Brian Randolph shining in Tennessee Vols secondary

Brian Randolph shining in Tennessee Vols secondary

September 25th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sportscollege

Tennessee defensive back Brian Randolph (37) returns an interception from the end zone against Western Kentucky.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE -- Brian Randolph spent most of last Saturday afternoon in Gainesville near the football.

Whether it was a quarterback, tailback or wide receiver toting the ball for Florida, Tennessee's safety was not far away, and the result was a team-leading 11-tackle performance for the redshirt sophomore.

It was the one tackle Randolph missed, though, that still bothers him.

Early in the second quarter, Gators backup quarterback Tyler Murphy fired a flare pass to Solomon Patton, and after the speedy wideout evaded Tennessee nickelback Devaun Swafford, Randolph narrowly missed shoving him out of bounds.

Patton kept running for a 52-yard touchdown that gave Florida a lead it never relinquished.

"It was just a play I should have made," Randolph said after Tennessee finished practice Tuesday. "It wasn't really the angle. I got my hands on him, and I should have brought him down.

"I know I'm much better than that, so I feel like I've just got to make the play at that point."

Through four games this season, Randolph is the Vols' second-leading tackler with 25 stops, only two behind middle linebacker A.J. Johnson. He also has two interceptions, both against Western Kentucky. Tennessee is glad to have No. 37 back roaming its secondary after losing him to a torn ACL against the Gators last season.

That knee injury is well behind Randolph now, and he's filling a role as an anchor for Tennessee's young secondary.

"When we talk about consistency in performance, you know what you're getting with Brian every day," coach Butch Jones said Monday. "You know what he's selling. You know what he's bringing to the table.

"The thing I like is you're starting to see a little more passion, a little more energy, a little more confidence in the way his demeanor is, his body language on the field, and I've been really, really pleased with the way he's playing right now."

The Gatorade player of the year as a senior at Marietta's Kell High School in 2011, Randolph said he "became more of a man" through his injury and recovery.

"I feel blessed to be on the field," he said. "I don't take it for granted like I kind of did at points last year. I go out there and it's with a purpose, and I just feel like at any moment my season could be done, so I just go out there with a passion."

When he just missed breaking up a pass in the first quarter against Florida, Randolph visibly showed some emotion when he yelled after seeing Trey Burton hold onto a first-down pass.

On a couple of occasions, Randolph knifed into the backfield to bring down a Florida back, and Tuesday he credited the coaching staff's play calls for putting him in the positions to make those lost-yardage plays.

He probably shook his head when he watched film of his missed tackle on Patton's score, though.

"He's an individual -- which you want him to be -- he internalizes everything," Jones said. "If you're a competitor, you relive every single play in your mind. [But] you can't let that play beat you the next play."

Jones said the touchdown was a team error by the Vols. Cornerback Justin Coleman did well to set the edge, and Swafford was in position to make a play when he stumbled. The speedy Patton then just escaped a diving Randolph.

"Randolph's not that type of guy," linebacker Dontavis Sapp said. "When he makes a play, he makes a play and he doesn't really talk about it. When he doesn't, he really doesn't talk about it. He's just out there playing one play at a time. He doesn't beat himself up over petty stuff like that. Those are things that we can fix."

To his credit, Randolph is realistic, too. He knows he won't make every play or never miss a tackle. To him, what's more important is how he handles them when it does happen.

"I definitely want to make all the plays I'm supposed to make," he said, "but I've got to keep in mind that I'm not perfect. I'm making some mistakes, but I can't let it get to me. I've just got to snap-and-clear and move on to the next play."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.