KNOXVILLE -- Derek Dooley delivered the news with an undertone of despondency in his voice.
Tennessee's second-year football coach has become accustomed to announcing bad injuries during his weekly Monday news conference. This time it involved starting strong safety Brent Brewer, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Volunteers' loss to South Carolina and will miss the rest of the season.
"It was a tough, tough month we had," Dooley said on the last day of an October that ended with the Vols on a four-game losing streak. "We have to put the next guy in and go play."
Freshman free safety Brian Randolph will move to Brewer's spot, and Prentiss Waggner goes back from cornerback, where he started the last two games and intercepted a pass against the Gamecocks, to free safety. Marsalis Teague and Justin Coleman are bracketed in Waggner's vacated corner spot.
Coleman and Teague have had their rough stretches this year, and Waggner has to abandon his more natural position again, the same move he made when star safety Janzen Jackson was dismissed 10 days before the season opener.
"We don't really have much options," Dooley said. "We have to move Prentiss back, put some corners in, and they've got to go play better. Brian Randolph will go play where Brent was playing. He hasn't done it, [so] we're going to try that to make it simple for him.
"We wanted Prentiss at corner all year; then we finally got Randolph ready and move [Waggner] to corner and he gets a good pick and he's playing good, [but] we've got to move him back now."
Brewer's strong close to his freshman season created an elevated level of expectation he struggled to reach as a sophomore. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound former minor league baseball player made 30 tackles in the last seven games last year, and he made 24 in eight games this season counting his six tackles against South Carolina.
His injury looked similar to the one that ended receiver Justin Hunter's season in September, especially the way Brewer went down awkwardly after planting his foot trying to make a tackle.
The Vols will have to lower the difficulty of learning an entirely new safety position for Randolph.
"It's all how you put your game plan in," Dooley said. "Were [the two safety positions] dramatically different with Brent? Yeah, because we never really had him in the deep middle. He was always kind of the down guy.
"We may mix it up a little bit now with Brian to make it easier. It just depends on how you shape it for the week and who you're playing. That's probably the biggest thing."
Sophomore No. 1 quarterback Tyler Bray remains in a cast while his broken right thumb heals, and Dooley didn't have a specific update on his status Monday.
"The projection all along has been maybe by the [Vanderbilt] game, and there's been no indication to challenge that," he said. "It's kind of week to week."
The Vols host the upstart Commodores in three weeks. Bray will be re-evaluated after having a plate removed from his thumb to see how well it has healed and how well he can grip a football.
Tailback Tauren Poole has never been one to withhold his opinion, and the senior sounded frustrated Monday while talking about another poor performance in the run game. Poole had 38 yards against South Carolina, and the Vols netted just 35 yards after averaging more than 100 yards against the stouter defenses of LSU and Alabama.
With true freshman quarterback Justin Worley's limited experience in his first start, Poole said UT "ran probably two run plays" that the Gamecocks eventually figured out.
"It was really tough, but like I said you can't change anything," Poole said. "All you can do is go out there and run what's called and play the best you can. It's very frustrating. It's one of those deals you lose sleep over because you want so much for this program, for this university and for this team.
"It's just not happening. [We've] caught a lot of bad breaks. It's easy to say all the right things, but that's unrealistic right now. We've got to get better in the run game, and we've to continue to play better as an offense. I know that's a lot of things we continue to say: 'Play better, play better, play better.' It's just not happening, but we have to."
Dooley said the Vols missed Curt Maggitt's production and disruption as the freshman linebacker missed the South Carolina game with a calf injury, but he's expected to return this week. ... Defensive tackle Maurice Couch had what Dooley called his best game, and the junior college transfer has 11 of his 21 tackles in the past two weeks, prompting the coach to say the Vols need "three more Mo Couches" on the defensive line. ... Freshman return specialist Devrin Young needs to get the ball more on offense, Dooley said. ... The Vols broke their normal routine by taking Sunday off from practice. ... The Southeastern Conference is exercising its flex-scheduling option for the Vols' Nov. 12 trip to eighth-ranked Arkansas, meaning the game could start at one of four times.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...