Vols are Joe’s team

Marvin Westwestwords

The ball is in Joe’s court. All he has to do is keep on keeping on, learn more, gain confidence, throw the long ball now and then to entertain pro scouts and gain accuracy when the script calls for touch.

This Tennessee team belongs to Joe Milton III. He has earned the chance of a lifetime. Twice he was benched. I thought he was going to make it when he stayed steady in the boat after Hendon Hooker took the job in 2021.

Quarterback Joe Milton III #7 is shown here in UT’s game vs. Akron at Neyland Stadium on Sept. 17, 2022. (Photo By Ian Cox/Tennessee Athletics)

This time a year ago, I was convinced his time would come. He has size and ability. His partnership with Hook and loyalty to Josh Heupel said a good man was willing to wait in line.

After the Vanderbilt game last November, after MVP honors in the Orange Bowl, there was no doubt.

Joey Halzie, new as offensive coordinator, talked of quarterback competition this spring. That was what a smart coach was supposed to say. You may have noticed the race was over before it started.

Nico Iamaleava has rare talent. If he stays healthy, he’ll be a star, maybe a superstar. He makes the game look easy. Celebrate the fact that Nico is not a prima donna.

If Milton makes normal progress, if Milton stays healthy, he’ll be a millionaire.

I smiled when I read what he said about football and fun. He has never seen, much less felt, pressure like will be his if the Vols are competitive with Alabama, fourth quarter, downtown Tuscaloosa. It will be Joe and a few friends against the world.

Fun, happiness, pure joy will be available if he wins.


Back when Milton moved into the transfer portal at Michigan, back when Heupel underestimated Hooker and didn’t realize he had a quarterback at Tennessee, he bet big on Joe. Both survived bad luck and disappointment.

Milton actually had most of what Heupel thought he saw in the beginning. Joe needed help, coaching, refinement of the decision-making process.

He is big but not as tough as Hooker. Mark my word, he’ll look more physical this fall. And he’ll be even smarter. Potential rewards are enormous.


We are told the football Volunteers had a good spring. Too early to be sure. There wasn’t much definitive about the game. Fans were a bit more enthusiastic than expected. That explains the robust sale of season tickets. Nico was greeted with warm applause. Maybe the whole crowd saw the Polynesian Bowl, real deal, something of a natural, not a figment of recruiting optimism.

We’ll find out in August if there really are replacements for Darnell Wright and Jerome Carvin. Those who don’t already know will discover that championships are direct descendants of offensive linemen.

I think Tennessee coaches have found a cure for linebacker discomfort. We’ll see. Heupel remains excited.

Aaron Beasley is leader of the group. BYU transfer Keenan Pili, a former captain for the Cougars, projects as a starter where Jeremy Banks used to be. Freshman Arion Carter is an outstanding prospect.

Sophomores Elijah Herring and Kalib Perry are looking for steady jobs. Freshmen Jalen Smith and Jeremiah Telander brought talent and athleticism. Kwauze “Pak” Garland has some leadership qualities. The outlook is far different from a year ago.

“They’re relentless, they play with energy and passion,” said Heupel.

Give coaches credit for seeing they had to do something. Speed was the missing link. Well, speed and some other things.


Question: I have put off the toughest one. Will the pass defense be improved?

Answer: It has to be. Numbers can’t get much worse.

The Vols were 127th in the country last season. They were 12th in the SEC. I criticized coordination. I’ll admit the Vols were outmanned. They brought in new talent. Maybe that will be enough …

More than once I was reminded that pass defense is more than safeties and cornerbacks. Can the defensive front pressure the quarterback? Do linebackers help enough in the middle? Is there one lockdown corner on the roster?

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks and secondary coach Willie Martinez now have more options but this is still very much a work in progress. Heupel says he has seen group improvement.

Game on! The coach is calling for more.

These are my words: Fundamentals, technique, scheme, discipline, accountability, maturity.

Oh my, I’ve lost part of my list. It’s on the page with the names of quarterbacks who threw for more than 400 yards each.

Indeed, there is room for improvement.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is [email protected].

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