Tennessee’s bye week comes at a good time.
There’s never a bad time for a bye week — coaches will always take the extra prep time — but this is a useful time for the Vols.
Tennessee has a 4-1 record after its 41-20 win over South Carolina.
That win created some momentum for Tennessee.
But the momentum will only be useful if the Vols carry it over into a challenging October.
Tennessee’s schedule is about to go up a notch.
The Vols’ next three opponents (Texas A&M, Alabama and Kentucky) all look like better teams than anyone Tennessee has faced this season.
So what should the Vols work on during the break to prepare for the rest of the season?
1. Getting healthy
This is automatic during any team’s bye week. But it has to be emphasized for Tennessee.
Joe Milton III needed a break after injuring his knee against UTSA.
He wasn’t able to move as fluidly against South Carolina.
The rest and recovery time should improve his mobility for Texas A&M.
Center Cooper Mays provided a huge boost to the offensive line in his season debut last week.
Extra recovery time from his first game should help Mays.
Other players, like offensive linemen Jeremiah Crawford and Andrej Karic and cornerback Doneiko Slaughter should be closer to 100 percent next week.
Every team deals with bumps and bruises.
The Vols have taken a few extra hits to start their season.
This week should help with that.
2. Work on the passing game
Tennessee’s passing game has not clicked this season.
Last year, Tennessee ranked first in the SEC in passing offense.
Through five weeks, the Vols rank ninth in the league in the same category.
Hendon Hooker led the SEC in yards per attempt last year; Milton is 12th in the SEC in that category this season.
That’s not all on Milton, which is why Tennessee needs to work on the passing game as a team.
And the Vols have to do so without Bru McCoy.
Heupel will challenge his veterans to step up and make plays.
That starts with Ramel Keyton, Jacob Warren and Squirrel White (a vet in the offense at this point).
Tennessee will also work on preparing sophomores Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb.
McCallan Castles is another player who can help the passing game with improved consistency.
Better protection from a healthier offensive line and time to prepare UT’s pass catchers should help Milton and the Vols’ passing game.
3. Prepare Dee Williams for an increased role
Fans will love this idea: return specialist Dee Williams will reportedly get a look on offense.
Will he be ready to play on offense against Texas A&M (or any other game for that matter)?
It’s too early to know.
But Heupel will get a better idea during the off week.
Williams has practiced in the secondary while playing on special teams but hasn’t factored into Tennessee’s defensive rotation.
Could Williams provide a spark to the offense?
The Vols have other big-play options.
White and Dylan Sampson come to mind.
But Williams trotting onto the field with at least one of the players mentioned above could catch an opposing defense off balance.
Williams is a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
This week gives Heupel an opportunity to look at increasing those touches.
4. In-game communication
Tennessee’s coaching staff can use the extra time to see where they’ve been good and not-so-good with communication during games.
That can include the offense, which relies on tempo and fast information.
The Vols have a new offensive coordinator from the past two seasons.
Heupel and OC Joey Halzle can look at how to improve from the first month of the season.
A common question in September: how much do the Vols miss Alex Golesh, who left Tennessee to become South Florida’s head coach?
Tough to say, but he’s a good coach who’s gone.
Things are different now; use this time to see what’s working and what isn’t.
How about special teams?
That unit has made plays but has also had some mistakes.
Some of those errors have come from freshmen on the field.
Learning from mistakes against weaker competition will help prepare for the SEC gauntlet.
5. Reps for the young players
Veterans getting a rest provides more practice opportunities for young players.
That’s true at every position.
Some younger players are needed right now.
Like Nimrod and Webb at receiver and freshmen Arion Carter and Jeremiah Telander at linebackers.
Other young players could be needed later this season — or next year at the latest.
What will happen when many of Tennessee’s offensive linemen leaves after this season?
Young lineman, like freshmen Vysen Lang and Sham Umarov, will compete for starting positions.
They need the practice time right now.
Cameron Seldon is a talented freshman running back who hasn’t seen much playing time.
But he can see more reps during a bye week as seniors Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright get a break.
And Milton’s knee injury?
That’s a reminder that Nico Iamaleava needs more practice time in case he’s needed before the season ends.
Extra time is rare during a football season.
Take advantage when it comes.