The Tennessee football newcomer and former walk-on who are turning heads in spring practice

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

A newcomer and a former walk-on are among the Tennessee football standouts this spring.

The Vols will hold a scrimmage Saturday, then host the Orange and White game at Neyland Stadium on April 24.

Here is what we learned in the next to last week of coach Josh Heupel's first spring practice:

Byron Young trending upward

Cade Mays didn't have to think much about which player on the defensive front is the most challenging to work against.

"The new guy, Byron Young," Mays said Wednesday. "He is going to be a really special player here one day."

Young was the talk of the week, earning praise from defensive line coach Rodney Garner, outside linebackers coach Mike Ekeler and Mays.

"He's got unbelievable speed," Ekeler said. "The guy is extremely fast and he bends really well. He can hit that corner and dip and rip and rub and beat them to the edge. He's really doing a good job working on his counter moves, and I'm really excited about him.

"That guy, he really truly every single day just coming out and competing. I love the guy."

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The Vols signed Young on signing day in December. The Georgia Military College product was rated the No. 2 weakside defensive end and the No. 17 junior-college prospect in the 247Sports Composite.

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Young had offers from Auburn, Florida Georgia and LSU among others.

"He takes coaching," Garner said. "He works on the little things that we point out in the film sessions. Right now, he is a guy that is trending upwards."

Dayne Davis an option at tackle

Tennessee lost both its starting left tackles to transfer following Jeremy Pruitt's firing. Wayna Morris transferred to Oklahoma. Jahmir Johnson transferred to Texas A&M.

Mays is an option at left tackle, but so is former walk-on Dayne Davis. The 6-7, 325-pound Davis has generated praise throughout the spring.

"He is somebody that the whole O-line room has watched work really hard and take it upon himself to learn the offense and ask questions," Mays said. "We are all proud of him. We were all excited when he got put on scholarship."

Tennessee offensive lineman Dayne Davis (66) takes the field ahead of a game between Tennessee and BYU at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Davis did not play in either of his first two seasons at Tennessee. The Bluff City, Tennessee, native was put on scholarship in December.

Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee praised the way Davis has spent extra time studying Heupel's offense.

"A great example is he was talking different pass sets stuff and he was trying to play to some of his strengths and change the set," Elarbee said. "You respect a guy that understands where he's good and what he has to do, and he plays with great effort and has a great attitude. He's done a really great job at left tackle. Just as solid as can be."

Where is Cade Mays playing?

Mays has played guard and tackle during the spring. The Knoxville native started six games at right guard in 2020 after transferring from Georgia. Mays played all five offensive line positions at Georgia.

He feels that right guard is his best spot, but is comfortable at any position.

"I am really starting to get my fundamentals down at tackle," Mays said. "I feel more comfortable there than I have probably ever felt."

Elarbee indicated Mays' position will depend upon "where he fits best with all of the other guys."

"He's probably going to slide in there where it makes us best," Elarbee said. "To his credit, he has had to do a bunch of different positions. He's moved a lot and has just been for us, for the team, for doing whatever matters. I really appreciate that part of him. One, because I can move him and two, the way he has responded to it."

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.