Tennessee football finished up its first week of fall camp on Saturday. It was a hot set of four practices that got the Vols off and running.
It also was the awkward period when the team was not yet in full pads, making hitting and playing football difficult. Regardless, senior center Cooper Mays felt the first week was a great step for the offensive line.
The energy at practice has been at a high level everyday, Mays said.
“I think it’s very hard, especially at the beginning, getting towards the middle part of camp, trying to stay focused and stack days and come out with good energy every day,” Mays said on the Vol Report. “A lot of people kind of taper off after the first few days. It’s easy to go out there and be energetic the first day. But when you get days and days down the line, that’s when it becomes a battle. And I think we’ve done a really good job of that.”
Mays is entering his fourth fall camp with the Vols. While the line showcases established guys like Mays and Javontez Spraggins, they’re also several newcomers on the line. Freshman Vysen Lang, Shamurad Umarov and Ayden Bussell join the mix as well as several transfers.
The depth allows for a lot of competition to take place in the trenches, expediting development.
“I think the route of getting everybody better is having competition,” Mays said. “So I think if you’ve got good competition going on around you, it’s going to bring the best out of you. I think it’s pivotal.”
One of the transfers who has been running with the first team in practice is John Campbell. The offensive lineman from Miami has mainly been at the tackle spot for the Vols.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pound lineman could become a staple on the line in 2023.
“I think he’s a guy that’s got a lot of physical attributes that allow him to play as good as he does,” Mays said. “He’s big and strong and he’s very athletic and fluid with his movements, so that helps him a lot. And I think he does a really good job in pass pro and that’ll always give you a good chance at left tackle.”
The unspoken hero of the 2022 season was the consistency up front for Tennessee. Darnell Wright, a top 10 NFL draft pick, along with Jerome Carvin exhausting his eligibility. Both Carvin and Wright were massive for the Vols. For example, Wright was not responsible for giving up a sack all season.
The success of the offensive line is often overlooked. Mays hasn’t been in the preseason, landing himself on the Rimington Trophy Watch List.
“I think I think it’s definitely not a bad thing doing that,” Mays said. “But, we don’t get a lot of recognition. So it’s good to be recognized.”
A part of the non-recognition also comes with how people grade out offensive linemen. People who know the Vols’ goal is on the line, or maybe what Mays was focusing on that day, will grade him out accordingly.
The annoyance, though, comes when people who don’t understand what Mays is doing, try to give him a grade. It often times is inaccurate and can hinder Mays’ public profile to scouts.
“There’s somebody that doesn’t know anything about y’all’s offense that goes and grades it and grades you out of like 60,” Mays said. “So really your coach who actually knows about what you’re doing he’ll grade you out and say you had a 90% this game and then you’ll look at some other grade and it’ll be
like, ‘Oh, you were a 62%.’ But the person that graded it was working at a desk in Illinois and has never played football before. So, that’s pretty annoying.”
With his veteran leadership going into to 2023, it’s likely to expect a lot more 90% grades than 62% grades.