Tennessee Football coach Josh Heupel certainly isn’t the kind of coach that seems to desire publicity nor praise. He also seems to understand when football matters and when it’s, well, just a spring game.
Therefore, Heupel, who is widely credited for sharing praise with his coaches and players, didn’t surprise anyone when he decided to allow first-year offensive coordinator Joey Halzle to call plays from his perch in the press box as Heupel manned the sideline.
Halzle, who replaced Alex Golesh when the former Tennessee assistant coach was hired by South Florida as its head coach, isn’t the only Vol who can handle play calling duties if Heupel decides that won’t be on his coaching plate this season. Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee is also adept at the process.
“Today, I let Joey handle it up top,” Heupel said. “Obviously, (Glen Elarbee) is always instrumental in what we’re doing, and it’s an opportunity for those guys to grow and do that every time during the course of the spring game.”
It remains to be seen if Heupel will handle play-calling duties with Halzle debuting as the Vols’ offensive coordinator. Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III saw no issue with Halzle handling play calls despite his short resume. Halzle has just coached three years as a full-time college assistant. Milton didn’t seem to notice.
“I felt great,” Milton said. “Everybody had opportunities to succeed, everybody had the opportunity to define themselves as a Tennessee Vol.
“I feel like it was great, everybody messes up, but with that guy (Halzle), it seems to be kind of hard when he messes up. I’m not jinxing it, so knock on wood. It’s kind of hard to see him mess up just because he prepares the right way. He’s always in the building even though he’s the coach. He’s just always trying to get ready.”
While Tennessee fans would love a strong indicator of just what the Vols will end up doing at quarterback this fall, Saturday’s exhibition didn’t offer much insight, as it wasn’t designed to. Milton will most likely be the starter. However, there was no need to put his game on broadcast display to pending competition nor show exactly what freshman Nico Iamaleava can do if he needs to play this fall.
“It’s not real football at the end of the day,” Heupel said. “ The defense is going to say the same thing, too. You know, those guys do a great job of trying to pull off and make sure that we’re not putting the quarterback in a susceptible position where they get a hand that goes into the helmet, so it works and cuts both ways.
“For the quarterbacks today, I thought there was a lot of game management that was really good. You know, all in all, their eyes and decision making were pretty sound. There are some things accuracy wise that we have to continue to get better at.”
While many are concerned about who actually handles play-calling on offense this fall, it may be a bit overrated. The Vols’ entire staff and players are at their best when plays and, subsequently, play calls develop through preparation and emerge on their own. Tennessee’s quarterbacks are still trying to get to that point.
“There are some things in situational football that you can’t do that they’ll learn from,” Heupel said. “That group has been really good with the way they compete and help each other in the meeting room, out on the grass. There’s a lot of development that’s left inside of that room.
“I love what they’ve done this spring, but we’ve got to continue to grow. That’s the reality of where you’re at when you end spring ball. You have a long way to go before you’re ready to play a football game. We have time, we’re got to be urgent in the way that we prepare. That starts when we get rolling next week.”
Spring practice is great for an entire football team. However, skill-position players can gain nearly as much improvement from summer camp when the Vols will run countless seven-on-seven drills. Maybe Halzle will get to call some of those plays as well.