Expectations for Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker are sky high. The 6’4″ signal caller racked up 2,945 yards passing, 620 yards rushing, 36 total touchdowns, and only 3 interceptions during his 2021 campaign. The bar has been set high by Hooker’s own excellent play. He’s been named to multiple QB award watch lists and has even been discussed as a dark horse Heisman contender. But for Hooker and the Vols’ to improve on their 7-6 record from a year ago, he will have to find a way to take his play to the next level and truly meet those expectations.

During a session answering questions from media members on Wednesday, Hooker was asked what his biggest area of growth has been since his initial season with the Big Orange. He said this in response…

“Just being relaxed. Not being too antsy. Not trying to force things but just letting the game come to me and having fun. I’m having a great time out there with my teammates. They encourage me to come out every day and continue to keep my head down and lead the way they need me to.” 

Hendon Hooker via Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

So, could it be as simple as just learning to relax that could let Hooker unlock his entire potential? Possibly.

We all know that Vols head coach Josh Heupel runs a very unique offensive system. It’s extremely fast-paced and based significantly around catching the defense on its heels with tempo. I have no doubt that a system like this, as simplistic as it may sometimes appear, can take a lot of getting used to.

Keep in mind that Hooker wasn’t Tennessee’s starter at the beginning of the 2021 season and you’ll notice that he’s only played about 11 full games in Heupel’s system. Being relaxed and more comfortable in his role in the system could genuinely help Hooker take a big step forward. Hooker having a true command of everything unfolding in front of him instead of still getting used to a new strategy is what could give the Vols victories in close games instead of defeats like they had against Ole Miss and Purdue last season.

Lest we forget that Heupel’s team was a single completed pass and a half-competent referee away from winning 9 games in 2021. Hooker simply relaxing and letting the game come to him may really be enough to seal the deal in contests that the Vols let slip away in his first year. Now, add in an improved defense and continued growth in coaching in the SEC for Heupel, and special things could be possible the 2022 Volunteers.

Featured image via Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK