Mays sits first Vols scrimmage; Iamaleava ‘a different player’

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee football players file into Neyland Stadium for Thursday morning's first preseason scrimmage.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee football players file into Neyland Stadium for Thursday morning's first preseason scrimmage.

No news is always good news in college football on the doorstep of a season, because it means that teams are avoiding the injury bug.

That has changed slightly at Tennessee, as the Volunteers scrimmaged Thursday morning inside Neyland Stadium without senior center Cooper Mays. The 6-foot-3, 305-pound Mays has played 1,544 career snaps and allowed just four sacks, and he was voted last month at Southeastern Conference Media Days as a preseason third-team selection.

"Coop had a minor procedure late yesterday," Vols third-year coach Josh Heupel said in a news conference following the scrimmage. "He'll be back, and he'll be healthy as we get close to kickoff. I anticipate it being a couple-week deal. Today we rotated a bunch of guys — Ollie (Lane), Parker Ball, and young guys like Vysen (Lang) and Addison Nichols.

"These guys are all competing, and all these guys have taken some reps even when Cooper is here as we continue to look for that backup center spot."

The Vols will take Friday off and resume morning practices Saturday and Sunday.

Lane is a sixth-year senior from the Knoxville suburb of Corryton who has played in 28 career games with five starts, with all five occurring at left guard during the 2021 season. In 123 snaps last year, the 6-4, 320-pounder did not allow a sack or commit a penalty.

"Ollie is really smart and has played a lot of football," Heupel said. "He has repped at the three interior spots during the time that we've been here, and he's been really good at the communication and the mechanics and us being able to play with tempo the way that we want to when it presents itself.

"It's been easy for him to transition inside."

Ball is a fifth-year senior walk-on, while Nichols is a redshirt freshman and Lang a true freshman.

Heupel also revealed that senior defensive backs Tamarion McDonald and Wesley Walker were held out as a protective measure. Playing some "Star" as a result Thursday was fifth-year senior cornerback Warren Burrell.

"He's extremely bright, and he's been able to handle playing on the edge at corner, where he has a lot of experience," Heupel said. "He has a total understanding of the principles and schemes and responsibilities and where your eyes need to be, and that has allowed him to transition and take some snaps there.

"He's just an intelligent player who's been here a while."

In his opening remarks, Heupel described the scrimmage as a really good day with great energy. He added that the specialists have been performing well and that sixth-year senior quarterback Joe Milton III continues to do well operationally and with his decision-making but needs to improve from Thursday's performance in four-minute situational work.

Thursday, according to Heupel, signified the "halfway point of pure training camp."

Not holding back

Thursday also marked the first August scrimmage for five-star freshman quarterback Nico Iamaleava, who apparently is not being treated with kid gloves.

"You've got to grow. You've got to get pushed," Heupel said. "We install it, and he's running everything. You've heard me say that when they finish spring ball and come back, they should be a different player. Well, he's a different player.

"He's got great command and understanding of what we're doing. He hasn't been perfect, but he has grown."

Heupel said one of Iamaleava's best characteristics is he doesn't make the same mistake twice.

"There was a rep yesterday where he was going through his reading progression," Heupel said. "There was a tight window on the inside, and he throws the ball. While he's standing in the pocket, you can see him visually say, 'Hey, man, I should have gone to the next one outside.'

"He's intentional and has great work habits."

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