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Tennessee Football: Serious questions facing the Vols without WR Bru McCoy

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Bru McCoy isn’t your average transfer student-athlete. Far from it.

There were plenty of reasons to question what kind of character the fallen Tennessee receiver may have had after his recent past. McCoy enrolled at Southern California, transferred to Texas, transferred back to USC then finally transferred to Tennessee in 2022. Good thing he did.

McCoy, who has been ruled out for the season with a right ankle injury that required surgery on Sunday, turned out to be the exact opposite of what you might think of a multi-transfer player. By all accounts, he was an ideal teammate and one of the harder workers on Tennessee’s football team. He became beloved and respected in just a few months before last season. While transfer students can often have incoming issues, McCoy seemingly had none. Therefore, there was not nearly as much concern as one might have thought when former Vol receiver Cedric Tillman, who was slotted as the Vols’ No. 1 receiver entering the 2022 season, went down with an ankle injury in September. Tennessee’s teammates knew McCoy was the answer that would keep defenses honest and allow other players, like former Vol receiver Jalin Hyatt, to rack up unbelievable plays. McCoy helped make much of that happen because he’s a tough, physical receiver with enough speed to scare defenses. Keep in mind thatMcCoy’s eligibility was in question shortly before thw 2022 season. Still, he had a huge impact on the Vols’ historic 11-3 run.

The Vols find themselves in a similar situation this season. McCoy is out and Tennessee needs a receiver to fill the void to, again, keep defenses honest and allow players like Squirrel White and Ramel Keyton to make the plays they prepared for all offseason. White is more of a home-run threat with some shiftiness. Keyton is more of a dependable receiver than he is an explosive threat. So where can the Vols get a replacement for McCoy, who can force coverages to shift to his side and open up things on the other side of the field? Well, so far, that’s yet to be determined.

Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton Jr. was expected to compete with White for playing time at the slot position. However, Thornton has been inconsistent and was out last week against South Carolina, reportedly due to injury.

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“Anticipate him to be full steam when we get to (Texas) A&M,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said, referring to the Aggies-Vols game on Oct. 14. “The young guys that play or have played have to continue to grow and play at a really high level. I like a lot of what they did the other night when they got their opportunity (against the Gamecocks). Really the last couple of weeks they played really good football.” 

That sounds like Heupel isn’t ready to move Thornton to wideout from slot receiver just because the 6-foot-5, 214-pound athlete looks the part. As for the young guys, Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod look like the most likely players to see a vast increase in playing time. Both are redshirt freshmen.

“I don’t know how the rotation will exactly play out as we get to A&M, but we have the ability and the flexibility to move guys into different spots,” Heupel said. All of those guys have trained at multiple spots.” 

The rotation may change. Much of that depends on Thornton and what the Vols decide to do with a bye week on their side.

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