KNOXVILLE - As Tennessee's offense continues to search for playmakers, Devrin Young is trying to ensure his name is in the hat when the Volunteers start the season.
The 5-foot-8, 171-pound junior from Knoxville moved from tailback to receiver before spring practice and hopes to reclaim a role on Tennessee's special teams unit as a returner.
Though Young has made some nice plays this preseason, he's hardly settling.
"I'd say I feel better about where I stand," he said Wednesday morning after the first of Tennessee's two practices. "I'm not happy with where I'm at right now. In this league, you can't ever really get content or too happy, so really at the end of the day I'm just working to keep building every day."
Young followed up a freshman season where averaged 84 all-purpose yards per game with a disappointing sophomore campaign. His most extensive work at tailback, a 13-carry, 58-yard peformance against Mississippi State, was marred by a game-changing fumble. He returned only eight kickoffs a season after returning 27 in 2011, as the electrifying Cordarrelle Patterson stole Young's thunder there.
This offseason, Young has shown enough quickness to create matchup problems as a slot receiver, but as with any player adjusting to a new position, there's been some inconsistency. He made a nice play Tuesday afternoon when he hurdled cornerback Vincent Dallas on the way to a touchdown run on a reverse, but he had a bad drop with no defenders near him on a short hitch route during red-zone 7-on-7 work on Wednesday. He later caught a touchdown pass when it appeared the defense busted a coverage.
Young has stood out among the group of players the Vols are trying out at punt returner because he's been the most consistent at catching kicks, and at this point he's the favorite to handle both punt and kickoff returns.
"Devrin's been one of those individuals who quietly keeps getting better and better throughout the course of training camp," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "We've really challenged him in terms of the return game. The fundamentals, and everything about being a great punt returner and kickoff returner, are [on his] shoulders. It's the fine details, and then it's poise under pressure.
"We've really challenged him, and he's doing a great job. He's picking the offense up, and he's quietly having a very good camp. He's probably played his best football the past couple of days."
Alton "Pig" Howard has taken nearly all of the first-team reps in the slot, but Young has taken his fair share of snaps with the starters.
"Devrin's worked his tail off and brought some really good things to the table," receivers coach Zach Azzanni said, "and I'm pleased with how he's playing right now."
Jones said Young remains a work in progress at receiver.
"He's starting to understand now when he makes a mistake," the coach said. "When he doesn't have a great top end of the route, he's starting to see that, and that's the first step to correcting it, is understanding what you're doing wrong. It's the power of why: not just do it to do it, but understanding why we do that."
Despite an increased comfort level, Young knows there are plenty of parts of his game that need more work.
"I feel a lot more comfortable," he said, "but I'm still trying to work on my blocking, my catching, overall route-running -- everything. Until I feel like Coach Z [Azzanni] says I'm a good player, I've got to keep building."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.