Wednesday, March 29, 2023
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Tennessee Football: Cooper Mays Ready For Joe Milton III

When Hendon Hooker suffered his leg injury at the South Carolina Gamecocks, Tennessee football center Cooper Mays barely worried about the ball. Instead, he turned towards the signal-caller he had spent all year protecting.

Mays has talked all year about how Hooker’s leadership always made him want to go all out in protection. Now, Hooker is done for the year.

However, with injuries in the sport always comes opportunity, and Joe Milton III is coming back in after starting at the beginning of the 2021 Tennessee football season. Mays said Milton is a much different player now.

“I think he’s grown a lot from year one to year or two and just matured a lot, and I think it kind of shows in the way he’s playing,” he said of Milton. “He looks a lot more settled down.”

Last year, Milton got hurt in the second game of the year against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Hooker came in and never lost the starting job.

Before losing his job and even after coming in when Hooker got hurt at times, Milton drew concerns from fans. His accuracy and decision-making were among those issues.

Milton often overthrew easy touchdown passes, and he ran out of bounds with no time on the clock against the Ole Miss Rebels. Still, his decision to stay and get better after losing his job has resonated with the team and Mays.

“You can either crawl into a hole and get upset about it, or you can you can rise up and just figure out what you can do to be the best you possible, and I think Joe kind of took it upon himself, maybe everyday really, just to be better,” he said. “I’m sure there were hard days in there, but overall, Joe has improved a ton.”

It’s worth noting that Milton hasn’t yet thrown an interception with the Vols. Also, he’s got a cannon for an arm and is a threat running with the ball given his size.

There have been multiple highlight plays on deep passes he has completed in mop-up duty this year. Mays said Milton can throw the ball over 80 yards and that he would put $1,000 on it.

“He’s thrown a couple of balls over probably 65 yards this year, and he hasn’t crow hopped into it,” he said. “I saw him throw one off his back foot like 60 (yards) with pressure in his face.”

Against South Carolina, Milton twice got Tennessee football down to the red zone. On one of those trips, he threw a touchdown pass to Cedric Tillman.

For the game, Milton was 4-of-8 for 108 yards and that score, and he also ran it two times for 17 yards. Mays touted the situation he was thrown into.

“It’s easy to come in when you have the lead and a firm lead like we usually have when he comes in, but he came in in a bad spot, and I think he did really well, put together quite a few good drives,” he said.

Now the offense has to adjust to playing with Milton full-time. Because of his starting experience, many players, are already familiar with his style.

Included among those players is Mays. He said for Tennessee football to have success with Milton, the whole offense has to lift him up.

“The biggest thing is we’ve got to protect him, so that starts with us up front, the starting five O line, and then your tight ends, your running backs, wide receivers get open quick,” he said. “That’ll alleviate a lot of stress on him getting hit.”

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