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Tennessee QB Nico Iamaleava earns SEC Network praise

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It’s hard to have a college football analyst on any sports show that focuses on the SEC and, particularly, Tennessee athletics without asking about Nico Iamaleava.

So here we go. The SEC Network’s own Cole Cubelic recently shared his thoughts on the Vols’ redshirt freshman quarterback.

“I like his demeanor,” said Cubelic, who also hosts The Cube Show and for WJOX. “ I do think that the leadership and being a little bit more vocal is something that there was an emphasis on in spring.”

Cubelic’s comments weren’t mind blowing considering Tennessee coaches practically said as much publicly during spring practice. However, it carries a bit of a different weight when Cubelic shares the same sentiment about Iamaleava after spring camp has concluded. Could Iamaleava be too quiet? Has Cubelic heard something more about Iamaleava not being vocal enough?

Back to Cubelic:

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“He can make all the throws,” Cubelic said. “He’s got a great arm. I think he’s got a good touch and feel, which a lot of younger quarterbacks just don’t have, especially quarterbacks that have a big arm.

“Tennessee fans were pretty familiar with that part of his game, maybe not being where it needs to be last year. I like the mobility that he can add with his legs. I don’t know if you want to live there because you don’t want to put him in harm’s way as much.”

That may be the case. Cubelic cited how former Vol quarterback Hendon Hooker was a fantastic runner, but eventually went down with a non-contact knee injury. Much like when Hooker went down against South Carolina, there could be total chaos if the Vols lose Iamaleava for an extended period of time. The Vols only have walk-on Gaston Moore and freshman Jake Merklinger behind him. That, however, may not be unique to the Vols.

With the transfer portal, there aren’t many teams in the SEC that can claim great quarterback depth. Since teams can only play one quarterback at a time, another signal-caller that isn’t seeing playing time can up and leave. Welcome to modern-day college football. 

“If you lose a quarterback, it’s gonna be a massive drop off to whoever’s next,” Cubelic said.

The Vols have benefitted from a quarterback injury before. After all, Hooker took over for Joe Milton in 2021 when the former starter went down with an injury. That doesn’t seem likely to happen in 2024 if something happens to Iamaleava. The drop-off just seems too significant heading into this season.

“I think Nico could be special,” Cubelic said. “I mean, it’s just, you gotta get reps, you have to have experience. And it’s hard to really say exactly what you think a guy can be until you see more of it.” 

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