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Tennessee OC: Moment Won’t Be Too Big For Receivers Replacing Bru McCoy

Photo By Kate Luffman/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee football’s passing offense was already on shaky footing before losing senior receiver Bru McCoy for the season with an ankle injury.

The Vols are now looking to replace one of their most reliable receivers in the middle of the season and according to Tennessee’s coaches they’ll do so by committee.

Slot receiver Dont’e Thornton can move outside and Vol coaches have also mentioned freshman Nathan Leacock as an option. But the brunt of the opportunities fall on sophomores Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod.

Tennessee listed both as co-starters on its week seven depth chart and the upcoming opportunities are the first real ones of their career. Webb enters this weekend’s matchup against Texas A&M with four career catches. Nimrod enters with two catches.

But Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle believes they’re up for the challenge and that the primetime lights won’t be too bright.

“Both of those guys have a good temperament,” Halzle said of Webb and Nimrod Tuesday. “The moment’s not going to be too big for them. They’ve played in big situations so it’s more like addressing them of what their preparation looks like for a guy that’s a full time starter now in Bru’s absence and someone that’s just expected to come in and play 15 to 20% of the snaps.”

Tennessee’s coaches spoke fondly of both Nimrod and Webb all fall camp and while neither have made a big splash on the field they have earned more opportunities in meaningful moments than the Vols’ backup receivers have in recent years.

Webb’s played 83 offensive snaps this season while Nimrod isn’t far behind at 74 offensive snaps. But that’s small potatoes compared to what Tennessee is asking them to do starting Saturday. There’s a big difference in relieving a starter for a few plays and not being a liability than there is in playing consistently and being a threat defenses worry about that.

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Halzle knows that and is helping the duo prepare in the build up to Saturday’s SEC matchup.

“I think it’s just overall what it’s going to take to physically be locked in for 60 minutes of football and not come in and spell the guy and come out when he’s ready to come back in,” Halzle said. “You have to be locked in for every single unscouted look you get. Are they going to man or zone? Are they playing me soft? Filing routes away like last time he jumped this so this is how I’m going to set it up next time and not just saying I’m going to come in and get these couple plays and I’ll be right back out.”

While Halzle and Tennessee’s staff works to get the sophomore duo ready for the Texas A&M game and the rest of the SEC slate, the first-year offensive coordinator knows it’s a delicate matter to prepare his players without putting too much pressure on them.

“As coaches you kind of have to walk the line of yes you talk them through it and what you expect,” Halzle said. “It’s different being a starter and a guy that’s coming in off the bench. But it’s also human nature sometime if they feel you talking too much— ’hey man, no big deal’ — they kind of start to feel that this is a big deal and he’s trying to calm me down.”

How Webb and Nimrod will perform is uncertain. But Tennessee needs one or two to step up and grow in a big way over the next two months. Their offensive coordinator is confident that the moment won’t be too big.

Kickoff at Neyland Stadium is at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday afternoon. Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and Jenny Dell are on the call for CBS.

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