After one season at the University of Tennessee, it doesn’t look like anything has changed.
Randolph finished fifth on the Volunteers with 55 tackles and added two pass break-ups and a tackle for loss. He played in all 12 games and took over as the starting free safety in Week 5. By the end of the season, Randolph had played well enough to earn first-team SEC All-Freshman honors and be named a Freshman All-American by both Yahoo! Sports and Phil Steele, yet, with all the accolades, Randolph still was not satisfied with his first season. He hopes to rectify that in 2012.
“The game has slowed down,” said Randolph, who has added about 10 pounds of muscle and now measures 6-foot, 195 pounds. “And that will continue to get better as time goes on.”
Getting more comfortable on the field is one thing, but Randolph is anxious to make plays in Tennessee’s new attacking-style defense, under new coordinator Sal Sunseri, the former assistant head coach to Nick Saban at Alabama.
“Last year we sat back to stop people from attacking,” Randolph said. “This year we are going to play more of a zone coverage and take some more chances.”
Taking those chances and making big plays have already shown up in Randolph’s performance during the offseason. In each of the scrimmages this spring he made interceptions to end drives, including against starting quarterback Tyler Bray during a 2 minute drill in the red zone.
During the Vols’ spring game, Randolph added a fumble recovery, a pass break up and two tackles to help shut down the Tennessee offense. It’s the kind of defensive role Randolph flourished in at Kell when he recorded 162 tackles with nine pass breakups and four interceptions as a senior.
The new found big-play ability is one of the reasons Randolph was presented with the John Stucky Award at the end of spring camp. The Stucky Award is presented to the player that shows the best physical and mental conditioning in the Vols’ offseason program.
One of the other things that will let Randolph continue to flourish is that there will not be anything new to him about getting on the field this time around.
Last year when Tennessee opened at home against Montana in front of 100,000 fans, it didn’t take Randolph long to realize he wasn’t playing in front of 5,000 fans at Corky Kell Stadium any more.
“I got in the game, looked at the crowd and got dizzy,” he said.
Of course that feeling was long gone by the time he made his first career start against LSU in mid-October.
Now entering his second season, Randolph has become the leader of the secondary, according to safeties coach Josh Conklin. If that’s truly the case, it won’t be long until Randolph owns Neyland Stadium, too.