A year ago at this time, Joe Milton was on the verge of being named the Tennessee Vols‘ starting quarterback.

Fast forward a year and Milton is mostly an afterthought.

Milton, who has a cannon for an arm (that might not be doing his arm justice), wasn’t able to run Tennessee’s offense early last season as efficiently as Vols head coach Josh Heupel had hoped.

Part of the reason Milton was ineffective was his unusually strong arm. He overthrew open wide receivers far too often.

When Milton suffered an injury against Pittsburgh in the second game of the year, Hendon Hooker took over as Tennessee’s quarterback and never looked back.

Hooker is now a darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender while Milton is the unheralded backup quarterback.

Milton, however, is still working every day to get better. He’s still competing, even though Hooker has a stronghold on the starting quarterback job.

That hard work and improvement is something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by Heupel.

Tennessee Vols
Tennessee’s Joe Milton III (7) stands next to Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel during a Tennessee football practice in preparation for their bowl game, Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.

The second-year Vols head coach was asked a question on Sunday about entering fall camp with a solidified starting quarterback in Hooker.

Heupel used part of his answer to praise Milton.

“Joe is in a much better position than a year ago when he started the season,” said Heupel. “Hendon and Joe, both talked about how close those guys are. They compete in a really positive way together, but they support each other too. For us in our program, it certainly is a luxury to have a guy that has got a lot of time on task, in-game situations, has command of what we’re doing.”

Heupel could’ve easily given up on Milton. But he didn’t. He’s continued to push Milton and show a strong belief in the Florida native.

I don’t know what’s in store for Milton’s football career after he leaves Tennessee. Maybe he gets a shot in the NFL thanks to his unreal arm strength.

If Milton manages to get a shot in the NFL, then the development he’s experienced over the last year — despite not being Tennessee’s starting quarterback — will be invaluable.

It’s not all about starting in college football. Development, as has always been the case, is the main thing that can happen for a player at the collegiate level.

Featured image via Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK