Toy story

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Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney must have felt like a kid at Christmas during Tennessee's first spring scrimmage last Friday.

Chaney was all smiles as he watched Devrin Young parlay eight carries into 60 yards and three receptions into another 59 yards. Young posted the day's best yards-per-carry average (7.5) and the best yards-per-catch average (19.3). In addition to being the team's ace return specialist, the versatile Vol can line up at tailback, at wide receiver or at slotback.

"He's fun," Chaney said this week. "He's like a toy. I enjoy him.

"But I want to make this clear: Devrin Young is a very good running back. So many people think because he's small that he's not. That would be an incorrect assumption. This kid's a very good runner."

At 5-feet-8 and 171 pounds, Young is Tennessee's smallest scholarship player. Still, he's capable of making a big impact.

"Devrin played really well for us," Chaney said of the first scrimmage. "Devrin's a very good little football player. He's explosive. We try to get the ball in his hands so he can do something with it. He's exciting.

"I think he's feeling more confident with where he's at and feeling more comfortable that he can do this. And I'm feeling more confident that he's going to be a good football player for us."

A native Knoxvillian who graduated from Bearden High School, Young signed with Tennessee in February of 2011 but missed the first three games last fall with a broken collarbone. He made a memorable debut in Game 4, however, returning the first punt he fielded 43 yards against Buffalo.

Although he started Game 7 at Alabama as a third wide receiver, Young contributed primarily on special teams last fall. He averaged 11.8 yards on eight punt returns and 23.3 yards on 27 kickoff returns.

Vol running backs coach Jay Graham (pictured) wants Young to become a more complete ballcarrier.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
With 60 rushing yards and 59 receiving yards in Friday's scrimmage, Young surpassed his 2011 totals for the entire season (six carries for nine yards, three catches for 25 yards). Modest by nature, he credited his teammates for his scrimmage success.

"It was the result of everybody doing their job," he said. "Everybody's working real hard, and it showed."

The collarbone injury made Young a bit tentative last fall, which helps explain why he averaged just 1.5 yards per carry as a freshman.

"I felt like I was just relying on my speed," he said. "I had lost a little bit of weight and a little bit of strength. This time I feel more confident."

At 171 pounds, Young is roughly 40 pounds lighter than the average SEC running back. That raises obvious concerns as to whether he is durable enough to take the pounding that comes with 15 to 20 carries per game.

"I'm not going to say I'm an every-down back but I can definitely hold my own," he said. "I feel like I've proved that a little bit during practice, and I know I've got more to prove."

As an undersized scatback, Young is the polar opposite of running backs coach Jay Graham, who ran with tremendous power as a 5-foot-11, 215-pound Vol tailback in the mid-1990s. Despite the vast difference in styles, Graham believes he can teach Young quite a bit.

"I talk about not being a scatback," Graham said. "He has to be able to do everything. He's strong enough to do it, and I think he has to run physical. You have speed but you have to use that speed to create force at times. I think that's an important part of his game that he's been developing, and he's done a good job."

Young exhibited improved strength in last Friday's scrimmage, showing that he can help the Vols as a runner and as a receiver, in addition to contributing as a return man.

"He can make some plays," Graham said. "He's fast and he has big-play ability. You can put him in certain situations where he can put the defense at a disadvantage. He's done a good job."

Young has done such a good job that he is challenging Marlin Lane, Rajion Neal and Tom Smith for the first-team tailback job.

"The competition's high. You've got Rajion, Marlin, Tom," Young said. "Everybody's out there trying to bring their A-game, so you've definitely got to stay on top of yours."

Even if he fails to win the starting job at tailback, Young's versatility should make him one busy Volunteer this season.

"Definitely," he said. "When we've got Marlin or Rajion in the backfield I can be somewhere else — running the slot or something."


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