There was no way that Tennessee coach Josh Heupel was going to begin the week with a definitive statement about receiver Cedric Tillman’s availability. That would serve no purpose. Why would he want LSU to know if Tillman is available or not?
Heupel did, however, confirm that Tillman underwent surgery after being injured in the Akron game. The procedure, which is known as a “tightrope” surgery, is designed to quicken recovery time in high ankle sprains. Players have returned from such surgeries in less than a month, but that doesn’t mean Tillman will be available for the LSU game on Saturday, which would mark three weeks since the injury occurred. Not having Tillman against LSU, or any other team, would be a setback. After all, he was named second-team All-SEC for a reason.
“I mean, the simple answer is that you don’t have one of the best receivers in the country,” Tennessee center Cooper Mays said when asked what is challenging about playing without Tillman. “I don’t know what other kind of adjective you could put on it, but you know, let’s just be honest, Cedric is a game changer any way you shape it up and look at it.
“Any time you’ve got a guy that’s 6-foot-4, 220 (pounds) or however big he is, that goes up and runs past DB’s and high points it the way he does, you’re obviously going to miss him…Cedric is one of the best receivers in the country. You can’t really replace him. We’ve got a bunch of guys we can lean on, guys that did a great job coming in, but Cedric is as good and renowned as he is around the SEC and the country for a reason. He’s that good.”
Tillman is, indeed, that good. However, he also plays a position in which the Vols have depth. Moreover, Tennessee’s offense gets receivers open schematically. That’s why the Vols didn’t seem to skip a beat on Saturday against Florida when Tennessee racked up a very efficient 349 passing yards.
“I think this system is built to where you can kind of plug guys in and truly ‘next man up,’” UT tight end Jacob Warren said. “As long as the guys know all of our concepts and are able to play with tempo and play with speed and make smart decisions…the next guy is able to step up and take that place.
“Obviously losing a guy that has a lot of experience, a lot of big play potential and just a guy that that can go and, you know, is trustworthy, can go do everything for you (hurts). But, again, as long as he’s out, you know, there will be someone in there that that can do the job and that will give their all to try to do it to the best of their ability.”