Tennessee Vols' Brian Randolph 'getting there' in recovery

photo Tennessee's Brian Randolph lines up for a drill during spring NCAA college football practice at Saturday in Knoxville.

KNOXVILLE - There was no cruise, no beach and no warm weather last week for Brian Randolph.

The university's spring break meant a week off of rest and relaxation for the Tennessee football team, and the Volunteers' safety focused on the rest part.

Still recovering from the torn anterior cruciate ligament that sidelined him for all but three games of his sophomore season, Randolph retreated to his hometown with an eye toward Tennessee's nine remaining spring practices.

"For the first couple of weeks I was held out of all the team periods and all the hitting drills," he said Tuesday morning after the Vols returned to practice following a 10-day break, "but now that I got a week off for spring break, they're letting me go now.

"I'm feeling about 80 percent. It's not 100 percent yet. I'm getting there."

The 6-foot, 195-pounder from Marietta, Ga., was out of a noncontact gold jersey Tuesday morning and working with the second-team defense behind Byron Moore and LaDarrell McNeil. The Southeastern Conference's coaches selected Randolph to the league's all-freshman team in 2011, when he was Tennessee's fifth-leading tackler. A promising start to last season ended prematurely against Florida with his 22 tackles leading the Vols.

The difficulty of having to watch the defense flounder without him and the long rehabilitation road mostly behind him, Randolph is continuing to overcome his injury physically and mentally. He tweaked his right hamstring because he was "putting too much pressure" on it to overcompensate for his recovering left knee. Some moments in practice still remind him of his injury.

"I ain't going to lie. Sometimes you can feel it a little bit, and it makes you start thinking," he admitted. "When I get into the same situation I was in during the game where I did it, I started thinking about it then. For the most part, I pretty much just tune it out and just play and try not to worry about it.

"I thought I'd be very scared about it, but I'm not as worried about it as I thought I would be."

It's a mental hurdle similar to the one receiver Justin Hunter had to clear last spring coming off a torn ACL of his own.

"Obviously when you come off an injury, it's always in your mind," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "We have a tremendous training staff and a great set of doctors, and they do a tremendous job. One thing we do in our program is we're proactive in terms of individuals who may have had chronic issues in the past or maybe they're not suffering through certain things, they still have to go through treatments.

"We all know about the Anderson Training Facility and the training room in it. Our players are doing a great job of taking advantage of the facilities and the care that they have. It is a hurdle, but I think that's ongoing and that's part of that mental conditioning in our program that we talk about, and that encompasses all that."

Willie Martinez, Tennessee's new secondary coach, said earlier this spring that he likes Randolph's leadership qualities, work ethic and personality. In addition to noting that the redshirt sophomore needs to be a little more vocal, the former Georgia assistant acknowledged that Randolph's recovery is causing him to miss some valuable practice time as the Vols changes defenses.

"I think it's important for everybody, really, to get the reps and get comfortable in a new system," Martinez said. "We understand that they've learned a couple of different types of systems in the last two or three years, so any time that you're not in there practicing, you're going to lose reps. When you're in there, you get the opportunity to learn it better, and you only do that because you get reps."

Randolph expected he wouldn't be 100 percent healthy for spring practice, but he believes a week's worth of time off should help him do more in the next seven practices.

"They just wanted me to give time for it to heal," he said. "I just hope that God blesses me and helps my body heal. I'm just going to try to get through it and try to get better and work on my fundamentals."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com or 901-581-7288. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/patrickbrowntfp.