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Tennessee football: Transfer portal carousel suggests Vols’ QB room is one to envy

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The Vols’ activity – or lack thereof – during the transfer portal period is a clear indicator that Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel is very comfortable with his quarterback position.

Heupel didn’t go searching for a quarterback, although he could still take one despite the portal closing on Jan. 18. Players can still enroll at a school, but players can’t enter the portal until after the spring semester. Heupel had plenty to offer, a sports-car offense and not much experience returning for the 2023 season. After taking a look at what was available, Heupel decided to stand put.

Senior Joe Milton III certainly looks like a better option after his fantastic Orange Bowl performance. Freshman Nico Iamaleava has somehow risen in the recruiting rankings despite not playing in a football game. Apparently, he dominated Texas’ Arch Manning in December practices.

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Iamaleava’s ranking really isn’t that important. We can quibble over who is better: Manning or Iamaleava. Manning is a bit more versatile while Iamaleava is a perfect fit for the Vols’ system. At least that’s what coaches and scouts tell me. To-MAY-to or To-MAH-to.

However you pronounce it, Iamaleava is going to be a part of a quarterback battle to be the starter in 2023. Sure, the plan might be for Milton just to step into that role for a year then let Iamaleava shine, but things don’t always go by the plan.

By not taking a quarterback in the transfer portal and having Tayven Jackson transfer to Indiana without a replacement, Heupel thinks he already has his star quarterback on the roster. Why? Practice snaps. Pure and simple. He doesn’t want to waste time on someone that can’t elevate the Vols’ already stellar offense.

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Tennessee footbal can’t be expected to get four quarterbacks enough repetitions during spring practice. Three is tough enough. Not adding a third signal-caller that could possibly be more ready and take snaps from Iamaleava means there will be a full-blown quarterback competition if Iamaleava is half that competitor we’ve all heard about.

With enough snaps, there’s no reason to think that Iamaleava can’t push Milton for the starting job. Milton’s performance against Clemson was great, but there’s more on record than just 60 minutes of play against the Tigers. Are the accuracy issues completely gone? We’ll see.

It’s unclear if Jackson was told he wasn’t going to play this season and invited to leave. However, that wouldn’t be surprising any longer and could be better for him if he gets to play more at Indiana. One would have to ask Jackson, who was coming off of a collarbone injury, to be sure. Such is the fate of a player in the NIL world. There’s no remorse when money is involved, but let’s get back to Iamaleava.

Does anyone think that Iamaleava with all of those snaps in spring practice and summer drills is just going to sit back and concede the starting position to Milton? No chance.

Maybe not taking a transfer quarterback was part of an arrangement in the Iamaleava-Tennessee agreement. After all, the California prospect does have to live up to some endorsement agreements. It seems the players have the power nowadays and, for Iamaleava, it never hurts to ask.

The media will be asking Heupel about his quarterback situation repeatedly during spring camp. He’ll likely enter with a coaching mantra about how everyone is always competing for playing time and quarterback is no different. Heupel is a master of saying something while saying nothing. 

No matter what Heupel says, this much we can be sure of – there will only be two quarterbacks competing for the Tennessee football starting job in 2023. Moreover, Heupel is so comfortable with Iamaleava that a starting freshman quarterback would hardly be a surprise.

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