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Tennessee Football: Will the Vols finally get the real McCoy in 2023?

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I understand all the optimism about Tennessee’s offense despite a change at quarterback. Really, I do. However, there must be one thing to develop this offseason in order for the Vols to even come close to matching their breakout season in 2022. Who are the Vols going to throw to?

Now, I know this seems like an all-too-easy question. However, maybe we’ve made it too easy. The slot receiver position is always great, right? It was last year and the year before. Just keep trucking. Highly touted transfer Dont’e Thornton or super sophomore Squirrel White will keep that tradition of stardom rolling, correct?

Then, there’s Ramel Keyton. Heading into his senior season, Keyton may not be a bonafide superstar, but he’s consistent and can turn in a big play as evident by that unforgettable diving catch last season. So everything’s copasetic, right?

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Well, let’s look at it from the other perspective. The Vols lost the Fred Biletnikoff winner which is given to the top receiver in the country. Perhaps you’ve heard of Jalin Hyatt, who replaced Velus Jones, who has gone onto a successful NFL career.

The Vols also lost Cedric Tillman. Yes, his season was maligned by injury but he was supposed to be the star last season. Now, he’s gone. Who will be the star that the Vols can rely on?

WHO is the next STAR for the Vols? Vols C Cooper Mays shares his thoughts

It certainly could be White, Thornton or Keyton, but wouldn’t it be nice if the Vols’ most physically gifted receiver played like that. He didn’t last year, but that wasn’t his fault. Bru McCoy’s offseason and preseason was a stumbling mess, partly due to the NCAA or Southern California, as he was not deemed eligible until August, which was midway through preseason camp. Now, he’s suddenly expected to be the go-to player and a leader. That’s a fast change considering some Trojan fans viewed him as a malcontent last season.

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“Very naturally,” McCoy said on his evolution into a leader in the Vols’ receiver room. “By nature, I’m the type of person who likes to take care of people and look out. (This spring) was a great opportunity to keep my mind sharp by being able to teach them and help them work on the little things and details in the offense, but also it’s fun to watch people grow, develop and see them improve. It’s also all mental reps for me.” 

That, however, doesn’t mean that McCoy is just chilling on the sidelines during spring camp. McCoy still has work to do in order to be considered an elite SEC receiver.

“Understanding defenses–especially in the SEC,” McCoy said when asked what he needed to improve on, “Because you get a lot of different disguises and rotations. Just being able to recognize things and with the offense we run, understanding the way the secondary is working helps you make better and smarter decisions within our offense. That’s something I’ve focused on.” 

McCoy wasn’t willing to say that he has a drastic difference between his understanding of the Vols’ offense last season and this season. However, it’s close.

“I don’t want to say night-and-day, but similar to that,” McCoy said. “A lot better understanding of the offense, a lot more comfortable, and I have a better understanding of the broader goal of what we’re trying to do and why we do things a certain way. 

“Coming from a different offense, it was very unorthodox and it broke a lot of rules that I had kind of been beaten over the head with for a while. Now I’m more comfortable knowing that we’re going to do everything a certain way. There’s leniency to certain things and there’s rules. We have a goal in mind and a why.”

The goal for McCoy this season is pretty clear. Be one of the most productive receivers in the SEC, help an offense survive a ton of lost production, oh, and be a leader as well. No problem.

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