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Tennessee Football expects Cooper Mays to play at Florida: That’s a mistake

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It’s a relief to most Tennessee Football fans. Vols head coach Josh Heupel said Thursday that he anticipates center Cooper Mays to return to action Saturday when UT heads to Gainesville, Fla., to face the Florida Gators.

Mays, an All-SEC offensive lineman, has been out since the start of the season due to injury. He will be traveling with the team to The Swamp. Heupel touted the value his veteran presence provides.

“He’s smart, competitive, communicates at a really high level,” said Heupel. “His experience is beneficial for us.”

That all may be true, but this is a mistake if it happens.

Mays, when fully healthy, does give Tennessee Football the best chance to win. However, Ollie Lane has had no issues starting at center for the Vols through two games. We know he and Joe Milton III will be fine.

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When Mays trots out there, he likely still won’t be at 100 percent, and he will also have to fight off the rust of not playing. Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at night is no place to deal with those issues. To be fair, Heupel addressed those concerns.

“Conditioning is one thing, but even before he was back on the grass with us, there was a lot of things he was doing with our strength staff,” he said. “The flow of the game will dictate a little bit how he’s feeling out there.”

Still, given what Lane has shown, it’s better for the Vols if Mays comes back only when he’s 100 percent. There’s a risk of him getting hurt again should he be out there, which would derail the year even further.

Combine that with the fact that it’s hard to see a rusty, banged up Mays outplaying Lane, and in reality, nobody benefits from this. We all saw what happened when Mays played most of the year banged up in 2021.

That season, Hendon Hooker, despite his efficiency, was one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the nation. Then, when Mays played healthy in 2022, that issue all but went away.

The best move for Tennessee Football and Mays is to rest him this week. Then, if he’s back at or close to 100 percent, have him play a few snaps against the UTSA Roadrunners to get back into rhythm.

You could then have him take a few more snaps when the Vols host the South Carolina Gamecocks, a game they should win no matter what regardless of what happened last year. The bye is the next week, so he’ll then be fresh and 100 percent afterward. Pushing him out this week makes little sense.

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