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Heupel: Quarterback battle is wide open following spring game

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Spring football is over, and it sure does feel like we have a leader in the clubhouse at in the quarterback battle. Harrison Bailey was a cut above the rest on Saturday afternoon in Neyland Stadium, easily bringing the most consistency to the table.

Bailey topped the quarterback stats for the day, going 12-15 with 260 yards through the air and two touchdowns. He was able to capitalize on a couple of blown coverages to inflate those numbers a bit, as the Tennessee defense struggled all day.

Brian Maurer flashed quite a bit, finishing 9-15 for 171 yards and a score. Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker struggled the most of the three, throwing for 111 yards while also tossing a pick six.

“If you break up spring ball into thirds, every five practices, you’ve seen exponential growth from all of them,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “Their command of what we’re doing, their ability to get lined up, get their eyes and feet in the right place, be accurate with the football. I think the last three or four practices have been all of their best practices. I thought they played really efficient today.”

Of course, Heupel declined to make a call on the quarterback battle this early in the year. The team is about to enter summer workouts, before opening fall camp in August. There’s a lot more offseason left, and we’re likely to even see a new face enter the race.

Former Michigan signal-caller Joe Milton is expected to join Tennessee, while freshman quarterback Kaidon Salter is expected to rejoin the team following a suspension this spring.

“It’s wide‐open,” Heupel said. “I’ve been through enough quarterback battles as a player and as a coach to know that there’s so much time as you leave spring ball. We’ve had 15 practices and we’re going to have a lot more than that when we get to fall camp. They get a chance to sit back down, re‐digest everything that’s gone on this spring. They get a chance to go through some installs this summer. They get a chance to coach it, own it a little bit on their own. They get a chance to learn from their mistakes and they have an opportunity to come back as much better and different football players by the time that we get to fall camp.”

Summer classes and individual workouts are slated to begin on June 1st — that’s where this battle will resume, at least behind the scenes. For what it’s worth, (probably not much at all) Brian Maurer did get the first opportunity of the day. Hooker was second, while Bailey was third.

The staff will take plenty of long looks at the film and draw conclusions from there, but it was pretty obviously a good day for Bailey and Maurer. While Hooker struggled out of the gates, it’s worth noting that the quarterbacks couldn’t be touched by the defense. It’s entirely possible that Hooker brings a different style to this offense with his ability to run on designed plays, something that Tennessee wasn’t going to show much of during a spring game due to quarterback contact.

Now we wait for a final and official word on Milton, and the potential fallout that may come from that.