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Tennessee coach Josh Heupel knows Vols QB Nico Iamaleava could be special

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Tennessee quarterback Nico Iamaleava was barely a worthy storyline during spring practice. That’s exactly how Josh Heupel wanted it.

Iamaleava didn’t have much press conference time during spring practice over the past four weeks. He may have actually had more playing time in the Orange and White Game on Saturday than he did staring down reporters in a media session. And, this just in, Iamaleava didn’t play very much at all in the annual spring game that seemed more focused on backups Jake Merklinger and Gaston Moore.

Iamaleava finished 7-of-9 for 96 yards and one touchdown. Moore was 12-of-18 for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while true freshman Jake Merklinger completed 5-of-7 passes for 105 yards and one score.

There are probably some fans that walked away a bit upset that they didn’t see more of Iamaleava. It’s kind of like seeing a five-second clip from the upcoming Top Gun sequel. Just a little more? Nope, that was never the plan. Talk to me Nico.

Heupel, like any other coach, controls which of his players speak to the media and he didn’t want Iamaleava’s development – or lack thereof – to be a daily talking point. That makes sense. Iamaleava has enough on him. This is the penultimate season for him, Heupel and the Vols in general in about 15 years. There’s a lot on the line, but nothing is at stake in spring camp.

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For all we know, Iamaleava could have looked perfect in spring camp. He might have never missed a receiver, been the ideal leader and never mishandled a play call. Or he could have been the opposite. We’ll find out this fall and not a second before.

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There’s a part of me that wants to blast Heupel for not giving Tennessee’s fans and media more to chomp on during a long offseason. After all, he has the right to scream from the mountaintops that he’s growing something special, which will be led by Iamaleava. However, Heupel continues to play his cards close to his vest. Only an occasional sly grin during a press conference will provide any hint as to what Heupel might actually be thinking about Iamaleava or anything else.

I’ve been on record that I think Iamaleava will be at least a top three quarterback in the SEC this season and perhaps even better. Therefore, there’s not much Iamaleava could do that would surprise me, other than fail, which I don’t believe is going to happen based on too many sources. Heupel has handled Iamaleava like a prized Christmas present ready to be sprung upon a morning of cheer. There’s only one problem: Everyone knows what’s in the box.

Iamaleava has been covered to such a high extent that he was robbed of his spring of succession. Besides, Heupel doesn’t like those sorts of things. He’s not afraid to beat you – and embarrass you – on the field, but he’s not one to brag before the fact. He could brag about Iamaleava if he wanted to.

Given Iamaleava’s potential impact on the SEC and the College Football Playoff, it’s astonishing there hasn’t been more coverage about his play during spring practice. Why would that be the case? That’s exactly the way Heupel, who has complete control of his offensive staff, wants it. He sees no need in leaking positive information about Iamaleava. His offensive assistants certainly aren’t going to break rank and share intel with reporters. However, all that is moot considering one important point.

No one, other than Heupel, knows just how good Iamaleava can be, and there might still be some uncertainty as to where his ceiling is hung. Heupel isn’t going to say so publicly, but there’s a chance that Iamaleava could push the limits of the Vols’ quite dandy offense. Heupel would love for that to be the case.

Tennessee fans would have loved some more stories about Iamaleava and his development. Too bad. That’s not what Heupel wanted.

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