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Orange and White Game: Three things to watch for

Getting set for some football on Saturday.

Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

For the first time since 2021, we’ll get to see a live spring game at Neyland Stadium. Tennessee closed last year’s game due to renovations at Neyland, but they’ll return to live action open to the public for this year’s Orange and White Game.

There’s plenty of intrigue, too. The Volunteers have plenty of new faces in some key places on this 2023 roster, and Saturday will serve as our first live look. Here are a few things I’ll be looking for.

Joe Milton vs. Nico Iamaleava

Josh Heupel is heading into year three in Knoxville, set to flip his offense into the post-Hendon Hooker era. Joe Milton is now running the show, getting one final shot to show out on the college football stage. That actually began back in December with a big showing in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. Can Milton give the Vols that same consistency throughout the year? That may just be the key to Tennessee’s 2023 season.

We’ll get another look at Milton on Saturday, and we’ll also get our first live look at Nico Iamaleava. The No. 1 overall player in the 2023 recruiting cycle has been learning the ropes since December, where he joined the team for bowl practices. Now operating as one of Tennessee’s top two options at quarterback, Nico’s time is now, and it’ll be interesting to see him work in a game setting for the first time.

Will he be hesitant, or grip it and rip it? How will he handle the tempo? It’s going to be very vanilla, but we’ll get a great idea of where he’s at on Saturday.

Remember, Tennessee only has two scholarship quarterbacks for now. Seeing what Gaston Moore has will also be important for depth purposes. The transfer portal window will open again soon, meaning the Vols could add another name to this room if they feel like it’s needed.

Young offensive pieces

You know all about Bru McCoy, Jabari Small, Ramel Keyton, Jaylen Wright and Squirrel White by now, but what about the rest? Frankly, we don’t know much about them yet, thanks in part to the spring game being a closed event in 2022. We also know that Josh Heupel doesn’t really dip too far into his receiver depth chart. That will change on Saturday, obviously.

Guys like Chas Nimrod, Kaleb Webb and Nathan Leacock will get a chance to operate in a game setting, really giving us our first look at each guy. Oregon transfer Dont’e Thornton is another receiver we’ll be getting our first look at.

At running back, we’ll likely get an extended look at Dylan Sampson, who showed off some of that explosiveness at the end of last season. Jabari Small is still recovering from surgery, and the staff likely won’t want to take too many chances with getting Jaylen Wright hurt. That’s going leave true freshmen Desean Bishop and Cam Seldon getting plenty of work.

Seldon, a 6-1, 225 pound athlete, certainly looks the part. He was billed a versatile weapon when he committed to Tennessee, but didn’t face big time competition in high school. I’ll be interested to see him work on Saturday, assuming he can play (he’s been sporting a red non-contact jersey in the last few practices.)

Bishop, a local product and late add to the class, has generated some buzz this spring too.

At tight end, we’ll get our first look at transfer McCallan Castles, along with 4-star tight end Ethan Davis.

Young pass rushers

With the quarterbacks being protected, it’s tough to get a legitimate look at the defense. However, we’ll at least get plenty of four-man rush looks, meaning we should get some decent reps for Tennessee’s new-look edge depth chart. Gone is Byron Young, and Tim Banks has plenty of athletic options to replace him with. Has one name emerged from the rest? That’s what I hope to figure out on Saturday.

James Pearce gave us a couple flashes last year, along with Joshua Josephs. Veteran Roman Harrison is also in the picture. True freshman Caleb Herring has been learning the ropes this spring, and we’ll get our first look at him this weekend. Chandavian Bradley will enter the mix this summer.

Banks won’t be dialing up blitzes in this one, so keep an eye on the edges as these pass rushers try to win in one-on-one situations. It’s been a point of emphasis for Banks, dating back to last season.

On the flipside, monitor how these tackles perform against these young, talented pass rushers. Tennessee has a battle brewing at both spots, with Jeremiah Crawford, Dayne Davis, Gerald Mincey, John Campbell and Andrej Karic all gunning for a starting job.

Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. ET. ESPN will stream the game via SEC Network+ and ESPN+.