KNOXVILLE -- With Devrin Young's status up in the air and Vincent Dallas's departure last week, the Tennessee Volunteers are looking to two inexperienced players to take over the stressful kick-return duties.
Defensive backs JaRon Toney and Malik Foreman took the reins during practice Tuesday.
Foreman, a freshman from Kingsport, brings the speed that made Young such a threat for the Vols on special teams. As a redshirt junior, Toney has racked up 19 solo tackles this season and four stops in the Vols' loss to Georgia. The two players were listed as starters on the depth chart Tennessee released Tuesday.
Young broke his hand during a passing drill in practice last month, but the junior returned to practice Tuesday after missing several weeks.
"It's a lot to expect from a young man who's missed a number of weeks and to come back and be in football shape mentally and physically," coach Butch Jones said. "The cast is off, but it's playing yourself into football condition and mainly mental condition. It's about getting in with the offense and playing fast and getting into game shape. It's going to be a process."
Young was in a noncontact jersey Tuesday, but he got some first-team repetitions at punt returner and appeared to catch the ball cleanly during passing drills.
"He's done a great job coming back, and I think [strength] Coach [Dave] Lawson did a great job keeping his mind sharp on the offensive schemes," quarterback Justin Worley said. "He had him out here running and going through plays and just knowing what he's doing mentally. I think he hasn't really missed a step even though he's missed several weeks of game play.
"He's a great asset to our team, returning kickoffs and punts and things like that. He adds another body out there to play slot for us, too. He's a speedster, and we all know that."
The Vols face the SEC's leading rusher when the South Carolina rolls into Knoxville.
Mike Davis, the Gamecocks' sophomore tailback, has racked up a chart-topping 742 rushing yards and nine touchdowns during their first six games. He averages 6.7 yards per carry and has had multiple 50-yard runs, including two rushes of 75 yards against Georgia and North Carolina. Davis also has 185 yards receiving, which makes him second among SEC running backs behind Kentucky's Ryan Timmons.
Tennessee has struggled against mobile quarterbacks this season, but they face a troublesome duo in Davis and quarterback Conner Shaw, who have combined for more than 1,000 yards on the ground.
"He runs the ball well," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said of Davis. "He runs through arm tackles, and we've just got to square him up and put our helmet on him. We can't just go in and arm-tackle him. We've got to be great solid tacklers."
Davis' 123.7-yards per game average is the 10th best average in the FBS.
"He brings a lot to the table," Sapp said. "We just have to play our game and tackle well."
Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney seems to hog the spotlight during any conversation involving the Gamecocks, but Worley is well aware that South Carolina will 10 other defensive players on the field.
"They have a really physical and athletic front, and they can rotate guys in and out," the quarterback said. "They keep guys pretty fresh throughout the game. Their secondary is pretty strong, too.
"We're going to have our hands full, and they showed that against Arkansas last week."
South Carolina has allowed 22.7 points per game this season, ranking 39th nationally.
Tailback Marlin Lane (toe) was back at practice in a noncontact jersey, and Jones expects him to play Saturday. ... Jones on linebacker Curt Maggitt: "We're not expecting him to play this year." ... Defensive tackle Trevarris Saulsberry, who suffered a knee injury against Oregon, also returned to practice, though Danny O'Brien and Greg Clark continued to take second-team reps during the open period of practice. ... Freshman defensive end Kendal Vickers, who hasn't played this year as a likely redshirt, was a longtime South Carolina commitment before signing with Tennessee.
Contact Sam Gilbreath at email@example.com.