With Joe Milton taking the reins of the Tennessee offense from Hendon Hooker, the Volunteers are moving from a wildly productive quarterback to a less-proven talent. On3’s J.D. PicKell, though, expects Milton to rise to the occasion and then some.
Milton has started a handful of games in his career, including a pair at the end of last season after Hooker tore his ACL. He looked sharp at the end of 2022, especially in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, and PicKell thinks Milton is dialed in to a different level than years past.
“But for Joe Milton, I think just physically he has some things that are a little bit superior to what Hendon Hooker had. I’m not saying he’s a better quarterback than Hendon Hooker. Joe Milton is going to have a chance to show that. But I’m just talking about from physical traits. When God was fearfully and wonderfully making Joe Milton, I am just positive he spilled a bottle of arm strength on him. He has one of the most powerful arms in the entire country. You already knew that. They call him Bazooka Joe for a reason,” PicKell said. “But what we saw in the Orange Bowl, starting to dial it in a little bit more. Starting to look a little bit more accurate. If we see that version of Joe Milton going forward, it’s going to be a very bad deal for everybody else that already sold their Joe Milton stock.”
Milton began his college career at Michigan, where he played sparingly during his first two seasons — seven games and 11 pass attempts. He was named the starter ahead of the 2020 season but struggled after a dazzling opener and was eventually replaced by Cade McNamara. The story then was Milton struggling with accuracy and harnessing his rare arm strength.
But two years at Tennessee seem to have helped Milton mightily. Be it his own development arc or the offense that fits his strengths, PicKell is ready for Milton to tear up the SEC in 2023.
The Tennessee offense, in particular, is something PicKell took time to explain. He addressed how the Volunteers scheme with wide splits and breakneck tempo benefit the offense and put Milton in a position to succeed.
And another slept-on aspect of the Tennessee offense benefits the quarterbacks, PicKell said: The Volunteers ran the ball 54% of the time in 2022.
“The safeties are going to have to start to cheat a little bit if you have success running the football,” PicKell said. “And when that happens, there’s some real estate. Real estate to throw the football to. Because I’m running up to tackle the running back, uh oh, play action, it’s actually not a run play. Well I just left 8-to-10 yards of grass behind me for any of these receiving options that Tennessee has to go and make some plays.”
PicKell also thinks Milton will factor into the run game, much like Hooker did. The flavor of quarterback running will be much different though, due mostly to Milton’s bulk.
He earned a comparison to a big-time NFL star.
“Dude’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and he’s a good athlete. So you’re calling, potentially, a little bit more quarterback power on 4th and 1, instead of calling some zone read stuff or whatever you might be. To put that in perspective, his size, Josh Allen is 6-foot-5, 237 pounds. So Joe Milton, as a college student, is the size of someone like Josh Allen, who’s making plays in the league,” PicKell said. “So I’m just telling you, purely off of the physical gifts Joe Milton has everything that is required to do some real damage in 2023.”
When it’s all said and done, PicKell thinks Milton gives Tennessee all it needs to be just as good on offense in 2023, one way or another.
“I do not believe this offense will take any steps backwards with Joe Milton playing quarterback. And they feel the exact same way in Knoxville now, I promise you. Josh Heupel is very excited about the Joe Milton era that is about to get started,” PicKell said.