There isn't any time to relax.
From the start of practice to the end of it, Devrin Young has a football in his hand that doubles as a target for the rest of his teammates — and it's always live.
By design, it's a constant reminder of the importance of protecting it during games and avoiding fumbles. And after coughing one up in an otherwise electrifying debut last week, the Tennessee freshman has continued to have that point hammered home as he prepares for his first outing as an official starter on punt returns with Georgia coming to Neyland Stadium on Saturday (TV: ESPN2, 7 p.m.).
"It's just teaching ball security, the importance of it," Vols coach Derek Dooley said. "He doesn't carry the ball a lot, so we've got to create ways for him to carry the ball — and he does it for two hours out here.
"Anybody can hit it at any time, and if the ball comes out he has a little reminder."
The extra attention might not be necessary if Young hadn't offered a refresher of his own last week against Buffalo, showing why the Vols (3-1, 0-1 SEC) signed the former Bearden High School star by taking the first punt of his career back 43 yards and nearly breaking it for a touchdown.
Young was also involved offensively and picked up six yards on his only rushing attempt, and he added a 34-yard return on a kickoff as well. But along with the positives were a couple problems UT is looking to clean up against a much better opponent in the Bulldogs (3-2, 2-1), obviously starting with the fumble he lost on a fourth-quarter return.
"He's going to understand it, and hopefully he learned from that," special teams coordinator Eric Russell said. "He mishandled a kickoff, now he ended up running and getting a big deal out of it, but the margin for error now — you don't have that. You can't get away with certain things that maybe we could have against some of the earlier teams.
"The fine balance is making sure Devrin has his confidence, his understanding, is not afraid to be aggressive and go get the ball. At the same, that thing is precious and we can't do anything if we don't have it and maintain possession. You don't want to slow him down, go play, but hopefully it's not going to turn into an issue."
The Vols won't have to wait long to figure that out against a divisional rival in a series that has had its share of momentum-swinging plays on special teams, and they don't have to look back more than a season to see how crucial simply maintaining possession in the third phase can be.
The inability to hang on to the football was a major factor in the blowout loss to the Bulldogs last year after two fumbles by Eric Gordon both led directly to points. Now that responsibility to protect the ball falls to Young.
"You saw by our players, they believe he's a guy that can make something happen," Russell said. "The punt return did bring some energy. Obviously there were ball-security issues which are going to come with experience and understanding when to fight for the extra yard versus knowing when to get down.
"Plus there's just protecting the rock."
Size Matters: The Vols shook up the depth chart a bit as they wrapped up practices on Thursday morning, and there appears to be a preference for bigger bodies to handle Georgia's offense.
At defensive tackle, backup Corey Miller was replaced by Maurice Couch — an addition of 40 pounds. At nose tackle, the void left by moving Couch was filled by Allan Carson and his 20 extra pounds. Even at middle linebacker the Vols added some bulk by promoting Nigel Mitchell-Thornton to the second-team in place of John Propst.
UT also made some slight adjustments on offense, flipping Kyler Kerbyson from a reserve role at right tackle to guard and doing the opposite with JerQuari Schofield.
Young, Marlin Lane and Tauren Poole are all listed at the top of the depth to return kickoffs.
Double Trouble: Even without Justin Hunter (torn ACL) on the other side of the formation, Buffalo didn't elect to devote much extra attention to Da'Rick Rogers last week. That scheme didn't work out too well with the sophomore coasting to 180 yards on seven catches with two touchdowns.
The Vols aren't expecting Georgia to copy that approach this weekend, which could put pressure not only on Rogers to step his level of play up, but the rest of the offense as well.
"I think any time you've got a guy that they think you go to a lot, they try to double him and bracket him and those kinds of things," wide receivers coach Charlie Baggett said. "But we've got plays built into the offense where we take advantage of that also, and then the running game takes a lot of pressure off the passing game to where they can't double.
"If they do that they leave a guy free to run the football, so we've got to be able to do that, too."