UT Vols sophomore Brian Randolph making a push to play

KNOXVILLE -- Brian Randolph has a simple goal in his mind.

The path to reaching it, the Tennessee safety knows, will be more difficult.

Through two scrimmages, though, Randolph is off to a good start.

"I want to be a playmaker," he said Saturday afternoon after the Volunteers' second spring scrimmage at Neyland Stadium. "But that takes a lot of work and dedication. I've got to get my stuff down and become quicker in my decisions."

At least though a couple of opportunities in live action, the sophomore from Georgia has shown a knack for accomplishing his objective. He intercepted a pass and blocked a field goal in UT's first scrimmage. On Saturday, he picked off another pass from Vols quarterback Tyler Bray after it went off a receiver's hands and chipped in five tackles.

Derek Dooley said after the first scrimmage that Randolph had been a steady hand in the Vols' secondary while playing with the maturity of a junior, and UT's third-year coach praised Randolph again on Saturday.

"[He] really shows up a lot," Dooley said. "He had another big interception the last drive of the game. Offense needed a touchdown, two minutes to go and second down, we serve one up to Randolph. He's made plays in both scrimmages."

The 6-foot, 189-pound former Georgia Gatorade player of the year isn't starting from scratch. Randolph started eight games as a freshman, including the last six at safety. He finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles and earned selections to the SEC coaches' All-Freshman team and a couple of All-American teams.

"I feel like I'm a little faster this year and quicker in my calls," he said. "I feel more confident."

Some of that confidence probably comes from Randolph's end to last season. He made nine and eight tackles, respectively, against title-game participants LSU and Alabama. In the season-ending loss to Kentucky, he made a dozen tackles.

Though he's not the biggest safety, Randolph prefers playing closer to the line of scrimmage, which suits his physical style. In new defensive coordinator Sal Sunseri's 3-4 scheme, though, Randolph essentially plays both safety spots, depending on the play. UT's new defense doesn't use the traditional strong and free safeties and simply rolls one closer to the line depending on the offense's formation.

Randolph said his performances in two scrimmages make him feel like he's picking up the new system rather quickly.

"It's making me feel more confident," he said. "It puts me in the right position to make plays, so that's what I like about it."

Though UT knows what to expect from Randolph, Dooley said the Vols aren't using that to get more looks at the rest of a thin safety position. Byron Moore has played next to Randolph all spring, but he suffered what Dooley called a minor ankle injury on Saturday. Though Brent Brewer has been repping with that unit this spring, he could end up back at outside linebacker, where he began the spring.

That leaves Rod Wilks, the fifth-year senior who made six stops on Saturday, redshirt freshman Geraldo Orta and freshman Tino Thomas, who picked off a pass on Saturday.

"We don't have a lot of guys," Dooley said. "We're not putting [Randolph] on the side to rep other guys. He's got a lot to do. They all do."

Randolph is aware of his need to improve, and he's ready to continuing building off a strong close to his freshman season and two solid spring performances.

"I want to get some picks," he said. "That's what I want. I want to get closer to getting interceptions and get a couple of interceptions [and] be the best I can be."

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