Mike Strange: New staff, spring challenges for Tennessee football – Knoxville News Sentinel

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  • Vols O-line coach Walt Wells is all about competition
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  • Meet new Vol QB coach Mike Canales
  • New Tennessee defensive backs coach Charlton Warren

When Tennessee hits the spring practice field Tuesday, five new position coaches begin a journey with the Vols with whom they will be teaching, practicing and, ultimately, going to battle on Saturdays.

If it’s not square one, it’s close.

Here’s a look at what each of those new coaches will be facing:

Quarterbacks, Mike Canales: This one has been much discussed so I’ll just state the obvious. With Joshua Dobbs gone, Quinten Dormady and redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano compete to take over the most important job on the field. Sheriron Jones and Will McBride hope to figure in some way.

Receivers, Kevin Beard: Jauan Jennings (40 catches in 2016) is the established alpha male in this group. But who fills the considerable void left by Josh Malone’s departure for the NFL?

Injuries nagged Josh Smith through the 2016 season and continue into the spring. Young Brandon Johnson (7 catches) will also be limited. That means plenty of work for Tyler Byrd (15 catches) and two guys who barely got their feet wet in 2016, Jeff George and Marquez Callaway. Opportunity knocks for Latrell Williams, who redshirted his first season at UT but is raring to go.

Offensive line, Walt Wells: Wells was a hands-on helper last year to Don Mahoney, so there is an established relationship in place. He’s got to replace Dylan Wiesman but has plenty of bodies and experience at his disposal. The goal is determine the best five and line them up at the optimum spots.

Senior Brett Kendrick, the only lineman to start all 13 games last fall, is on the spring medical list. Otherwise, Wells has close to a full cast. He also gets January arrivals Trey Smith and Riley Locklear, plus redshirt freshmen Nathan Niehaus and Ryan Johnson.

Defensive line, Brady Hoke: Hoke is at the opposite end of the spectrum from Wells when it comes to available bodies and experience. I don’t know how he’ll get through a day’s practice without walk-ons, at least when contact is on the agenda. Tackles Shy Tuttle, Kahlil McKenzie and Kendal Vickers are limited, as is end Kyle Phillips. All are potential starters in the fall. End Jonathan Kongbo and tackle Quay Picou will be spring workhorses. Tackle Alexis Johnson will get every opportunity to show what he’s got after a misspent 2016. End Deandre Johnson was smart to enroll in January and get a leg up on the competition that won’t arrive til summer. Look for a big spring dose of walk-on Paul Bain.

Secondary, Charlton Warren: Warren takes over a job with urgency. Tennessee’s secondary was too often a weak link last fall. Both cornerback positions are problematic and none of the possible answers are sure-fire. Cam Sutton has to be replaced on one side and the other needs a more consistent performance.

Emmanuel Moseley (10 starts in 2016), Justin Martin (2 starts) and Baylen Buchanan (2 starts) might have a head start but Warren should bring a new perspective in both evaluating and coaching ’em up. Four veterans – Evan Berry, Micah Abernathy, Rashaan Gaulden, and Stephen Griffin – will be limited but that primarily affects safety. Nigel Warrior and Marquill Osborne will get all the work they can handle.

Mike Strange may be reached at mike.strange@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.