KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Tennessee Volunteers have something most college football programs no longer have, a backup quarterback with extensive starting experience.

Lets take a deeper dive into the Vols depth in the QB room.

Hendon Hooker

Hooker is the clear cut starter after being one of the most efficient quarterbacks in college football last season. He complete 68% of his passes last year for 2,945 yards with 31 touchdowns and threw just 3 interceptions.

The stats are great and are expected to be even better in 2022, but this season isn’t about the stats for Hooker, it’s about wins. He must find a way to lead the Vols to victory against SEC competition.

What QB coach Joey Halzle said:

“When we first got here, I watched every clip that every quarterback that was on campus had from game film. Hendon was clearly very talented. I was excited for the opportunity to work with him. With what everybody said about him, he was a great guy. Starting to work with him when we first got here in February, March and then into spring ball.”

“Hendon was a guy who was way too far in the business model, meaning that nothing was fun. Everything was serious. That wasn’t his best way to play. For some guys it is. It is not for him. We had to spend a long time working on having him really just enjoy the game while working hard. Working hard doesn’t mean serious all of the time, though. He is fun. He is enjoying himself and enjoying his time out on the field. That is what has allowed his talent to now take over again. He’s not tightening himself up with his own mind.”

He was exclusively business-minded when we got here. Everything about him was tight … This is an extremely talented athlete that’s not showcasing any of his athleticism. We had to just bend that mind a little bit and work on his mind every single day to, ‘Yes. This is football, this is fun. You have to be serious, but you have to do it in a fun way.’ (Having fun) doesn’t mean not paying attention. It doesn’t mean being completely goofy out there on the field, and not having a mindset that we have something to go do. But there’s a way to do it in which you can still enjoy the game that you’re playing.

“When he started doing that, he started loosening up, and that’s when you saw the growth in Hendon last year. I noticed that being serious every single moment of his life didn’t work for him. I watched him when he was messing around playing basketball. He’d get a big smile on his face, and nobody could guard him. I told him last year in the summer, ‘I want you to play football like you play basketball.’ Because when he plays basketball, he knows he’s the best player on the court.”

Joe Milton

Joe Milton will be the backup to Hooker. The Michigan transfer started two games for Tennessee in 2021, completing 52% of his passes for 375 yards and 2 touchdowns with 0 interceptions.

He has one of the strongest arms in college football but has lacked touch and accuracy so far throughout his career. Milton is one of the most experienced backup quarterbacks in the country, he’s played in 21 games in his college football career with 7 starts under his belt.

What QB coach Joey Halzle said:

“We’ve worked all offseason on touch throws across the middle and pressing our vertical run game. He has done a great job doing that. He is touching up balls all over the field. We all know he has the absolute howitzer of an arm, so we have worked on having him touch up the ball, work windows and working that aspect of his game. We know he has the other shot in his bag already.” 

“It’s having that conversation with him, that we all understand you have this talent. Now, we need to truly work on something that’s not a positive. A lot of people like to work on what they’re good at, because it feels good when you’re working on it. We said, ‘Let’s miss some throws in the spring. Let’s miss some throws on routes on air, working on our touch.’ He has absolutely dialed that in. It’s been a huge part of his game. We have been working drills. We have several drills we work to shop windows and touch-up balls and all that type of stuff. He has really dug into that. He hasn’t fought it whatsoever. It’s going to be a huge improvement to his game.”

Tayven Jackson

Jackson is a true freshman who enrolled early so he could participate in spring ball on Rocky Top. He’s a talented kid who led Center Grove High School to a pair of state championships in Indiana. He was a four star recruit who passed for 4,813 yards and 47 touchdowns in high school. Jackson is an elite athlete who can use both his arm and his feet to be effective.

What QB coach Joey Halzle said:

“For Tayven, he’s obviously an elite athlete. It’s just fun to watch him do athletic things every day. Some things that you wouldn’t normally coach, he can do it and you’re like, ‘oh wow, that’s pretty cool.’ It’s really for any young quarterback, the biggest thing—and I had a conversation on the field with the guys today—is just being able to reset. You make a bad play, you’re going to. It’s expected. You’re a true freshman. You miss a read, you miss a protection, you miss something like that, awesome. Reset and go play the next play. That’s the biggest thing with a young quarterback. You have to make sure that they’re not living in the past all the time, because they’re used to being the one that is the big dog.” 

“Two things with him. One, was his going from, ‘OK, I’m learning and I’m watching the teaching tape and all the intro stuff,’ to really diving into the tape, ‘Alright, this is really like the intricacies of what we’re doing. This is how to really play in it.’ As opposed to just, ‘This is what the play is.’ That was the biggest challenge we had for him, was make sure you can come out on August 1 and operate like an upperclassman. That’s what the challenge was for him. We’ve seen that growth from spring. Obviously, he’s still young and he’s still got areas that he needs to grow in, but he’s doing more and more of the, ‘alright, I’m going to see it. I’m going to cut it loose. I’m going to go play fast.’ That’s been the biggest thing for him.” 

Conclusion:

The Vols have one of the better and more experienced quarterback rooms in the SEC. Hendon Hooker and Joe Milton are really good friends and that’s a good thing for freshman Tayven Jackson.

“One, it’s extremely rare to have that kind of dynamic. But two, it really speaks to what Coach Heupel has built here culture-wise,” said Halzle. “They kind of rib at him (Tayven Jackson) sometimes like you would with a little brother, but it’s all positive.”