Vols could miss McCoy’s physical play on the perimeter

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee must play the rest of this season without fifth-year senior receiver Bru McCoy, who was not only valuable as a pass catcher but as a perimeter blocker.
Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee must play the rest of this season without fifth-year senior receiver Bru McCoy, who was not only valuable as a pass catcher but as a perimeter blocker.

The Tennessee Volunteers will miss more than the 69 receptions for 884 yards and five touchdowns that fifth-year senior Bru McCoy has amassed since the start of the 2022 season.

They will miss the perimeter blocking provided by Tennessee's most chiseled receiver at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. McCoy was lost for the rest of this season after suffering a fractured and dislocated ankle during the second quarter of last Saturday's 41-20 downing of South Carolina.

"I wouldn't say it's a concern, because we work on fundamentals with all of our guys inside of our program really every single day that we're out on the grass," Tennessee third-year coach Josh Heupel said Wednesday. "That's during the season and in training camp and in spring ball as well, but you are correct, no doubt, that Bru is a special player in his level of being physical whether he is blocking on the perimeter or has the ball in his hands.

"That was special, and it was a big part of what we did offensively. You hate seeing the injury that he sustained, not just because of who he is but how much work he put in to get ready for this season. He was at his best and has been a great leader for this program."

Tennessee's two other primary starting receivers so far this season, fifth-year senior Ramel Keyton and sophomore Squirrel White, are 6-3, 197, and 5-10, 165, respectively. Oregon transfer Dont'e Thornton, who didn't play against the Gamecocks, weighs 214 pounds but is 6-5, thus displaying a slimmer frame.

The same can be said for redshirt freshmen Chas Nimrod and Kaleb Webb, who are similarly built in that 6-3, 197-pound neighborhood.

"I thought Kaleb Webb and Chas Nimrod did some good things the other night," Heupel said. "Dont'e wasn't available last week, but I anticipate him being ready for (next week's game against Texas) A&M. It will be a handful of guys who will have to continue to fill that role."

Tennessee played most of last season with both McCoy and 6-3, 215-pound Cedric Tillman, which gave the Vols two bigger bodies to complement the speedy Jalin Hyatt, who became the program's first recipient of the Biletnikoff Award. Hyatt and Tillman were both third-round selections in April's NFL draft, with Hyatt going to the New York Giants and Tillman to the Cleveland Browns.

"Kaleb, Chas and Ramel are guys who have played a bunch on the outside, and they are big, strong guys," Heupel said. "They're maybe not as long as Ced was, but they're extremely physical out there, too. We've been really efficient in our perimeter tag game and see that as kind of an extension of the run game.

"I like a lot of what those guys have done out there."

Weekend plans

Tennessee's next two opponents meet each other Saturday when Texas A&M hosts Alabama.

"I haven't thought about that to this point at all," Heupel said. "My son (Jace) has a football game early Saturday morning, so I'll get a chance to be a dad and go watch him play. I haven't gotten a chance to really since we started training camp. I got a chance to watch him practice in July, and that was a lot of fun.

"At some point, my daughter (Hannah) and I will sit down and watch a game or two on Saturday afternoon."

When asked how well his daughter can break down a game, Heupel said: "She gives me just as hard of a time as my wife does. She's fully into ball, man."

Odds and ends

Tennessee players are practicing Tuesday through Thursday this week before taking the weekend off, with Heupel stating that a lot of time is being spent on fundamentals. ... Heupel said his assistants will be in 12 different states recruiting from Thursday through Saturday. ... Offensive linemen Andrej Karic and Jeremiah Crawford didn't play last weekend, but Heupel expects them back against the Aggies.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.

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