Tennessee quarterbacks Joe Milton III (left) and Nico Iamaleava (right) from practice in December. Photo by Ric Butler/Rocky Top Insider.
Tennessee entered the 2022 football season with five quarterbacks on the roster: a bona fide starter in Hendon Hooker, a quality backup in Joe Milton III, a promising young player in Tayven Jackson, and two backups behind them in Gaston Moore and Navy Shuler.
Heading into the 2023 season, though, Tennessee only has four of those pieces as things currently stand.
With Hooker heading to the NFL and former freshman quarterback Jackson returning home to Indiana, that removes two of the players in that 2022 quarterback room while still leaving Milton III, Moore, and Shuler.
Tennessee also brought in five-star and No. 1 overall prospect Nico Iamaleava in this past December from the 2023 cycle as the early enrollee had the chance to go through bowl practices with the team.
The Vols look to have Joe Milton III as a definitive starter, Nico Iamaleava as the promising young recruit, and Shuler and Moore are both behind as well. What that leaves open is a potential quarterback to fit in the middle of the two sides.
While being introduced to the media as Tennessee’s next offensive coordinator on Wednesday, Joey Halzle addressed the conversation of adding a fifth quarterback to the roster prior to the 2023 season. In specific, though, Halzle addressed the position of the thing string quarterback on the roster.
“They (Gaston Moore and Navy Shuler) are going to have a chance to this spring, absolutely,” Halzle said about the third spot on the depth chart. “With the transfer portal, you never know who is coming in and out of your building anymore. So, do you have to be always evaluating? Yes, absolutely, but we really like the guys in that room. We have good players, we have good people that are smart and competitive and tough, and that is how we are trying to build that room. So, [I] do not see a pressing need, but it could absolutely be one at some point. So, I am not going to sit here and say yes or no at this point.”
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Halzle was noncommittal at the end of his answer, but for good reason. Either Tennessee does have something in mind for the future or the team truly is content where they stand now regarding the four quarterbacks in the room. Ultimately it does sound like it will be a wait-and-see process regarding if Tennessee does bring in a fifth quarterback to the roster or not.
Tennessee looks to have handed the keys to the Ferrari over to Joe Milton, as expected. The veteran quarterback played well in the Orange Bowl and proved that he could lead the Vols to a Top 10 win away from Neyland Stadium. While Tennessee could benefit from bringing in another experienced quarterback to back up Milton, there is also a five-star quarterback on the roster that likely needs the “garbage time” reps in order to prepare him as the starter in the future. That would be Nico Iamaleava.
The concern is obviously Milton getting hurt on the season, similar to what happened during his first year with Tennessee in 2021. That would change Iamaleava’s role from a young backup getting valuable experience late in games to having to steer the ship against the likes of Alabama, Georgia, or Florida. That’s the type of scenario where Tennessee would significantly benefit from having an experienced quarterback from the transfer portal on the roster.
If there’s a way to bring in a quarterback who understands his role on the team, that seems like the best way to go. But, at the same time, maybe that is difficult. There needs to be a clear line of succession to Iamaleava without anyone else getting in the way considering the highly-touted recruit that he is.
It’s an interesting conversation for off-season February football. But, nonetheless, a conversation that Halzle and the staff are actively having.
Watch Joey Halzle’s full answer below.