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Tennessee Football: Nico Iamaleava is ‘continuing to grow’, per Vols’ coach Josh Heupel

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Tennessee football quarterbacks Joe Milton III and Nico Iamaleava continue to progress, despite some of their teammates letting them down in the final days of spring practice.

UT coach Josh Heupel didn’t seem particularly pleased with the consistency of his football team, particularly at receiver, following Thursday’s scrimmage. 

“There are some positives, some big plays,” Heupel said. “Had a couple drops in the middle of the football field that had opportunities to be big plays, too. That group has to continue to grow in their understanding, operating efficiently. I think that’s an area where we can continue to get better at, but they’ve been highly competitive and physical and done a nice job all spring.”

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Turning in big plays is a given for a Heupel-led offense. However, getting consistent play from the Vols’ receivers is key. Tennessee football has to replace two of the best on their roster from last season: Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman. Without a high level of receiver play, Milton nor Iamaleava can continue to progress. As the only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, that’s kind of important.

“Continuing to grow,” Heupel said of Iamaleava. “A long ways from being where we need him to (be), but that’s understandable. Where he’s at, this part of spring ball, really happy with what he’s done (with) his work ethic, attention to detail, ability to rebound and how intentional he is in the way that he works. He’s continues to get better every time he gets on the field, which is what you want to see from your young guys.”

When Iamaleava hasn’t been under center, Milton has been the other quarterback taking the most first-team reps. That would also make sense as most believe he’ll start the 2023 season for the Vols considering he has played for Heupel for two years and Iamaleava just enrolled in December.

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“Our guys control everything,” Heupel said of Tennessee’s quarterbacks. “I don’t think there’s anyone in America that puts more on their quarterbacks — running run checks, run pass checks, loaded boxes, alerts, kills — they’ve got to do it all. He’s highly instrumental in the efficiency and effectiveness of our run game.”

That comment could have been a retort to national media and Georgia coach Kirby Smart that have seemed to question how much is asked of a Heupel prodigy. The questions have surrounded former UT quarterback Hendon Hooker as he prepares for the NFL Draft. Despite a ton of accolades, Hooker’s play last season is still questioned as a product of the Vols’ offensive system. Critics will have more (or less) to base those opinions on once Milton and/or Iamaleava hit the field. Milton certainly has the inside track.

“I think he’s got really good command of what we’re doing,” Heupel said. “At the line of scrimmage, out on the perimeter, his eyes being in the right place to identify his keys and take him to the next progression. That’s in the run game, that’s in the pass game too.”

Those things happen as long as the Vols’ receivers hold up their end of the deal. Obviously, catching the ball is key for any quarterback to prosper.

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