Tennessee football has a unique quarterback situation this season. The Vols have just two quarterbacks on scholarship with one being sixth-year senior Joe Milton III and the other being five-star freshman Nico Iamaleava.
Milton is the starter and Iamaleava is the backup. Those roles are defined but how Tennessee uses Iamaleava is a point of interest. Most teams like to redshirt freshmen quarterbacks if they’re not the starter. And the recent rule changes which allow players to compete in up to four games while still redshirting gives teams an opportunity to get those young signal callers their first taste of college football while maintaining eligibility.
That’s a path Tennessee could take with Iamaleava if Milton stays healthy but Josh Heupel and his staff aren’t taking that route.
“There’s no plans to redshirt him,” Heupel said on Vol Calls Wednesday night. “We want to get him in as much football as possible.”
That plan of action makes sense both in the short and long term. In the short term, Tennessee wants to get Iamaleava as ready to play as possible this season in case an injury sidelines Milton. The best way to do that is by giving him as many in-game reps as possible without worrying about redshirting him.
Heupel and the rest of Tennessee’s coaches have an obligation to their team to put them in the best position to win as many games as possible this season. With Iamaleava serving as the backup, getting him game ready does just that.
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In the long term, a player with Iamaleava’s talent level is unlikely to spend a full five years in college even if he does redshirt. If all goes to Tennessee’s plan, the California native will leave for the NFL after three seasons.
“I really do love where he’s at,” Heupel said of Iamaleava. “His focus everyday, his continued growth and understanding of what we’re doing. He’s dynamic. He’s got the ability to be a playmaker. I thought he handled Saturday extremely well.”
The freshman quarterback played two drives in Tennessee’s season opening win over Virginia leading one touchdown drive and another three-and-out. Iamaleava completed two-of-three passes for 12 yards while adding an eight-yard scramble.
Tennessee’s home opener against Austin Peay provides Iamaleava a great opportunity to get extended reps. The Vols will make easy work of their instate foe and Iamaleava could see up to a half of playing time and maybe even some work with Tennessee’s starting receivers.
Kickoff between the Vols and Govs is at 5 p.m. ET at Neyland Stadium. The SEC Network+ is broadcasting the game.