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UT Vols coach Jeremy Pruitt holds a press conference on Signing Day 2017.
UT Sports

This is Part V of a series examining the outlook for Tennessee at each position in advance of spring practice, which begins March 20. Today, we preview the wide receivers.

Tennessee had a void of playmakers at wide receiver in 2017. Jauan Jennings, who was expected to be the team’s top target, dislocated his wrist in the season opener and didn’t return. He wound up getting kicked off the team in November.

Marquez Callaway and Brandon Johnson each had games in which they looked like legit weapons, but neither was a consistent threat.

More: What return of Darrin Kirkland, possible move to 3-4 may mean for  Vols linebackers

More: Will tight ends be used more prominently in Tyson Helton’s system?

Combined with Tennessee’s sluggish quarterback play, it led to the question of whether the quarterbacks were the problem or whether they didn’t have anyone to throw to.

The receiver room will feature many of the same faces who were on the team last year, so better production largely will mean getting the returning players to improve.

More: Offensive line will be a position to monitor

More: Do Vols have personnel to move to a 3-4? Spring might offer a hint

Returning starters (3)

Marquez Callaway, Brandon Johnson, Josh Palmer

Other returners (5)

Tyler Byrd, Princeton Fant, Jacquez Jones, Jordan Murphy, Latrell Williams

Newcomers (2)

Alontae Taylor, Cedric Tillman

Outlook

Callaway has athleticism. Johnson is decent in the slot. Palmer gets downfield in a hurry.

But there are no stars in this group – at least not yet. One needs to emerge during this offseason to help fuel an offense that ranked 13th in the SEC in receiving yards last year.

Consider this: Tennessee’s wide receivers combined for 92 receptions in 2017. That accounted for just 51.1 percent of the team’s total receptions. There were six wide receivers in the nation who had more individual receptions last season than the Vols’ entire receiving corps accumulated.

One prediction

Callaway looked like a potential breakout star in last season’s opener against Georgia Tech, when he had 115 receiving yards. Then it was as if the Vols forgot about him for the rest of the season. A new system and fresh coaching staff will serve Callaway well, and he’ll prove this spring that he is this team’s top weapon at wide receiver.

One to watch

Securing Taylor’s signature during the December signing period was one of the top recruiting wins for coach Jeremy Pruitt. Taylor is the second-highest rated player in the Vols’ signing class, according to the 247Sports composite. He committed to UT while Butch Jones was coach, then decommitted after Jones’ firing, only to make another pledge to the Vols in December.

An early enrollee, Taylor has a chance to show this spring that he needs to be in the lineup this fall.

Biggest question

Is Jennings in spring camp?

Jennings got the boot after a profanity-laced rant he posted on social media that was directed at Tennessee’s coaching staff. John Currie and Brady Hoke were responsible for dismissing Jennings. They’re no longer at UT.

Pruitt and athletic director Phillip Fulmer have said the door is not closed on Jennings being reinstated. He’s enrolled in classes, and Jennings hinted at his return to the roster in a January Instagram post.

But there’s been no official change in Jennings’ status, so it remains in question whether he’ll be with the team this spring.

“He’s got a lot to do to prove that he wants to be on this football team,” Fulmer said during a January appearance on WNML.

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