Oct. 25, 2011
KNOXVILLE - Much of the talk defensively for Tennessee has surrounded freshmen A.J. Johnson and Curt Maggitt, but freshman defensive back Brian Randolph is quietly emerging into his starting role at free safety.
While his opportunity to play has increased, it's given the Vols more opportunities in other areas of the secondary.
"He's a more physical guy at the post than Prentiss (Waggner)," head coach Derek Dooley said following Tuesday's practice at Haslam Field. "That's a fact. It allows us to play Prentiss at corner. We're hoping that will help us a little bit. He's going to be a good player for us."
Randolph is Tennessee's sixth-leading tackler, making the Vols the only team in the country with three of its top six tacklers being freshmen.
"It (has been) a very exciting experience," Randolph said as he addressed the local media for the first time Tuesday. "The door was open for me. One door closes for one and one opens for another. It was a big point for me to get ready and they (coaches) got me ready. I had to step up and get more reps with the ones and be prepared."
Being prepared has helped Randolph post impressive back-to-back efforts against LSU and Alabama with nine and eight tackles, respectively.
Each team poses physical challenges, but the adjustment for Randolph has been more mental.
"It's much different than high school," Randolph said. "There are a bunch of different things. You have to check the plays according to how they line up. Before every snap, you have to run through every possible situation in your head and be ready for whatever happens."
JUSTIN JUMPS IN
Donning a green No. 14 jersey, freshman quarterback Justin Worley led Tennessee's first-team offense Tuesday in preparation for his first career start Saturday against South Carolina.
Although there's nothing new with Worley's attire, much changed in his mentality when starting quarterback Tyler Bray was injured against Georgia and he moved up the depth chart.
"He did what he's done the last couple of weeks," Dooley said of his performance Tuesday. "He's been a different guy ever since Tyler (Bray) went down, just mentally. You can tell he's into it. There was no difference there, which is good. He's throwing the ball well. He's managing the plays well and running the offense. He just has to prepare well this week, go out and do the best he can."
What `the best' for Worley is remains to be seen.
"I don't know what it's going to look like," Dooley said. "It could look great. It could look average. It could look really good at sometimes, really bad at sometimes. It could look bad. I have no idea, but I have confidence in him or I wouldn't be starting him. He has a lot of good qualities. He has a tremendous amount of experience in high school, meaning he has thrown a ton of balls and that means something. He's intelligent. He has a good arm. He has good stature. We'll see."
Those good qualities have been evident to at least one of his receivers in junior Zach Rogers.
"He has a lot of confidence in his arm and he has a lot of ability," Rogers said. "Once he gets the schemes down and learns the playbook a little better, I think he will be just fine. (He is) very accurate. We came out here today and I don't think many balls were on the ground, so that's a good sign. He throws a good spiral and it's easy for us to put our hands on it."
While Worley hasn't attempted a pass at Tennessee yet, his ability to communicate to the other 10 guys on offense has rated as a completion.
"He has been very vocal (in the huddle)," center Alex Bullard said. "Not once today or even in Alabama did we have to tell him to speak up when he came in. He's ready to go and clear with his calls. We feel really confident with him in at quarterback."
Bullard made his first collegiate start at center last week at No. 2 Alabama with decidedly positive results as he was named Tennessee's offensive player of the week by the coaching staff.
The Franklin, Tenn., native was happy with his play, but nowhere near ready to call it a perfect performance.
"I feel like I did pretty well for my first time," Bullard said. "I could have made better calls. I could have identified the `mike' linebacker a little bit better in order to pick up the pressure (Alabama) was bringing. I feel like that will come with a little more experience at the position."
This week against South Carolina, Bullard will be the veteran in the center-quarterback exchange as he works with Worley for the first time in a game. He isn't too concerned about making the transition though.
"It's not that tough because we've worked with all of (the quarterbacks)," Bullard said. "During the summer, Justin Worley was with the (second string) switching with Matt Simms. I've had the opportunity to snap to all three of them in training camp so it will not be that big of an adjustment."
BUMPS AND BRUISES
With seven games in the books, the Vols are enduring the typical this-time-of-year pain, especially after playing the top two ranked teams in the country in Alabama and LSU, both of which have a reputation for being physical.
"We have to learn how to manage it mentally," Dooley said. "We have to learn how to manage it physically. Your body will continue to adjust to the amount of stress you put on it. We have to keep pushing and then we have to do a good job when we're not in practice of recovering our bodies so we'll be ready to go on Saturday.
While the Vols recover, Dooley reminded them that they're not the only ones.
"There's a physical component to it, there's a mental component to it and there's an emotional component to it," Dooley said. "But there's not a team in college football right now that doesn't have the bumps and bruises. That's part of it."