Tennessee continues to adjust to life without Hendon Hooker, officially handing the keys to Joe Milton this spring. Five-star, No. 1 overall prospect Nico Iamaleava is waiting behind him, getting comfortable to college life and Josh Heupel’s offensive tempo.
After two weeks of spring practice, Tennessee hit the field for a Saturday scrimmage. Though it was a day that was admittedly won by the defense, Josh Heupel did praise both of his quarterbacks after the scrimmage.
“I thought all in all, Joe did a really good job taking care of the football,” Heupel said of Milton. “I thought he slid in the pocket. Probably a couple of times he needed to continue and get out of it. It’s a little bit different when the quarterback’s not live in some of these situations. All in all, had really good command of what’s going on. We got to some situational football at the end, four-minute situation, there’s some things that we can learn just as far as clock management in that.”
Milton had a great showing during the Orange Bowl win over Clemson, connecting on a few deep shots and displaying more control/accuracy. However, if there was one gripe, it would have been his pocket management. Milton bailed on a few clean pockets, making things more difficult than they should have been, so it’s interesting to hear those comments from Heupel there. Clearly, that’s been a point of emphasis this offseason.
As for Iamaleava, his first drive inside of Neyland Stadium ended in six points.
“Nico, great first drive, go put it in the end zone,” Heupel said. “I thought he responded to everything during the course of it. The command and control out on the field, there’s some things that he’ll learn from. All in all, a really good day for those guys.”
Iamaleava, On3’s top rated player from the class of 2023, is expected to be Tennessee’s backup quarterback in his first season. Getting him up to speed in these few weeks is a must, especially considering Tennessee doesn’t have another scholarship quarterback on the roster. In a moment’s notice, the Iamaleava era could be upon us.
“Nico did a lot of really good things,” Heupel continued. “Having his eyes in the right place. Being able to make decisive reads. Moving the pocket. Push the football down the field. Be accurate in the middle of the field. I thought for his first time being inside the stadium, did a really nice job of controlling everything that happens when you’re playing within the tempo of how we play. I didn’t think he played outside of himself. He never was in a hurry, so a lot of really positive things.”
Iamaleava will be the main attraction in the upcoming Orange and White Game, set for Saturday, April 15th. It’s going to be fascinating to see how far along he is already, with just bowl practices and a spring session under his belt.