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Joey Halzle explains where Hendon Hooker has grown so far this offseason

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Jamar Coach/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

One year ago, there were so many unknowns for Josh Heupel and his staff — none bigger than the quarterback question. The Volunteers legitimately had four options that could have become the starter, and each one was starting from ground zero as they learned a new offense.

Fast forward one season, and the quarterback question isn’t even a question. Hendon Hooker wasn’t the staff’s first choice last season, but he ended up leaving no doubt on the field to steal the job. He was the main reason for Tennessee’s surprising seven win season, powering the offense with efficiency through the air and toughness on the ground.

Now a ‘super-senior,’ Hooker is looking to lead Tennessee to the next level and challenge for the SEC East. This year, he gets to go through spring as the unquestioned starter and leader of the offense.

“Last year, you get here, it’s about ‘how do I call the play, where do my eyes go?’” Joey Halzle said on Wednesday of Hooker. “Now he’s grown to the next step of seeing the second and third reads.”

Tennessee turned to Hooker when Joe Milton went down against Pittsburgh, and never looked back. Hooker brought more accuracy to the table, instantly making the offense click.

His season ended up being the most efficient in Tennessee history, shattering completion percentage and quarterback rating records. Hooker threw for 2,945 yards and 31 touchdowns, while only throwing three interceptions.

Now Hooker gets a full offseason as the official starter, with a chance to fine tune his craft in year two of the Heupel offense.

“Being able to play games with the defense of knowing where he wants to go with the ball,” Halzle continued. “Knowing what the defensive structure is, what their rules are, how to manipulate that, how to play the game with the other side of the ball and get the results that he wants. So he’s made a huge jump in the offseason of defensive understanding and it’s really showing on the field right now.”

Hooker was so good in his first year at Tennessee that the NFL took notice. The former Virginia Tech Hokie went from the transfer portal to a potential draft pick, all in the span of about ten months. He ultimately decided to return to Tennessee for another year of seasoning, which makes the Volunteers a dangerous team in 2022.