Cooper Mays’ absence hasn’t affected Tennessee’s high-tempo offense according to the Vols’ coaches. Well, so far.
Mays, who has been sidelined for two weeks with an undisclosed injury, was formerly one of the key players that kept the Vols moving at high gear. He, along with Tennessee’s quarterback, would make sure the Vols were in the correct position up front before the snap. According to Tennessee offensive coordinator Joey Halzle, Mays missing some preseason practices hasn’t slowed the Vols down at all.
“No issues with that,” Halzle said flatly during Tennessee’s most recent press conference on Thursday. “That’s how we play, and everybody knows how we play. We play one type of way when we take the field. We are ready to roll.”
Senior Ollie Lane, who was playing left guard before Mays went down, has been the player that has primarily filled in for Mays at center. Head coach Josh Heupel said the new unit has played well earlier this week as the Vols were winding down preseason camp. Halzle echoed that sentiment.
“Feel really good about how the offensive line is looking,” he said. “There are guys that can rotate in and play a bunch of spots, and that’s what’s good about the guys we have is that guys can go in and out. We have guys that can play all three positions. It’s really helpful having that kind of utilization with the guys up front. I feel really good about the five guys we are going to roll out there with in a couple of weeks. I feel like we can put a good product on the field with them.”
Aside from the depth that Halzle was referring to on the offensive line, Tennessee may have some surprisingly good blockers up front via their newfound tight end duo: UC-Davis transfer McCallan Castles and freshman Ethan Davis.
“It’s been great watching them from spring to fall camp,” Halzle said. “Cally (Castles) was just learning. He played in a system that was not going fast at all. His whole thing was not playing as fast as he could, because he was just learning what to do. Now that he’s dialed in on everything, that’s a big and strong dude that will come off the ball and hit you. It’s fun to watch him, he’ll strike people like an old-school fullback, but then he can run like a slot and be a matchup issue for safeties.
“Ethan, he lived that role of playing a lot of receiver coming out of high school. He has no fear of getting in there and mixing it up with people. He’ll put his face on people. It’s been good watching him. It’s very similar to Cally where you go from learning what to do: like ‘What’s my step? Am I getting the backside hand through?’ and now all of the sudden a defensive end is running through you, to ‘I know what to do and now I’ll come off and shoot my hands and put my face in there.’ He’s still got some growth to do in that area, but the best thing that you see with a young tight end that hasn’t done it a lot is that he’s not scared.”
There was certainly reason to be scared that the Vols might not be nearly as good without Mays as they were with him. From a press conference podium at least, the Vols don’t seem to be afraid of playing without Mays whatsoever.