Heupel, Golesh Discusses Vols QB Situation, Timeline for Competition

Josh Heupel and Alex Golesh discussed Tennessee's quarterback situatuion
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It is no surprise that Josh Heupel's first question of his fall camp press conference was about the quarterback situation, while on the other hand, Alex Golesh seemed somewhat surprised that his first question was not about the quarterbacks.

Still, during the media day setting, both Tennessee offensive minds answered plenty of questions about the position. We have all of the quotes from the day here.

Heupel on if he feels the need to whittle down quarterbacks and name a starter…

“I anticipate us having a starter during the course of week one, for sure. That doesn't mean the other guys won't have opportunities to share roles. I think it's the challenge for every player to earn the trust of the coaching staff and show that they're going to compete at a consistent and championship level. Once kids do that, I think it's important that you as a coaching staff put them in position to have an opportunity to have a role and play a part of what you're doing. Quarterbacks, just like every other position, those competitive battles that they're in, you dwindle the reps down and make decisions when guys have shown that they've earned the opportunity to become a one or become a two or become a three based on how they perform. And so, as we go through training camp, the players will dictate how that unfolds.”

Heupel on if he’d consider a two-quarterback system and the activities the team has participated in off the field…

“For the quarterbacks, they're going to earn their role as they go through training camp. I anticipate us having a (single) starter; it doesn't mean that other guys won't have an opportunity to play. And what that looks like is dictated by the performance in the course of training camp, and where you feel like collectively and individually that group lies. If you look at our track record, we typically had a starter, but other guys have had situational roles that have been a big part of our success. I don't think at any position, the strength of the position can just be one guy. I know that's unique with a quarterback that there typically is one guy, but I think you’ve got to continually develop that room.

Heupel on what a quarterback needs to do to gain his trust…

“Yeah, you said the key thing, you have to trust them. They have the ball in their hand every single play. They’re the decision maker. They control so much of what we do offensively, in the passing game and in the run game as well. There's a lot on their plate. And so, the ability to trust that guy with the ball is extremely important. I think it's important that your offensive players and your staff on both sides and your defensive players see that that guy earns the opportunity to be that guy. He's got to be a guy that can handle not playing a game to perfection, and to be able to reset from one play to another. That includes after a great play, but certainly after a negative play, just the ability to respond the right way.”

Heupel on his experience with a two-quarterback system in 2013 at Oklahoma…

“That situation was a little bit different. We named a starter, and another guy came in and played in maybe week three, and then became the starter for a series of weeks. Blake Bell was a different scenario all together. We used him in the goal line short-yardage package. We used him in that in ’13, but also used him in that in ‘11 and ‘12. But that's the type of role where there's a unique skill set and opportunity for that guy to help you - offensively, defensively, whatever it might be - but at the quarterback position, where you can use a skill set when you think you have an opportunity to create an advantage in certain situations.”

Heupel on what Joe Milton has done to ready himself for the quarterback competition…

“Really the same thing that all of our guys could have done and have been doing. They spent extra time in the film room. Those guys as much as anybody on our football team have been up spending extra time in the film room. Some of that with the coaches, some of it by themselves. You walk out of the building late at night during June during recruiting, and there were multiple guys that may have been in here doing extra work on the turf field here, spending nights getting better. I think it's imperative and those guys have done it just, you know, the way that they led throughout the course of summer. Whether that was during strength and conditioning drills, whether that was extra work, whether that was away from the building, all those things matter. They've all prepared themselves in a great way, studying our playbook, watching film and getting better the way that they can mentally, but then also spending extra time here physically, fundamentally, and technique wise getting better at the things that we're going to ask them to do when we get on field.”

Golesh on what traits he wants to see from a starting quarterback…

“The ability to run and manage the offense, be really efficient, give us the best opportunity to score. I know that's a little bit cliche in a lot of ways, but you have to be able to operate within the system. We are different, we are unique in how we play. We are really, really down to the wire here now, we’re 30 days out from playing. We're going to have to figure it out quick, pour reps into whoever that is and get the other guys behind them ready to go play. But efficiency in the run game, efficiency in the pass game—by efficiency, I mean decision making—and consistency in play. Consistency is really the word throughout the offense in general. Stringing days together and allowing the coaches to trust in them and allowing their teammates to trust in them. But decision making and consistency help us push the ball vertically down the field.”

Golesh on which quarterback is the most accurate passer and if running a high octane offense can mask deficiencies…

“Most accurate passer, I don't know. Joe (Milton) wasn't here in the spring, I’ll be really curious to probably answer that question in about a week and a half. It’s probably not even fair to answer among the other three, just because the spring was so heavy installation and so heavy learning the offense and us getting here, really we didn't get going with those guys until the middle of February and so I don't think it's probably fair to answer that. And I'm not hiding from the question, I really couldn't tell you the answer to that. I could probably tell you arm strength, or I'll probably reserve judgment on that as well, but I have a better feel there than I probably do truly accuracy. Coach Heupel probably has the strongest arm in that room, also the only lefty.

