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Josh Heupel sounds optimistic about getting Cooper Mays back

Would be a big addition.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Tennessee offense hasn’t looked all that great through two weeks, but it would appear that they’re close to getting a key piece of the puzzle back in the lineup. Senior center Cooper Mays, who has missed the first two games after undergoing a minor procedure during training camp, should be ready to go as Tennessee heads down to Florida this weekend.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel hinted that Mays could have played last week, but the staff opted to hold him out to save him for the SEC opener.

“Yeah, he was with us last week — warmed up with us,” Heupel said of Mays on Monday. “We made a decision pretty early in the week that he probably would not play in that football game and anticipate him having a good week of practice here and being ready.”

Tennessee has played a number of different combinations up front so far, with Ollie Lane and Dayne Davis both getting time at center. The return of Mays will help to smooth everything out, kicking Lane back to his guard spot. Mays is in year three of Heupel’s system, so having him out there will be a massive addition as the Volunteers get into conference play.

“If he’s playing, we have great confidence that he’s going to play at the level that he wants to and we need him to, too,” Heupel said.

Florida head coach Billy Napier expects him back in the lineup on Saturday night.

“The center has been out,” Napier said. “I think they’ll get him back. I think he makes it go, his ability to communicate, really dictate the tempo and pace of the game.”

Tennessee has been fine up front so far, but it’s been the passing attack that has struggled. Joe Milton has been shaky at times, and the receivers have been even worse. Mays’ return should boost the pass protection, along with making sure the Tennessee offensive line is on task pre-snap. His veteran eyes and experience should pay dividends in the run game on Saturday night, which the Volunteers are going to have to lean on heavily.

Tennessee and Florida are set for a 7 p.m. ET kickoff in Gainesville. ESPN will have the call.