Spring Practice Complete for Vols

By Mark Nagi

On Saturday, April 13, spring practice ended for the Tennessee Volunteers. They played the annual Orange & White Game. The game was played in front of approximately 10,000 fans due to renovations taking place at Neyland Stadium.

The Orange defeated the White 21-14, but that final score means absolutely nothing. What matters is how much the Vols improved as a team, as the 2024 season draws closer.

Coming out of the spring, Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel must be happy with what he has seen out of his wide receiving corps, a group he says is deeper than it has ever been, going into his fourth season in Knoxville.

“There’s a lot of young guys within our system that still have a lot of growth that we’ve got to make before we get to the opener but really before we get to training camp too,” said Heupel. “That’s freshmen transfers, young guys inside of our system but I love the competitiveness of that group, they’ve made plays, fundamentally they’re getting so much better with releases, the ball not in their hands, how they’re blocking, understanding how to stand and work with second and third level defenders. It’s been really good getting to see how they’ve grown and there’s a lot left out there for them.”

Tennessee brings back Squirrel White, who led the Vols in catches with 67 and receiving yards with 803 yards. They also bring back Bru McCoy, who missed more than half the season after breaking his right ankle in the South Carolina game. But the newcomers, like true freshman Mike Matthews, are expected to make a big impact. Matthews is a 5-star prospect out of Lilburn, GA.

“He’s grown in his understanding of how to be physical and still being in good body position,” Heupel said of Matthews. “He’s willing to be physical. He’s continuing to grow throughout the course of spring playing without the ball in his hands. He’s a guy that goes about his business every day and competes extremely hard. He has a highly competitive care factor makeup.”

Tulane transfer Chris Brazzell II is an intriguing option in the passing game as well. Brazzell was tops on the Green Wave last season with 44 receptions for 711 yards, with five touchdown catches.

“We have wide splits,” Brazzell said. “We play at a fast tempo, and it’s more like a run-and-gun offense. I mean if you play receiver, you want to play in an offense like this. I am thankful to be here.”

In terms of who is tasked with getting Matthews, Brazzell and other receivers the football, Tennessee’s quarterback of the future is now the QB of the present. Nico Iamaleava played sparingly in 2023 but was good enough to win the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl MVP award in the Vols 35-0 win over Iowa on New Year’s Day.

“Very pleased with the steps that we’ve been taking,” said Iamaleava of his offense. He completed 7 of 9 passes in limited action during the Orange & White Game. “A lot of the young guys on the o-line have been taking more reps. I think they’ve done a great job of carrying that load, carrying that burden on them. I think the o-line has done a great job of getting better every day.”

Heupel said, “He (Iamaleava) has really good command. He does a great job being intentional in his leadership role, communication role and in one-on-one situations. He’s going to have to continue to grow as a leader inside of our program as he goes through his career. That’s typical of every young quarterback.”

Tennessee opens the 2024 season at home on August 31 against Chattanooga.