Usually coaches don’t reveal a lot of information at SEC Media Days or in any press conference for that matter. However, in a shocking twist, Josh Heupel said just enough Tuesday in Alabama, addressing major Tennessee football offseason storyline.
Everybody knows the Vols have an open quarterback competition right now. Returners Harrison Bailey and Brian Maurer competed with Virginia Tech Hokies graduate transfer Hendon Hooker in the spring. Four-star freshman Kaidon Salter was set to join the competition in August after being suspended in the spring, but he has since been dismissed.
None of those names, however, came up the most Tuesday. Based on many of Heupel’s comments at the event, it’s safe to assume Tennessee football’s most recent transfer at the position, Joe Milton III from the Michigan Wolverines, appears to be the top guy right now. That comes despite him having not yet played a snap in the system.
Before taking the stage, Heupel spoke on SEC Network’s “SEC Now.” In the process, he talked about a variety of things, but one was the quarterback race. After giving coach speak about how it’s a position that has to be earned like any other position, Heupel, unprompted, brought up Milton, the only quarterback he named. Here’s a bit of what he said.
"“Obviously we added to the (quarterback) room after spring ball with Joe Milton. He’s been great inside of our team room, inside of our locker room, has gained a lot of trust from the guys that are around him.”"
Then came the actual event at SEC Media Days, and as Heupel took the stage, he was asked specifically about Bailey and Milton. Well, he didn’t say anything about Bailey in his response, but he did speak on Milton. Here’s a bit of what he said on that front.
"“To me, Joe’s got a unique skill set, a strong arm, accurate passer. I think he’s a very bright young man that’s picked up on what we’ve done so far really well. He’s talented. He can spread the football field from sideline to sideline and vertically and has a unique skill set with his size and mobility to use his feet as a weapon as well.”"
It’s worth noting that Bailey was the top performer in the spring to anybody who followed it closely, so that means that Heupel, when given the option, chose to tout his transfer who hasn’t played yet over his top performer in the spring. That’s a big deal.
Heupel wasn’t the only player touting Milton, though. Senior wide receiver Velus Jones Jr., who along with senior defensive back Alontae Taylor joined Heupel on the trip to the Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala. just outside of Birmingham, had plenty of positive things to say about Milton when asked directly about him.
"“Joe is a great guy. As soon as he came in, he fit in with the guys well. He has a great personality, a great sense of humor. He’s just a hard-working guy that wants to be great, and that’s all of us, you know? We come in, we compete, in the weight room, everything we do, we compete. That’s how you bring the best out of people. He definitely has a strong goal, and I feel like that’s one of his great traits he has about himself.”"
To be fair, Jones was asked specifically about Milton and later on praised all of the quarterbacks more broadly when asked about that. However, combining that with Heupel’s two comments, it seems as if Milton is the favorite.
Don’t forget that Milton is the only quarterback on Tennessee football’s roster Heupel specifically brought to Rocky Top. Heupel also recruited him when he was the offensive coordinator of the Missouri Tigers. As a result, it makes sense to believe that Heupel is sold on the guy. Given what was said Tuesday, he appears to be the clear favorite in the quarterback race right now.