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Tennessee QB Jake Merklinger had better be ready with little depth behind Vols Nico Iamaleava

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While all eyes are on Nico Iamaleava during spring practice, Jake Merklinger is worth a gander.

While Iamaleava, a redshirt freshman who started the Citrus Bowl and played in several games for the Vols last season, will be the center of attention this fall, there’s plenty of reason to take a long hard look at Merklinger, the true freshman who enrolled in time for the spring semester to at least be Iamaleava’s backup.

“Talented guy that works extremely hard, cares about his craft, cares about his teammates in a really positive way,” Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said of Merklinger. “And he’s had a workman-type mentality since he got here. You get thrown into bowl preparation and it’s all come really quickly at you, certainly at that position with everything that you got to navigate. Continuing to get better fundamentally. He’s grown in understanding our schemes.”

Merklinger also needs to be at full health this fall – just in case. The Vols have had to replace their starting quarterback each of the past two seasons due to injury. Merklinger has a ways to go and not long to get there.

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“He hasn’t mastered anything yet, but he shouldn’t at this point either,” Heupel said. “I’m really excited to get out there and continue to compete with him throughout the course of spring ball. At quarterback, and it’s true at every position too, but the fundamentals of the position, if those aren’t right, it’s hard to be consistent in what everybody’s going to see the accuracy of the football when you’re throwing it. But continuing to grow that way.”

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Iamaleava is clearly the future of Tennessee’s football program as long as he is able to play. However, the former four-star prospect could be even better than advertised.

It’s worth noting that the Vols’ starting quarterback has suffered a significant  injury each of the past two seasons. If that happens, Merklinger had better be ready.

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