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Tennessee Football Spring Preview: Quarterback Nico Iamaleava

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The start of Tennessee’s spring football practice will serve as the start of the Nico Iamaleava Era. 

Technically, the new era began on Jan. 1 when he started against Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. 

But Iamaleava was filling in for Joe Milton III to finish out the 2023 season. 

Iamaleava is THE guy as Tennessee prepares for 2024. 

This spring will offer Iamaleava a chance to build off his first college start and prepare for the role of QB1.

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Tennessee coach Josh Heupel and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Joey Halzle will also get their first crack at building the offense around Iamaleava’s skillset. 

Everyone saw what he’s capable of against Iowa. 

Iamaleava’s arm, mobility and instincts will give Heupel a lot to work with this year. 

Heupel also has a quarterback room that looks different from the past few years.

Here’s a look at Tennessee’s quarterback position entering spring practice. 


The potential of Iamaleava and how far he can take the offense as a first-year starter will lead the conversation this spring (and all offseason).

Iamaleava was ranked as high as the No. 1 overall recruit in the country in 2023.

With Heupel’s offense and Iamaleava’s talent, Tennessee fans hope he can return the Vols to the explosion on offense that we saw in 2022.

Tennessee had the No. 1 scoring offense in college football that year.

Can Iamaleava take them back to that level again?

The players around him will matter – and we’ll get to those players in the coming days.

But the story of the spring will focus on the impact of Iamaleava.


The theme continues with Iamaleava.

Quarterback is different from every position, of course.

And it’s highlighted more because of the presence of Iamaleava.

That’s the point here, though.

Tennessee has SEC title hopes and an improved opportunity at making the College Football Playoff thanks to the new 12-team format.

And Iamaleava is the biggest reason for confidence that Tennessee can make the playoff.

Disclaimer: Iamaleava will only have so much opportunity to shine this spring.

Everyone is getting a feel for the offense with new personnel.

When the Orange & White Game takes place, Tennessee will be careful with Iamaleava to ensure he’s healthy for the fall.

But it just takes one or two plays for Iamaleava to show off his talent.

His throw-on-the-run to tight end Ethan Davis in last year’s spring game hinted at his potential.

Iamaleava’s performance in the Citrus Bowl told more of the story.

And his star should shine a little brighter by the end of the spring.


What about everyone behind Iamaleava on the depth chart?

Like last year, Tennessee only has two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.

This year’s group is far less experienced.

True freshman Jake Merklinger enrolled for the spring after signing out of Savannah, Ga.

Merklinger is talented; he was a consensus four-star prospect in the 2024 class.

Can he get himself ready to help this fall if needed?

If Merklinger isn’t ready right away, Tennessee is happy to have Gaston Moore back for one more season.

A veteran in Heupel’s system, Moore will prepare this spring to be the No. 2 quarterback if needed when the fall arrives.

Moore and Navy Shuler, both fifth-year seniors, should be valuable teammates to Merklinger as he learns.

Moore and Shuler should also help Iamaleava.

He’s talented and has all kinds of potential.

But he also has plenty to learn.


Tennessee wants Iamaleava to exit the spring feeling like he’s in full control of the offense.

The work will continue following the spring – there’s only so much the Vols can do in 15 practices.

But Iamaleava has plenty to work on.

ESPN analyst Greg McElroy recently praised Iamaleava but also pointed to areas of his game that can improve.

McElroy looked at Iamaleava’s time in the pocket when playing Iowa.

“There were a few times too when you dive in he probably left the pocket a little too early,” McElroy said.

More practice reps (and a stronger offensive line) should help Iamaleava improve in that area.

He has all the tools.

No one has questioned that part of Iamaleava’s game.

This spring will be about Iamaleava’s development and the growth of the depth chart behind him.

There are plenty of reasons for Tennessee fans to be excited.

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