There’s an easy comparison to make between Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton III and former Vol Tee Martin. If it turns out to be accurate, it would be quite favorable for the Vols. However, there is another SEC quarterback that may be more similar to Milton than Hooker.
First, let’s start with the prevailing notion. Here’s how the narrative works for optimistic Tennessee fans: former Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker has led the Vols to become a part of the national championship conversation like Peyton Manning did in the mid-1990’s. Then, Martin won a national championship in 1998 with a legendary defense. Milton could do the same with a stacked offense. While that may happen, it’s a bit too simplistic.
Milton’s potential and his potential football plight actually reminds me of another successful championship quarterback: former Auburn signal-caller Cam Newton who took the nation by storm and won a national championship for the Tigers in 2010. Here’s why.
Milton is an athletic force
Milton is an inch taller and nearly 30 pounds heavier than Hooker. That’s a massive difference. Hooker could run. However, Milton, who is 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, should be able to run and punish defenders, like Newton did at Auburn.
Martin could certainly run, but he wasn’t a physical force like Milton could be. Martin was just 6-3 and 215 pounds. Like Milton, Newton was also 6-5 and 245 pounds in his playing days.
Milton has elite arm strength
There wasn’t a monstrous difference between Manning and Martin’s ability to whip the football. There is a very noticeable difference between Hooker and Milton. Newton also possessed one of the stronger arms in the nation when he played for the Tigers. That allowed him – and should allow Milton – to stretch the field and put the ball in tight passing windows.
The element of surprise
With Milton as the starter, the Vols ran more passing routes over the middle in the Orange Bowl against Clemson than they regularly did with Hooker. There won’t be a massive change in Tennessee coach Josh Heupel’s system, but there will be some surprises as he takes advantage of Milton’s ability. The Vols didn’t throw as much or as aggressively with Martin after Manning was gone, which actually might have limited Tennessee’s offense and slowed Martin’s development.
Newton certainly surprised some people with his ability when he transferred from junior college. So did his offensive coach, coordinator Gus Malzahn, who was hired by Auburn in 2008. Malzahn ran the same base offense he had run before Newton, but made alterations based on Newton’s skills that took SEC defensive coaches by surprise. Heupel will almost assuredly do the same.
The fact that Milton can even be compared to Newton should make Tennessee fans optimistic. Milton can do things that Hooker and Martin couldn’t do. That means that he could be a bigger part of a fantastic run than Martin was allowed to be as coaches limited the playbook after Manning departed. Either way, Milton’s similarities between Martin and Newton should make for some incredibly exciting time for Tennessee fans this fall.