From here until the opening night of the season, focus inside of the state of Tennessee will be on this quarterback battle. As Josh Heupel arrives in Knoxville, he’ll usher in a much needed new era of quarterback play at Tennessee. He’s certainly not short on options, either.
As the Volunteers saw the Kaidon Salter era end before it began, Heupel dipped into the transfer portal to add former Michigan starter Joe Milton. The former top recruit arrived directly after spring practice, and now sits in the thick of a competitive quarterback battle. Sophomore Harrison Bailey was the perceived leader coming out of spring, but Brian Maurer also had a strong showing in the Orange and White Game. Former Virginia Tech starter Hendon Hooker is also in the picture, bringing a different style to the table.
Before his media session in Hoover this morning, Heupel discussed the addition of Milton specifically.
“Obviously we added to the room after spring ball with Joe Milton,” Heupel said. “He’s been great inside of our team room, inside of our locker room, has gained a lot of trust from the guys that are around him. But there’s so much growth that can happen for every player, but for quarterbacks, after you finish spring ball, through summer, get a chance to re-digest the playbook. Continue to grow fundamentally and obviously strength and conditioning wise, too. It gives kids an opportunity early in training camp to prove who and where they’re at.”
For Milton, it’s just simply a new starting point. He began a couple of months behind schedule, missing a full month of physical reps. Can he overcome that to win the starting job in the fall? That’s a major question that will be answered over the next several weeks.
Of course, Heupel isn’t giving much away on the quarterback competition, as expected.
“Every position has got to earn it, certainly the quarterback position,” Heupel said. “I think it’s critical that not only the guys on offense, but your entire football team sees somebody earn that opportunity to go out and put the ball in their hands and to lead your football team. Certainly, with our guys, you have to continue to narrow it as you go through training camp. You want to make sure you’re putting ultimately the guy that earns the opportunity in a position to have enough reps to go out and play at the level that you need him to. But the guys have to earn it. And they’ve been earning it since we got here on campus.”
Milton started a handful of games for Michigan in 2020 after winning the job in camp. However, he ended up getting benched midway through the year as the Wolverines struggled offensively.
The 6-5, 247 pound passer threw for 1,077 yards, tossing four touchdowns and four interceptions in 2020. He completed 56.6 percent of his passes, and added over 100 yards rushing.
Milton was the 204th ranked player in the class of 2018, per the 247Sports Composite rankings. Coming out of Orlando, the relationship with Heupel is an obvious dot to connect. He joins Tennessee as a redshirt junior with plenty of time to re-establish himself as a college quarterback, starting in a couple of weeks as fall camp opens.