When the Tennessee Vols hired Josh Heupel to replace Jeremy Pruitt as the program’s head coach, there was instant optimism that UT’s quarterback room would improve dramatically in 2021.
That should still end up being the case, but the quarterback room this fall may not look like it does right now.
On Monday, Volquest’s Austin Price dropped some surprising news. The Vols are expected to land Michigan quarterback transfer Joe Milton, a former four-star recruit from Orlando, FL.
Milton, who is 6-foot-5, started five games for the Wolverines last season, throwing for 1,077 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions.
The addition of Milton is a bit surprising.
Tennessee has three quarterbacks currently battling for the starting job (true freshman Kaidon Salter would be in the mix if not for the suspension that caused him to miss spring practice).
The decision to take Milton tells us that Heupel isn’t 100 percent happy with where his quarterback room is right now. Milton isn’t leaving Michigan after three years to go sit on the bench as “insurance” at Tennessee. He’s coming to Knoxville to win the job.
What’s the deal with Tennessee’s quarterbacks?
Junior Brian Maurer is probably the best fit in Heupel’s offense, but he’s been a turnover machine at times. Heupel and his staff aren’t afraid to let their quarterbacks throw the ball around and take some risks, but they aren’t going to put someone out there who is reckless, either.
Sophomore Harrison Bailey started three games for the Vols last season, and while he didn’t blow anyone away, he looked capable in his limited opportunities.
With Bailey — a player who was expected to be the “savior” of Tennessee football — I think there’s a chance he was a bit overrated coming out of high school. There’s no doubt that Bailey is a talented quarterback, but I don’t think we can ignore the fact that he was playing with one of the best high school athletes of all time in Arik Gilbert. Throwing to Gilbert at the high school level is almost like having a cheat code. Bailey’s high school stats were certainly inflated due to playing with Gilbert and Ricky White (a three-star wide receiver who signed with Michigan State).
Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker is a bit of a wildcard. He saw a lot of playing time for the Hokies in 2019 and 2020 while putting up decent numbers. But we don’t know how his game translates to the SEC. Still, Hooker feels like the safest bet to start the season-opener for the Vols.
It seems likely that Tennessee will lose a quarterback from this roster at some point before fall. That’s just how it goes in college football. Only one guy can be the starter, and these guys didn’t sign with the Vols to sit on the bench. They want to play.
Ultimately, I don’t think Tennessee fans have anything to worry about. It’s still very early in Heupel’s tenure, and he has an excellent track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks. He’ll find his guy. And Tennessee will be fine at the position this fall.
This quarterback battle, however, is definitely going to take longer to find a winner than I thought it would a few weeks ago.
Featured image via USA TODAY/Tennessee Athletic Communications