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VFL Heath Shuler shares thoughts on Nico Iamaleava; Is he ready?

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Nothing against Peyton Manning, Casey Clausen or Erik Ainge, but if I were to pick three quarterbacks that would be a perfect fit for Tennessee’s offense under Josh Heupel, those guys wouldn’t make the list.

Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that the three wouldn’t have success in a Heupel offense; they would. However, there are three quarterbacks that have a better suited skillset for Heupel’s offense. One has already played and set records for Heupel. That makes Hendon Hooker an obvious selection. He’s proven it. After that, we have to step into the time machine. 

Going back in time, I’d take former Vol quarterback Heath Shuler and his athleticism in Heupel’s offense any day. Shuler had all the necessary skills to have success with Heupel: athletic ability, quick release, definitive decision making and the ability to scare defenses with just enough running ability to move some chains.

As for the other quarterback I’ve seen that would be the best fit for Heupel’s system? It’s Tennessee’s current quarterback: Nico Iamaleava. Can the redshirt freshman actually be better than Hooker was in 2022?

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“Is it going to happen this year with Nico?” Shuler said during The Dave Hooker Show on Wednesday. “I hope so, but most likely not. It’s going to be a couple of years down the road. Nico is going to play extremely well at times and he’s going to make some some young mistakes. 

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“I think he’s worked really hard already, preparing for the bowl game. His preparation was really good. I thought he made great decisions. He didn’t give the ball to the opposing team. He probably missed a lot of reads, right? 

“He was more quick to pull the ball down and run, which is okay (but) when they start spying, because of his ability to run…he’s going to have to really go through his progressions. He’s got a great opportunity. He’s got the physical and the mental tools to be able to be successful. 

“He’s got the arm strength to be successful, because that’s the one thing about this offense. You better be able to throw it from from hash to the other sideline with a lot of velocity. I think he certainly has that arm strength and ability.”

That’s not all Shuler has noticed from Iamaleava, who plays alongside Shuler’s son, Navy Shuler, who is a backup quarterback for the Vols. Therefore, the elder Shuler has seen Iamaleava up close.

“I think he’s kind of got that a little bit of the ‘It’ factor,” Shuler said. “He does have that swagger that I like to see a quarterback have.” 

Many wondered last season if Iamaleava should have played sooner, before his first start in the Citrus Bowl, as former Tennessee quarterback Joe Milton struggled at times, causing the Vols’ offense to adjust and not take advantage of its full potential.

“I think there was to another point that,” Shuler said of waiting for Iamaleava’s first start. “It had to be a time in which he was going to be put into a game to be successful. I think that they really did a really good job of of keeping it simple during the bowl game and allowing him to be successful in things that he knew well.”

Things will get more complicated, but I’m still thinking Heupel couldn’t be in a better position with Iamaleava ready to take snaps this fall.

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