Part of the reason that Tennessee Vols head coach Josh Heupel is so good at his job is because he’s constantly evolving.

Heupel’s up-tempo offense has been described as “gimmicky”, but I think that’s mostly just because it’s a different approach than what long-time football fans are accustomed to seeing.

The former Oklahoma quarterback is always looking for ways to get better. He’s always trying to outsmart opposing defensive coordinators and stay ahead of trends.

One way that Heupel is doing that this offseason is by preparing for a problem that Tennessee will likely face in 2022.

Wide receiver Cedric Tillman was a revelation for the Vols last season. The former three-star recruit came out of nowhere to have one of the best seasons ever by a Tennessee wide receiver.

Tillman caught 64 passes for 1,081 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In the previous three seasons, Tillman had a combined eight receptions for 124 yards.

Tillman’s 1,081 receiving yards are the most by any returning wide receiver in the SEC.

Tennessee Vols
Tennessee Vols wide receiver Cedric Tillman (4) warming up before the start of an NCAA college football game between the Tennessee Volunteers and Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in Knoxville, Tenn. on Saturday, September 18, 2021.
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It goes without saying that opposing defenses will be giving Tillman a lot more attention in 2022.

And that’s what Heupel is preparing for.

“Certainly Ced is going to get a ton of attention,” said Heupel on Thursday at SEC Media Days in Atlanta. “It’s our role as an offensive staff to put him in a position to create isolations, one on one, find a way to get him the football.”

“It’s imperative for us offensively that the other guys step up and play at a championship level, too. Very proud of Jalin Hyatt and the steps he’s made. I think there’s great competition inside of our program at the slot position. On the outside, this training camp there will be great competition as well. We’re going to need somebody to step forward, multiple guys to step forward, at all those positions.”

Heupel knows that Tillman is a great player that’s capable of putting up huge numbers. But he also knows that defenses are going to try to eliminate Tillman’s effectiveness this fall.

That’s why Heupel is going to use that information to get other players — guys like Jalin Hyatt — more involved in the offense. I don’t think Heupel wants Tillman to be a decoy in 2022, but I think he’s certainly going to use that to Tennessee’s advantage.

The old adage “take what the defense gives you” is Heupel’s offense in a nutshell. If opposing defenses are going to attempt to eliminate Tillman, then the Vols will use other players to score points. Tennessee isn’t going to rely solely on Tillman just because of his breakout season last year (it won’t take long for defenses to realize that focusing on Tillman doesn’t make the Vols’ offense any easier to stop).

Heupel is a proactive coach. And that’s why he’s had major success everywhere he’s been.

Featured image via Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports