Senior Joe Milton, who has waited his turn the last two years, is obviously the front runner for the job given his experience and his performance last season including being named MVP of the Orange Bowl in the Vols win over Clemson.
“I believe Joe will be ready to play at an elite level,” head coach Josh Heupel said. “There’s competition at every position. I’ve said that from the time I got here. I don’t care how you were recruited, if you were walk-on or not, if you started a game or a year ago, it doesn’t matter, it’s about who you are today. That’s why you have to be very competitive in everything that you’re doing and intentional in the way that you work. I believe Joe will be ready to play at a really high level but there’s going to be competition everywhere.”
It’s a competition, both Milton and talented freshman Nico Iamaleava are embracing as the two learn from each other daily on the practice field.
“It’s been super fun,” Iamaleava said. “Just learning from Joe the whole playbook. Things are slowing down the last couple of days. I’m just really taking in everything from coach Joey (Halzle) and Joe learning day by day.
“I think the tempo for me is what I’m still working to get down moving the offense not as fast as Joe is right now, but just keeping the same tempo as him so things aren’t slowing down.”
For tight end, Ethan Davis everything is brand new this week. The freshman from Georgia was not a participant in Tennessee’s bowl practices. He arrived in January to start school and continue the rehab process after having shoulder surgery last September. Davis is in a red non-contact jersey but is going through some physical drills with blocking sleds and said he feels like he is improving daily as he works back to being 100%.
“It’s been really good to get back into the flow of things,” said Davis, who essentially only played one year of high school football. “I have missed the game a lot. I’m really excited to be back into football again.”
Davis is wearing a red non-contact jersey but said he was not limited with is shoulder and acknowledged he had his first “welcome to college football moment” on Thursday when he was hit by a linebacker and taken to the ground.
In just a handful of practices last December, Nathan Leacock made some noise on the practice field. The freshman’s speed and physical ability was on full display. Leacock was an early evaluation by the Vols which helped them hold off a growing list of suitors last fall as the North Carolina native hauled in over 1,300 yards his senior year. Now, Leacock is trying to full adjust to the speed of the college game and mentally is trying to sort through everything that’s being thrown at him with Josh Heupel’s playbook and tempo.
“Joe’s [Milton] passes, even though they are coming really fast, they are tight spirals. So, those balls are not hard to catch at all,” the wideout said of adjusting to catching footballs from college quarterbacks. “It’s harder to catch a ball that’s coming a little bit slower and wobbly. Everyday I’m getting better and adjusting a little bit to it. It shouldn’t take too long because Joe throws it on the money.”
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