Does Josh Heupel have quarterback controversy on his hands? He says no, but there are certainly several questions left to be answered at the position. Heupel's backfield is also limited in numbers with Jabari Small and Tiyon Evans, Tennessee's 1-2 punch both battling through their own problems. Heupel addressed each topic during today's SEC teleconference.
"We do not have a starter yet," Heupel said during his ten minute segment. "(Milton) was out on the practice field today. I don't know if he will be available on Saturday."
Milton left Saturday's contest with an apparent lower leg injury and did not return, and Heupel has been more than vague on providing any update on injury status of his players regardless of who the upcoming opponent is, so it remains likely that we do not find out more until closer to game time on Saturday.
"Some of those guys that were nicked up after the ball game are guys that are going to progress through the week, and we'll see where we're at as we get closer to kickoff," Heupel added.
Despite being listed as co-backups on the depth chart, Hendon Hooker has gone into the game twice over Harrison Bailey. Now, had Tennessee put Bowling Green away earlier and Joe Milton not had his struggles, it is possible that we see all three quarterbacks in the season-opener. However, Heupel addressed a question about Bailey today.
"Our staff and players have great confidence in both of those (two)," Heupel said. "Hendon, just where we were in the course of practice and what we were doing offensively, I felt like it was right time for him to be the guy to go in the football game. You guys have heard me say it before. The strength of one position can never be one guy. All those guys have had a really good week of practice here. Harrison is smart, competitive, plays for his teammates, pushes them in a positive way He's a good leader inside our team. He is on our leadership council. He prepares the right way, too."
Will all three guys play on Saturday as Tennessee searches for clarity at the position? Only time will tell, but the Vols need answers before heading south in week four to kickoff SEC play against rival Florida.
During Saturday's game against Pitt, Tiyon Evans was unavailable due to undisclosed reasons, and starting running back Jabari Small left the game on the last play of the first half and was unable to return leaving Jaylen Wright as the only back to get a touch in the second half.
Today, Heupel said he is, "hopeful" that Small and Evans will be available to go on Saturday but did note the opportunity for the other running backs on the roster during this week of practice.
"Both of those guys, don't have a final word yet," Heupel said.
If Tennessee does not have the duo, they will turn to Marcus Pierce, Len'Neth Whitehead, and Dee Beckwith behind Jaylen Wright. Wright has been one of the more consistent performers since arriving on campus, but he has yet to break loose in a game.