KNOXVILLE — Brian Randolph has some lofty goals for his sophomore season.
The Tennessee safety will be expected to meet them, too.
After playing and producing extensively in his first season, Randolph hopes to raise the standard when the Volunteers begin the season a short drive from his hometown in eight days.
"I just want to make more big plays: interceptions, cause more fumbles," he said. "I want to be a playmaker this year. That's why I like this new defense.
"It gives us a chance to do that, so I believe that I'll be able to do this year."
The 6-foot, 195-pound former Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year from Marietta was a 2011 SEC All-Freshman team selection after he made 55 tackles. Though he played in every game and started eight, Randolph had just one tackle for loss and two pass breakups. The first time he picks off a pass or forces or recovers a fumble would be the first of his career.
Though he's not done it, he'll be expected to as the Vols plan to play more aggressively on defense.
"The expectations are high," said safeties coach Josh Conklin. "Like we've said last time, we've challenged him to step it up, and I think he's trying to do that all the time. But it's not only Brian Randolph.
"It's everybody. The expectations are really high for that group, and with what we do schematically, those guys have to have opportunities to make big plays. When they have those opportunities to make big plays, they've got to capitalize on them."
Randolph admitted producing wasn't much on his mind when he made his debut, but he believes that experience will be valuable to him.
"I got used to the environment," he said. "It won't be anything new to me this year. It was scary, I ain't going to lie.
"I couldn't sleep the first night. I got in there and got a little dizzy. All that will be out of the way this year."
The pounding took its toll on Randolph, though he hardly missed any plays. He practiced with a neck pad the latter half of the season as he tried to manage an ongoing stinger. After one practice earlier this month, he had two bags of ice strapped to either side of his neck.
In new coordinator Sal Sunseri's defense, there's not the traditional free and strong safeties. Depending on the offense, one safety will roll closer to the line while the other plays further back, meaning the Vols' back-line players must be effective against both dimensions. It's a style into which Randolph believes he fits well.
Conklin noticed Randolph's instincts, proper positioning and a knack for being around the football, and Tennessee has tried to fine-tune aspects of its safety's game.
"He does a really good job of hunting the football in the run game and in the pass game," Conklin said. "I think as we've taken just little things within his techniques and within his fundamentals and made him a little bit tighter with his footwork and a little bit tighter with route concepts and how he's reading wide-receiver releases, he's gotten much better. I think we're going to see an opportunity for him to make some more plays with that."
Then it'll be up to Randolph to come through and meet his desired goals.
"I like that," he said of the high expectations. "[Defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri] just involves us in the blitzes a lot more, we get a lot of man coverage and we're going to affect the quarterback and maybe get some bad balls thrown to us."
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 ...