Looking for touches

InsideTennessee pinpoints unsung Vols who could make major impact in 2012. Sign in or subscribe now to read about one such player.

Even packing 10 more pounds on his diminutive frame than last fall, Devrin Young is unlikely to lead the Tennessee Vols in rushing yards this season.

All-purpose yards, however, is another matter.

At 5-feet-8 and 172 pounds, Young probably lacks the heft to handle 20 carries per game in 2012. If you count carries, receptions, kickoff returns and punt returns, however, he should be able to handle 20 "touches" per game.

"My goal is to get as many as I can," he said. "I know I'm not an every-down back and I'm not going to be running with too much power. At the same time, if I'm doing well, Coach is going to give me the rock."

A graduate of Knoxville's Bearden High, Young missed the first three games of 2011 due to a broken collarbone but still finished third on the team with 756 all-purpose yards as a true freshman. He contributed 9 rushing, 25 receiving, 628 on kickoff returns and 94 on punt returns.

Now that two-year starting tailback Tauren Poole is gone, Young is in the middle of a running back competition that also features sophomore Marlin Lane, junior Rajion Neal, sophomore Tom Smith, plus freshmen Davante Bourque, Quenshaun Watson and Alden Hill.

"It's definitely a blessing to be a part of," Young said. "It's really exciting. It's competitive, and it forces you to stay on your toes every day."

Tennessee freshman Quenshaun Watson could contend for carries in 2012.
(Danny Parker/InsideTennessee.com)
Knowing he is widely viewed as a "change-of-pace back" or "third-down back" due to his size, Young worked hard in recent months to add bulk and strength.

"I tried to grind hard every day," he said. "Everybody was pushing everybody, and you don't want to be that guy left behind. I really put an emphasis on my work ethic this offseason."

The result was 10 additional pounds of muscle, courtesy of strength and conditioning coach Ron McKeefery.

"Physically, Coach Mac really pushed my body, along with everybody else's, to the max," Young said. "I feel like physically I'm well prepared. It's all a mental game from here on out."

Being a bright young man, Young should excel at the mental aspect of the game.

"I'm on top of it," he said. "I've had a few MAs (missed assignments) but it'll get better."

A durable body and a sharp mind could earn Young significant playing time in the backfield this fall.

"Me and the coaches talked about my role," he said. "Basically, how I produce will determine how much playing time I get."

Whatever his role may be on offense, Young projects to be a major contributor on special teams. He recorded a 23.3-yard kickoff-return average last fall that ranked eighth among SEC players. He recorded an 11.8-yard punt-return average that would've placed him fifth if he'd had enough runbacks to qualify for the SEC ratings. He expects to be a much more productive return specialist in 2012.

"I'm a lot more comfortable," Young said. "I see things that I missed last year. I've caught a few more pointers and I've watched a lot more film on how to be more productive as a return man, both on punt returns and kickoff returns."

Young's first punt return of 2011 was his best — a 43-yarder versus Buffalo in Game 4. His longest kickoff returns were a 50-yarder in Game 5 against Georgia and a 60-yarder in Game 6 versus LSU.

"I probably improved most last year on kickoff returns," he said. "I started off real strong on punt returns, then I kind of fell off a little bit. I got better at kickoffs but I want to be consistent at both."

If he develops that consistency, Devrin Young just might lead the 2012 Vols in all-purpose yards.

Hear Young talk after a recent summer workout in Knoxville in the video below:

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