These Positions will be Improved for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2024

The Tennessee Volunteers will be improved in several areas in 2024.
Tennessee wide receiver Mike Matthews (89) does a touchdown celebration dance during Tennessee's Orange & White spring football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Tennessee wide receiver Mike Matthews (89) does a touchdown celebration dance during Tennessee's Orange & White spring football game at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, April 13, 2024. / Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA

The Tennessee Volunteers will presumably be improved as the most obvious position the heading into 2024. And that is quarterback. What folks not in touch with the Vols may not see coming is their improvement across the board at other positions.

Thanks in part due to head coach Josh Heupel’s recruiting over the past few seasons, but also due to player development, the Vols are quickly turning into an SEC contender that some may not see coming.

Here are the positions the Tennessee Volunteers will be improved in for 2024


After the vols were led to an 11-2 season thanks in large part to former quarterback Hendon Hooker in 2022, the team saw a drop off not only in record in 2023, but at quarterback as well with Joe Milton at the reigns.

In 2022, Hooker completed nearly 70% of his passes. In 2023, Milton was at 64%. Hooker also threw 27 touchdowns through only 11 games after tearing his ACL which cut his season short. Milton threw 20 through 13 games in 2023, but the offense showed it was more pedestrian with Milton at the controls.

Who is Tennessee’s quarterback in 2024? Nico Iamaleava will be the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Volunteers in 2024, and fans have been clamoring for him since he arrived in Knoxville last year.

What was Nico Iamaleava’s high school recruitment ranking? On3 ranked Iamaleava as the sixth overall prospect nationally in the class of 2023, and the third quarterback nationally.

How did Nico Iamaleava do in 2023? In limited action backing up Milton in 2023, Iamaleava threw for 314 yards in five appearances and threw two touchdowns, but looked like he showed a ton of promise. Iamaleava did start the bowl game against one of the best defenses in the country, the Iowa Hawkeyes.

That defense did not stop Iamaleava from putting on a strong performance however. The true freshman threw for 151 yards and a touchdown. He chipped in 27 yards and three touchdowns on the ground as well.

At times Milton was seemingly reluctant to run in 2023, and that looks like it will change in 2024 based on Iamaleava’s performance against Iowa and his willingness to put his head down.

Sitting for a year on the bench as well will really help for the development of most quarterbacks, and this should be no exception for Iamaleava.

Wide receiver

Mike Matthews, Squirrel White, Bru McCoy, Chris Brazzell II. and Dont’e Thornton are only five of the names that you may see get meaningful snaps for the Vols at wide receiver in 2024.

White, McCoy and Thornton return, but the additions are arguably what folks in Knoxville are most excited about.

Mike Matthews: Mike Matthews headlined not only the receivers for the Vols in the class of 2023, but was ranked as the best recruit in the entire Vols freshman class according to On3.

Matthews ranked as the sixth best receiver nationally and was a five star recruit. Based on spring practice and what Matthews put on tape in the spring game, he looks to be the part

Chris Brazzell II.: Brazzell was one of the headliner acquisitions for the Vols in the transfer portal in 2024 after spending his first two seasons at Tulane. Brazzell Jr. led the Green Wave in receiving with 711 yards in 2023 to go along with five touchdowns.

Defensive line

With the emergence of James Pearce Jr. in 2023, the Vols have an unquestioned leader from a stats perspective on the defensive line, unlike the past few years.

How many sacks did James Pearce Jr. have in 2023? In 2023, Pearce Jr. had 10.5 sacks in his redshirt freshman season. He added in 28 tackles as well. While 28 may not seem like a lot, considering Pearce Jr.’s position of defensive end, it is quite impressive.

Pearce Jr. was the 16th ranked edge rusher in the class of 2022 according to On3, but ranked in the top 10 nationally in this category last year. This is one example of Heupel’s player development.

Omari Thomas: Aside from Pearce Jr., senior Omari Thomas looks to help anchor the interior of the defensive line as well as the leading returning tackler of all defensive lineman for the Vols from 2023. The 320 pound defensive tackle totaled 19 solo tackles and 35 overall last season.

Offensive Line

Two big factors here that may be relatively unheard of across the SEC and beyond; Cooper Mays and Zalance “Lance” Heard.

These two will be two of the mainstays on the offensive line in 2024 for the Volunteers and could help turn them into a force, biding time for quarterback Nico Iamaleava and moving mountains backwards for the running game.

Cooper Mays: Mays was hurt for the first four games of 2023 and although he came back to start the final nine, was not necessarily 100%. In 2024, the Pre-Season All-American Second Team (Phil Steele) center will be. And with center being the anchor and captain not only of the offensive line, but being a key leader for the offense as a whole, this bodes well for the Vols as Mays has started 31 games in his career for the Vols to date.

Zalance “Lance” Heard: Heard is a transfer from LSU where he sat behind Will Campbell as a true freshman, and would have again in 2024. With Heard knowing he was talented enough to start almost anywhere else in the country, he opted to transfer to the Vols.

On3 ranked Heard as an industry five star for the class of 2023 and the number four offensive tackle in the entire country. Heard played his high school ball in the state of Louisiana, which is a high school football breeding ground. The six foot five inch 305 pound tackle is primed and ready, and the Vols should reap the rewards here.

Keeping Iamaleava upright is what it is all about, and with these two healthy on the offensive line, good things should be in store for the offense.


Keenan Pili will be the unquestioned leader at the linebacker position in 2024 after suffering a tricep injury in the season opener against Virginia in 2023 and missing the rest of the season.

Pili spent his first four years with the BYU Cougars, and had a solid season in 2022 with 62 tackles for the Cougars. This was tied for second on the team in tackles. This will be Pili’s sixth season of college football, so he brings a ton of experience to the table.

Who did the Tennessee Volunteers lose at linebacker? Despite losing the team’s leading tacklers in linebackers Elijah Herring and Aaron Beasley, look for the Vols to be better across the board in addition to the return of Pili. They also bring back sophomore Jeremiah Telander, who appeared in 13 games for the Vols in 2023. Telander totaled 35 tackles for the Vols in his true freshman season.

What are the positions of concern for the Tennessee Volunteers?

Concern may be a strong word, but then again maybe not. The Vols replace their entire starting secondary. So undoubtedly, many eyes will be on it entering the season.

The Vols lose running back Jaylen Wright to the NFL Draft as well after Wright’s 1,000 yard season. This will be a lot to replace, but the Vols do return running backs Dylan Sampson and Cam Seldon who are expected to be the one-two punch in 2024.

Sampson ran for 604 yards last year and was a nice compliment to Wright. Seldon should see a much heavier load this year in 2024 entering his sophomore season. He was ranked as the number four athlete in the class of 2023 according to On3.

Every team in the country has question marks, and the Vols are no different. However, going into Heupel’s fourth season, it is refreshing to see the Vols deemed to be more of a contender than a pretender as in years past previous to Heupel.

The fact that multiple position groups can be identified as unquestionable improvements and strengths for the Vols and only a few are questionable is a positive sign that Heupel has things rowing in the right direction on rocky top.

Next. Why the future is bright for the Tennessee Volunteer football program. Why the future is bright for the Tennessee Volunteer football program. dark