“More than hiding deficiencies on offense, I think the tempo and the spacing more so exposes deficiencies on defense. I think that's the reason behind why we do what we do, exposing deficiencies, it also probably hides if maybe a better player across from you is able to get his cleats in the ground and really come off and tee off on you, that's the advantage to what we do. With that, it means you have to practice that way and you have to work out that way and condition that way. But can it hide some deficiencies? I think it more so exposes deficiencies on the other side than it really hides your deficiencies. When it is what you do, our guys just get into a rhythm of how we play. You obviously I think still have to line up, you still have to block, you still have to tackle. I think it gives you some advantages in some ways schematically and physically.”

Golesh on Joe Milton’s skill set and what stands out about him…

“He has a bunch of film, so you get to see at least what he has done at the Division I level. You have to take away from that the good and count on coach (Joey) Halzle to continue to bring the good out in him. There's some deficiencies in there that we've worked like crazy to correct, that Joe has worked like crazy to correct. But I remember him out of high school. I remember watching that high school film. I know coach Heupel, they recruited him at UCF. So, there are a bunch of us that have seen him, a bunch of us that have studied him. And then there's actual film from him at Michigan a year ago. So, really strong arm guy, big body type. And I mean big, big body, he is big. He is as big of a quarterback as I've ever been around. Really strong arm, has the ability to run. They did not ask him to do that a ton, but can win running the football with him as well. But he has an extremely strong arm.

“Since he's been here, you look at the film, you realize he's a really highly intelligent, fun guy to be around. He loves football. All those things that we preach in recruiting, all of those things that we internally constantly talk about—guys that are mentally tough, guys that are intelligent, guys that share a love for the game of football—those are the guys who we want in our program and he fits that. I’ll go back to what I said earlier, we have not gone through any adversity with Joe. Joe had gone through adversity at Michigan. Obviously ups and downs in his career and season there a year ago. We have not gone through any of that with Joe, we have not gone through any of that, in a lot of ways with a lot of guys. That will be the true tale of what Joe is. I'm excited to see it, he's excited to show us, he's excited to show himself, his family, that he can take the next step. As a passer, as a runner, as a quarterback, as a guy that can lead a big-time college football program to where it should be. I'm excited to find out. I think we're all excited to find out because he's the only one out of out of those guys that we have not seen in-person live in this system in this offense. I'm excited. I'll have a way better idea in a week, week and a half and we'll find out.”

Golesh on if there is a sense of urgency in identifying a lead quarterback to get more reps…

“Absolutely. To me, there's a huge sense of urgency. You want to start gearing and shaping the offense towards who that guy is and having a plan for who the next one is. Because you obviously have to prepare, you have a plan A and then you got to have a plan B and this time, this COVID thing is still real, so you have to have a plan C. Maybe a plan D even. So, I would like to get a pecking order as fast as we can. We're going to give all of those guys a really honest fair shake at this thing early. And then the pressure is on to at least get your top two to a point where you can start to split those reps. We'll have a really good idea. Like I said, a week or week and a half is my goal, to at least have a top two, maybe three, narrowed down to a top two. And the neat thing for me as the offensive coordinator is coach Heupel has been through it and done it. I really lean super, super heavy on him in that regard to help with that part of it. Joey Halzle has been right at his side for a really long time with it. We talk about it daily, just like you guys talk about it daily. But for me, for us as an offense, I think the faster it happens when it gets announced and all that, I think that would be obviously up to coach Heupel, and if I had it my way, nobody would know until we rolled out on Sept. 2. I don't know if that's possible or not here. Seems to be not. But I have learned that. So, I won't answer the question when it comes up, it’ll have to get leaked out.”

Golesh on his thoughts on playing multiple quarterbacks…

“The best way I can answer that is that we’re going to play the best 11 guys we have. Generally, that’s one quarterback in there. I think you can certainly play with two. I've done it. I've been around it. Coach Heupel has done it, has played with two. I think we're going to play the best 11 and then everybody else that earns our trust and deserves to play, we're going to fight our tails off to play as well. So, will there be two quarterbacks playing in a game? I would probably bet there certainly could be. Three, that would probably be a stretch. But to me, I would love to have one guy you can hang your hat on, and you can really build this thing around. If there's another one that deserves the opportunity to play, we'll certainly do it. But I truly believe that.”

Golesh on the difference in the skill sets between all of Tennessee’s quarterbacks…

“Obviously, there are athletically different skill sets, ability throw the ball down the field different skill sets. In terms of what we do from a big picture standpoint, tempo, splits, how we operate from play to play, how we operate situational football wise, most of that is a system that you're trying to fit a guy into. In terms of the actual plays, in terms of how you can gain an advantage, you're going to tailor it specifically to a guy’s skill set.

“You know, at least in the recent history how Dillon Gabriel is different than McKenzie Milton. In coach Heupel’s pedigree, a Drew Lock is different than a McKenzie Melton. You can look at it a bunch of different ways, but a guy that can give you an advantage running the football, you would view a game plan drastically different than a guy that maybe cannot, that can't get you out of trouble with his feet. So truly, athletic ability, ability to run the football, can that quarterback be an extra guy in the run game for you because that is drastically different. And if he can't, you plan it out different. We have the ability with how we operate in the run game, how we operate in the pass game to adjust it. But again, the faster you can get to that, the better. Because you start to build it that way when your skill guys get to catch the ball from one particular guy or two particular guys and even the offensive line hearing it from the same guy in a rhythm over and over again. At the same time, letting that guy screw up and me having a feel for what that guy likes. You know all those things factor into how you play a game. So, we'll see.”