🏈 The big question with Tennessee's offense

Do the Vols have their backup plan ready?

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • The latest on Cooper Mays — and the contingency plan without him

  • The Vols’ position group getting ALL KINDS of love from outsides

  • An awesome event involving Tennessee’s basketball teams

  • Don’t forget about Tennessee’s defense…

AT THE CENTER OF UT’S OFFENSE

How different will UT’s O-line look at Florida on Sept. 16?

We are approaching one week until Tennessee will kick off the football season.

Finally!

Week 0 games will take place this weekend to give us a taste of college football.

Then everyone gets going next week.

Tennessee has finished the “camp” portion of fall practice and transitioned into season mode.

The Vols should cruise comfortably into the season.

Tennessee is favored by about 28 points against Virginia. And the projected line for Week 2 against Austin Peay is something like 28 times 2.

Tennessee has had a rather uneventful fall.

Except for one position.

Starting center Cooper Mays’ status remains a question as the season approaches.

Mays suffered an injury early in camp that required surgery on Aug. 9.

At the time, head coach Josh Heupel said that Mays would be back in “a couple weeks.”

More than two weeks have passed, and Mays has not returned.

The two-week timeframe was never realistic. The question now is when will he be able to play in a game?

It appears unlikely that Mays will play against Virginia.

So when might we see Mays?

“Austin Peay would probably be the first time I think it would be an option,” Austin Price of Volquest said on Josh and Swain. “But most likely Gainesville (vs Florida on Sept. 16) is probably the date – if all things go well – you’ll see Cooper Mays.”

Mays spoke publicly for the first time since his injury to Off The Hook Sports and provided a refreshing perspective on dealing with the injury.

It’s a tough time for Mays to be out.

He’s a preseason All-SEC center playing for a team trying to win a title.

This is also a big showcase season in front of NFL teams for the Vols’ senior.

So what will Tennessee do while Mays is out?

Here is the projected starting offensive line as of right now from left to right:

◼️ LT John Campbell Jr.
◼️ LG Andrej Karic
◼️ C Ollie Lane
◼️ RG Javontez Spraggins
◼️ RT JJ Crawford

Dayne Davis, Jackson Lampley, and Addison Nichols are other options if needed.

Tennessee’s offense can be fine without Mays in the short term.

The favorable start to the schedule helps.

But the SEC portion of the schedule will be here soon.

As we’ve discussed before, there might not be a more important player for Tennessee than Mays.

The sooner Mays – at full strength – is able to play, the better Tennessee’s offense will be.

We discussed Tennessee’s O-line, the Vols’ Edge talent on defense, and the commitment of highly-touted defender Jordan Ross with Austin Price. Watch below. ⬇️⬇️

GOING DEEP

Lots of love for this year’s receivers

While Tennessee is facing a question with the offensive line, another position group on offense continues to receive all kinds of hype.

That would be the Vols’ group of wide receivers.

The return of Ramel Keyton, Bru McCoy, and Squirrel White, along with the arrival of Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton, has created a ton of buzz.

Jesse Simonton of On3 predicted this week that Thorton will lead the SEC in touchdown receptions.

ESPN analyst Chris Doering, a former All-American receiver at Florida, said on Josh and Swain this week that he would rank Tennessee’s receivers among the top 2-3 WR units in the SEC.

“I’m excited about what Squirrel White can do in kind of acclimating to that slot position,” Doering said. “And Ramel Keyton was a guy I was a big fan of last year, making the big catch against Florida (and) coming in and making a big catch against Alabama. It always seemed like he was ready and was a go-to guy.”

Then there’s McCoy, who’s already shown his ability to be physical and make big-time catches.

It’s not often a team can lose both a Biletnikoff Award winner (Jalin Hyatt) and former 1,000-yard receiver (Cedric Tillman) to the NFL and potentially improve as a position group.

And this unit still has to prove that it can do everything people are saying.

The potential is obvious, though.

Remember the “Wide Receiver U” talk?

That’s not back yet.

Schools like Alabama, LSU and Ohio State have produced too many big-time wideouts in recent years.

But more production like last year could allow Tennessee to re-enter the conversation.

The whispers have already begun.

Check out our full interview with Chris Doering, who weights in on Joe Milton III, Florida this fall, and the SEC West race. ⬇️⬇️

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 There was an unexpected online controversy this week involving Tennessee AD Danny White and Virginia coach Tony Elliott.

🏈 VFL Josh Dobbs is on the move to Arizona and could push Colt McCoy for the Cardinals’ starting job.

🏈 ESPN has its preseason bowl predictions. Find out where two writers have Tennessee landing.

🏀 VFL Kyle Alexander has made Canada’s FIBA World Cup roster and will play alongside some big NBA names.

🏀 It was bound to happen at some point: This week Tennessee partnered with Food City for naming rights to the rebranded Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.

One Knox SC will return home on Saturday to play Charlotte Independence — one of only three remaining home games this season.

🏌️ We might be in store for an epic finish at the Tour Championship with three players tied for first and Scottie Scheffler one shot back (after having a rough Thursday).

🙏 Best wishes to Phillip Fulmer after his family announced he underwent surgery at UT Medical Center in Knoxville on Thursday.

HOOPS FOR HOPE

One of the best events of the year is coming up this Saturday.

The annual Hoops for Hope event will take place at Farragut High School on Saturday from 11-1.

Both Tennessee’s men’s and women’s basketball teams will be there — as they have every year for more than a decade — as individuals with Down Syndrome age 10 and up will play basketball games on Farragut’s court.

The event is free to attend so you can cheer on everyone participating.

99.1 The Sports Animal will broadcast live from 9-noon.

If you’re in the area and have time to swing by on Saturday, please do.

You’ll love it.

➡️ CLICK HERE to learn more about the Down Syndrome Awareness Group of East Tennessee.

ONE LAST BYTE OUT THE DOOR

The Tennesse portion of today’s newsletter has mostly been about the offense.

Don’t let that fool you: the defensive side of the ball has been emphasized in conversation about the Vols in August.

Two positives:

1️⃣ The linebackers are much improved

Senior transfer Keenan Pili and freshman Arion Carter have changed the conversation around Tennessee’s linebackers.

Remember Heupel describing the roster as being “dramatically different” than the 2021 Vols?

Linebacker might be the best example.

That doesn’t mean Tennessee has the best group of linebackers in the SEC.

But the position group looks like it’s changed from a weakness to a strength.

2️⃣ The interior of the defensive line

Transfer Omarr Norman-Lott will make an impact for Tennessee.

His addition to go with returning players like Bryson Eason and Omari Thomas gives Tennessee strength inside.

Tennessee had the SEC’s second-best rush defense and third-best red-zone defense last fall.

A stronger defensive interior could help the Vols repeat that success this fall.

➡️ The one obvious question: how will the secondary play?

And will Tennessee create consistent pressure on the edge? (OK, that’s two questions.)

We’re getting closer to finding out.

Thank goodness!

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