Jimmy’s blog: UT has no shortage of spring story lines

Butch Jones enters his fifth spring as Tennessee’s coach with no shortage of story lines.

The coaching staff has been overhauled. A record-setting quarterback who made starts in four seasons is gone. A deficient defense must replace its best player.

USA Today says an “underwhelming’’ season will cost Jones his job. Does that mean anything less than 8-4?

With that in mind, here are some observations and suggestions heading into Tuesday’s opening day of spring practice.

* Jonathan Kongbo will move back to end. He finished last season at tackle, returning an interception for a touchdown. Kongbo is at 260 (down from about 280 at the end of last season) and has been a weight room warrior. He might be the strongest player on the team and could be ready for a breakout season. UT thinks he can be an effective edge rusher.

* UT should play receivers Jauan Jennings and Tyler Byrd 10-15 snaps per game on defense when needed. Perhaps they won’t be needed against Indiana State, but they will be against Georgia and Florida and Alabama and LSU and some other teams. Jennings, who played safety on UT’s Hail Mary defense, even recording an interception, might be a better safety than receiver. Byrd was recruiting by many schools at cornerback. Given UT’s limitations in the secondary, Jennings and Byrd could be mighty helpful. If playing them on defense means taking them off special teams, so be it. But if Jabrill Peppers can play 100 snaps a game, why can’t Jennings and Byrd get more than a dozen snaps on defense?

* Will the defensive staff be better? Most believe Brady Hoke at the defensive line and Charlton Warren in the secondary are improvements over Steve Stripling and Willie Martinez, respectfully. They need to be for UT to improve on an injury-ravaged defense that statistically was the second worst in school history.

* Who will win the quarterback battle? Jarrett Guarantano visited quarterback guru George Whitfield in San Diego last week to improve his skills. Quinten Dormady probably went to visit his QB guru, his dad, in Texas. Both have good, accurate arms. Guarantano gets the edge in mobility, which could be the key in the zone-read scheme. For the most part, running QBs have been more effective in Butch Jones’ scheme.

* Will UT be stronger? From all reports, the Vols have made huge strength strides in the weight room. Jones made a mistake firing Dave Lawson after the 2015 season. Maybe hiring Rock Gullickson will correct that error. So far, the reports are positive. We’ve heard most players are stronger, more powerful and more explosive.

* Will the receiving corps be better without Josh Malone. Malone had a breakout season as a junior with 50 catches for 972 yards and 11 touchdowns. He ran a 4.41 at the NFL Combine to improve his pro stock. Jennings (40 receptions) is the top returner. If Josh Smith can stay healthy (he had offseason groin surgery) he can be productive. Byrd showed flashes. So did Marquez Calloway. This is a talented group, but young. Can new receivers Kevin Beard maximum the talent of the group he inherits?

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