularly the center— who is in charge of keeping the Vols’ offense running at top speed.
Left guard Ollie Lane has started at center the last two games with Dayne Davis also earning snaps. Either player could play center at Florida is it becomes impractical for Mays to play every offensive snap.
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“Conditioning is one thing but even before he was back on the grass with us there was a lot of things he was doing with our strength staff,” Heupel said of Mays. “The flow of the game will dictate a little bit (of how much he plays), how he’s feeling out there. That type of thing.”
Getting Mays back at center is a big win for Tennessee. The Knoxville native started 20 games for Tennessee the last two seasons and is a major key to the Vols’ playing at a fast pace. While Mays’ absence wasn’t the only factor, Tennessee’s offense has failed to reach peak tempo this season.
Mays was a Preseason Third Team All-SEC selection and is the top offensive lineman on a unit breaking in two new starters and another starter at a new position.
“He’s smart, he’s competitive,” Heupel said of Mays. “He communicates at a really high level. His experience is beneficial for us.”
Kickoff from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is at 7 p.m. ET Saturday night. Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and Holly Rowe are on the call for ESPN.