Tennessee lost a trio of productive defensive ends this offseason, as the Vols suffered the departures of Derek Barnett, Corey Vereen, and LaTroy Lewis. Finding their replacements will be one of the main goals of the spring for the Volunteer coaching staff. Fortunately for the defensive staff on Rocky Top, there’s plenty of talent on hand to work with.

Potentially the most intriguing player up front for the Vols this spring will be former junior college defensive end Jonathan Kongbo. After being forced to slide inside and play on the interior last season, something Kongbo struggled mightily with – he registered only 11 tackles and one sack in 2016, the hulking lineman will start the spring on the outside of the line, according to his Twitter account. Knoxville WNML radio host Jimmy Hyams also recently indicated the same.

With both starting defensive end spots up for grabs and several of his competitors banged up, Kongbo could go a long way toward locking down one of the spots with an impressive showing in his first spring with the team. This spring will also mark Kongbo’s second camp with Tennessee assistants Bob Shoop and Steve Stripling. In addition to their coaching, Kongbo will be getting additional tutelage from renowned defensive line coach Brady Hoke, who will be getting his first crack at coaching up the former JUCO All-American.

After winning a heated recruiting battle against the likes of Alabama, Ole Miss, and USC for the No. 1 rated junior college prospect in the 2016 recruiting cycle, the Vols now need Kongbo to live up to the hype. For the first time in his Tennessee career, Kongbo has a clear path to earning a starting role at his desired position. Now it’s up to the 6-foot-6, 260-pound lineman to go out and take it.

Follow Michael Wayne Bratton / SEC Mike on Twitter.