Five Tennessee football players who helped their stock during spring practices

Mike Wilson
Knoxville News Sentinel

Warren Burrell had one of the top plays in the Tennessee football spring game.

The cornerback also was one of the players who improved their stock throughout the spring practices.

Here are five players who rose during Josh Heupel's first spring with the Vols:

Jabari Small

Jabari Small was the lone returner of note at running back after staples Ty Chandler and Eric Gray transferred. The Memphis Briarcrest Christian product looked like the clear No. 1 running back Saturday. Junior-college addition Tiyon Evans was limited in the spring game, while Dee Beckwith and freshman Jaylen Wright looked like contributors. 

Small, who rushed 26 times for 117 yards as a freshman in 2020, had a team-high 12 carries for 48 yards with a pair of touchdowns in the spring game.

Dayne Davis

Tennessee went into the spring with a notable question mark at both offensive tackle positions. Jahmir Johnson and Wanya Morris — the starting duo in 2020 — both transferred. Darnell Wright has struggled at right tackle for two seasons.

Cade Mays, who appeared to be the best left tackle option but is ideally a guard, entered the spring as a leader to play left tackle.

Instead, it was Davis who emerged early in the preseason and started at left tackle with the first string Saturday. The 6-foot-7, 325-pound Davis did not play in either of his first two seasons at Tennessee. The Bluff City, Tennessee, native came to UT as a walk-on and was put on scholarship in December.

Tennessee running back Jabari Small during football practice on Thursday, April 22, 2021.

Cedric Tillman

Jalin Hyatt and Velus Jones Jr. were the presumed top wide receivers at the start of spring practices. Hyatt was limited early in the session and worked with the second team Saturday.

Tillman emerged as a potential top receiver for the Vols. He had five catches for 67 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown in the spring game.

Tillman has eight catches for 124 yards in three seasons, including 2018 when he played in four games before he was redshirted.

Omari Thomas

Omari Thomas came to Tennessee as the second highest-rated recruit in the 2020 class. He played as a reserve in 2020 behind a lot of veteran defensive linemen. 

Dec 5, 2020; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Kyle Trask (11) passes the ball while being pressured by Tennessee Volunteers defensive lineman Omari Thomas (58) during the second half at Neyland Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The 6-4, 316-pound Memphis native made 10 tackles with one tackle for loss as a freshman. He should be in line for a bigger role as a second-year player and has the potential to be a major disrupting force in the interior of UT's defensive line.

The No. 91 prospect in the 247Sports Composite for 2020 started in the spring game.

Defensive linemen LaTrell Bumphus, Greg Emerson, Darel Middleton, Elijah Simmons and Aubrey Solomon did not participate in the spring game.

Warren Burrell

Burrell was an immediate starter as a freshman in 2019. He was limited early in the 2020 season, however, before regaining his starting spot in the final few games.

He started Saturday and had the best play in the secondary. Burrell cut under a sideline throw from Hendon Hooker and returned it for a touchdown. The Vols should have a solid secondary with a number of returners. Burrell made a case that he will be the starter opposite Alontae Taylor.

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.