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Tennessee Football: Is Vols C Cooper Mays’ return in doubt?

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It wasn’t the first question, but it may have been the most important.

As one would expect, Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was asked about Cooper Mays following the Vols’ scrimmage on Wednesday. The senior center has been out of action since the beginning of last week with an undisclosed injury, which led to a medical procedure. At the time, Heupel said Mays would be back in a “couple of weeks.” Heupel seemed less sure on Wednesday that Mays would be back before the Vols begin game-week preparation for the Virginia game, which is scheduled for April 2.

“We believe we’ll have an opportunity to get him back,” Heupel said. “Everything has gone well since he missed training camp and had the issue that he had. But at the same time, and it’s true for every position, but in particular the offensive line, you better have contingency plans and you don’t know when that’s gonna happen…You guys (media members) have seen that since we’ve been here.

“Every week you’ve got to understand where you’re at going into the game, how you want to manage and play those guys if you’re healthy, but if something happens to one of those five guys, somebody gets nicked up, who’s the next in? How are you shuffling…So those are things that you work through every training camp and throughout the course of the season.”

That didn’t sound optimistic. There could certainly be a case made that it would be prudent to hold Mays out until the Vols third game, which is at Florida, and not play him against the Cavaliers and Austin-Peay, which Tennessee will play in its first two games.

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There doesn’t seem to be a clearcut leader to replace Mays, although Ollie Lane has received most of the first-team repetitions. Senior Parker Ball and freshmen Vysen Lang and Addison Nichols are also in the running to replace Mays for however long he is out of action.

“We’ve had multiple guys going at center,” Mays said. “All of those guys handled it, as far as the communication once they got the play call, in a really positive way. 

“I thought our protection with the one-group (first-team), in particular, has been pretty sound, for the most part. Those guys have got to continue to grow. We’ll find out as we continue to finish up training camp where we’re at, who will run out there with the first group the first game.”

If Lane has to play center, the Vols would need someone to play left guard. That would likely be Texas transfer Andre Karic. Nichols and senior Jackson Lampley could also play left guard.

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