Tennessee QB Coach Updates Competition

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    Tennessee quarterback coach Joey Halzle joked that he was “ready to tell” the local media the Vols’ starting quarterback as he walked into the north studio at the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center Thursday.

    The Vols are just two practices into fall camp, but the 35-year old coach had a confident reassurance that Tennessee coaches didn’t seem to have about the quarterback room this spring.

    Halzle is quick to point out that it’s just been two days, but the returns have been solid.

    “It’s been really positive,” Halzle said. “For starters everyone is going out there and fighting their butt off. We’re not getting a bunch of misses with calling protections, calling runs as fast as we go.  Our eye discipline has been really good and there’s been no turnovers so far. In camp, first couple days things always have a tendency to be sloppy— especially in a new offense— guys are doing a great job of getting their eyes in the right place, getting their body in the right place and taking care of the football.”

    Learning and having a complete grasp of Josh Heupel’s offense will be one of the largest factors in who starts for Tennessee behind center on Aug. 2 against Bowling Green.

    Joe Milton is Tennessee’s only quarterback who didn’t participate in spring practice and Harrison Bailey, Hendon Hooker and Brian Maurer have impressed Halzle with their retention from the spring.

    “Really good,” Halzle said of the quarterback’s retention of the offense since the spring. “That was one of the first things we said coming off the field yesterday. We didn’t have to talk to guys about splits, alignments, formations, routes. Guys came out here —even the guys who didn’t get here until May or June as transfers— these guys have been extremely locked in and dedicated to what we’re trying to do so we haven’t busts or any of that stuff all over the field. It’s been great to watch.”

    Hooker has impressed the first two days of practice. Halzle is thrilled with the work Hooker did to his body and fundamentals this summer.

    “Hendon has done a great job pushing,” Halzle said. “You can see how hard he works in everything he does. Yeah, in the classroom but he’s made a bunch of adjustments. He’s completely changed his body, he’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong and he’s worked his butt off on getting his mechanics where they need to be. Not only mentally is he in the right place but he can make all the throws that he needs to make once he’s there. That guy works as hard as anyone I’ve been around.”

    Halzle said multiple times Thursday that Hooker can make all the throws he needs to make in Heupel’s offense. That doesn’t mean he can consistently make those throws, but if he can make them at a rate his coaches feel confident in, that’s a huge development.

    Hooker has more success as a starting quarterback than any other Tennessee quarterback. The knock on him has been whether he has the arm strength to make all the vertical throws. If he can, then don’t sleep on him to be the Vols’ quarterback this fall.

    For Bailey, it’s been about becoming more comfortable in an offense that puts a lot on the quarterback’s shoulder.

    Halzle believes Bailey has started to turn a corner on that front, crediting his hard work from the spring.

    “He was highly recruited coming out because he does have a huge, physical talent pool,” Halzle said of Milton. “It’s been mostly refining some things with his feet. We are different from a lot of people. Especially where he came from with more of the under center, traditional drop back style than how we play. It’s been less of breaking him down, it really hasn’t been anything like that. It’s been more of fine tuning him to how we operate and how we play. That’s been his process and to his credit he hasn’t thought that one step. … he’s bought and he’s gone with it.”

    Then there was Halzle’s thoughts on Joe Milton. Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh said Halzle has been working with Milton on his mechanics.

    Halzle toned down the rhetoric on Milton’s need to improve his mechanics on Thursday but said he feels good about where the Michigan transfer is. 

    “The thing with Harrison is he’s made a big jump off the field mentally,” Halzle said. “He was just so young when he got here and he’s really worked hard to where he can call it quickly and see the difference, recognize what he’s getting— am I getting pressure, am I getting weak rotation, two-high, single-high— he’s doing a much better job of processing that and once you do that your body follows.”

    Halzle wasn’t the only Vol with praise for Milton Thursday. Receivers Javonte Payton and Jimmy Calloway were complimentary of the transfer quarterback. Calloway called Milton’s ball “different” and described it as a “bullet”.

    Tennessee and its coaching staff will look to whittle down its quarterback competition in the coming weeks.

    Ryan Schumpert is a senior at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville who has covered University of Tennessee athletics since the moment he stepped on campus. He just completed a three-year stint with the Daily Beacon, the last two of which as the Sports Editor. Ryan also spent last three years at Volquest providing strong Tennessee baseball coverage of Tony Vitello's resurgent program. While the bulk of Ryan's responsibilities involved beat coverage and writing, he also recorded podcasts for both the Beacon and Volquest. Did we leave out the part about Ryan interning for the Smokies? Ryan's work ethic, versatility, and strong writing skills are but three of the reasons why Vol Nation will be hearing from Ryan for years to come.