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Does Tennessee Vols QB Nico Iamaleava have the backing to win a title

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Tennessee’s spring practice wasn’t all about Nico Iamaleava, but let’s be honest, it was almost all about the Vols’ shiny new quarterback. UT head coach Josh Heupel has been waiting too long for this season to have it fall flat on its face. He’s been taking steps to make sure this is the Year of Nico.

The Vols fortified their offensive line before spring practice ever began to protect Iamaleava and make sure there’s a strong running game to lean on when the passing game just isn’t clicking. The Vols used NIL funds to secure veterans, such as center Cooper Mays, and land highly touted transfer Lance Heard, who is expected to start at left tackle.

Mays has been banged up towards the end of spring practice, but he’s a known commodity. In fact, some of his backups, namely Vysen Lang, could use the first-team snaps on offense. 

The Vols have been a bit shorthanded with guards Andrej Karic and Javontez Spraggins limited during spring camp. That, however, has opened the door for backups like Jackson Lampley, Dayne Davis, Sham Umarov and Ayden Bussell to get more playing time. However, this offensive line’s potential and pitfall are intertwined. The Vols don’t have much depth, but can play with the best defensive lines in the nation if they’re totally healthy.

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Tennessee receivers have been another top priority after some offseason losses. Senior Bru McCoy is still overcoming an ankle injury, but is expected to be 100-percent by fall camp. It remains to be seen if Dont’e Thornton will primarily play slot receiver, as he did last season, or will make a move to outside receiver, as has been speculated for weeks.

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The Vols seem set at slot receiver whether or not Thornton makes a move to the outside. Tennessee junior Squirrel White seems a natural at the position. Also, the Vols should be fine at tight end despite losing most of their production from last season. The Vols have a good mix of transfers and young, talented players that should be ready to go this fall.

Running back is always difficult to judge during spring camp. Junior Dylan Sampson is the main tailback, but the Vols could use depth at that position. It didn’t help that highly lauded running back Cameron Seldon is out for the remainder of spring practice with a shoulder injury. So did the Vols do what they needed to do to get Iamaleava comfortable for this fall when he’s set to become the Vols’ starting quarterback? Well, they did as much as they could.

I’m sure the Vols would have loved to see McCoy out there running passing routes and catching passes from Iamaleava. Instead, freshman receiver Mike Matthews received frequent public compliments from the coaches that would make one think he’s ahead of schedule. As for the Vols’ development at running back in the passing game, protection is key. Heupel isn’t about to put is star quarterback at risk. Tennessee’s tailbacks had better to know how to block or they won’t be playing.

The Vols seem deeper at tight end and should have some more star power there. Tennessee’s offensive line should be able to control the line of scrimmage at a much higher level than they did last season just because they’ll be healthy from the opening kickoff, which wasn’t the case last season with Mays on the bench.

Tennessee will close spring practice with a dependable – if not stellar – offense for Iamaleava to head up this fall. Barring injuries, there won’t be excuses if Iamaleava doesn’t play well. He’s bound to have some growing pains, but not many. Heupel and his staff have masterfully brought Iamaleava along to become a star – and this is his time.

The season doesn’t start until the season opener against Chattanooga in August. However, for Iamaleava, it starts now for all intents and purposes. Summer workouts are the quarterbacks’ time to be a leader. It’s for Iamaleava to do that. 

We can sit back in September and discuss if Iamaleava’s ready for the elite teams in the SEC. However, that will be determined in the coming weeks. With spring practice concluding, it’s official: Iamaleava has the keys to the car and everyone is ready to see what the Vols can do with their new star at the wheel.

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