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Tennessee Football 2024 spring practice midway report

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Tennessee Football is at the midway point of spring pracrice.

The Vols are transitioning with quarterback Nico Iamaleava taking over as the full-time starter and several newcomers battling returning players for starting positions. 

What stands out in the conversation about Tennessee Football after the first half of spring ball?

Here’s a look at some things to know. 

Nico is in full control of Tennessee Football offense

Nico Iamaleava still has a lot to learn. He’s only started one college football game, after all. However, he carries himself like he’s been the starter for a while. The talent around him has to help, but it’s his mindset that makes the difference. 

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Iamaleava told the media that not much has changed in his preparation just because he’s QB1 now. His approach as a true freshman backing up Joe Milton III prepared Iamaleava for the role he’s in now. 

In last Wednesday’s scrimmage, Iamaleava “functioned and operated extremely maturely,” according to coach Josh Heupel.

The offense has a lot to work on with new players learning their roles. Having a young quarterback could hold the offensive development back. But Iamaleava’s maturity and work ethic could help speed up the entire process. 

Running back depth is a question

Tennessee’s depth at running back will be tested the rest of spring. The shoulder injury to rising sophomore Cameron Seldon leaves the Vols without many scholarship players at the position. 

Dylan Sampson is back as the starter — and you can bet Tennessee will be cautious with him — along with Khalifa Keith, another rising sophomore. That’s it for the healthy scholarship running backs right now. 

True freshman Peyton Lewis is on campus but isn’t practicing because of an offseason procedure. That will lead to plenty of practice reps for someone like DeSean Bishop, who missed the 2023 season due to injury. The former Karns High School standout shined last spring. Can he use this opportunity to earn consideration for playing time in the fall?

UT’s injury issues could lead Heupel and his staff to look for running back options in the spring transfer window. The Vols’ running backs are talented but unproven. Finding someone to bolster the depth would ease the mind of Heupel and new running backs coach De’Rail Sims.

Tennessee Football defensive line has a high ceiling

James Pearce Jr. appears to have picked up where he left off last season. Pearce finished the 2023 season by dominating Iowa’s offense in the Citrus Bowl. He has the potential to be the SEC’s top defender this year and one of the top overall prospects for next year’s NFL Draft.

The return of Pearce, along with several veterans, has created a lot of excitement about Tennessee’s defensive line. We’ll see if Tennessee Football has any other All-SEC defensive linemen to join Pearce. But the Vols have the depth needed to withstand injuries and hold up through a tough SEC schedule.

Rocky Top’s defensive line experience has also been good for UT’s offensive line, which is looking for young players to emerge as stronger options this fall. The interior of Tennessee’s offensive line has been challenged with veterans Cooper Mays and Javontez Spraggins’ limited availability on the practice field.

Tennessee’s defensive line has provided a great test for the Vols’ offensive line, which will be a work in progress until the fall.

Serious competition at wide receiver and defensive back

Tennessee’s secondary and wide receiver positions look very different from the fall.

Newcomers at wide receiver are challenging for immediate playing time.

And the secondary has freshman Boo Carter and transfers Jermod McCoy, Jalen McMurray and Jakobe Thomas fighting for starting spots and playing time.

McCoy, who played well last year at Oregom State, looks like a starter at one corner position with rising sophomore Rickey Gibson III projected as the other starting corner. Both have to prove they can play at a high level in the SEC. But they look the part through spring.

At wide receiver, Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell II and freshmen Mike Matthews and Braylon Staley have pushed hard during the spring. Tennessee’s returning players at receiver have noticed.

There’s a long way to go in figuring out starting positions and playing time for the Vols’ receivers and secondary. But Tennessee Football is deeper and more athletic in both position groups. That should make for an entertaining finish to spring practice.

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