Tennessee will be without arguably its best defensive player for the rest of the season, after sophomore safety Brian Randolph tore his ACL in his right knee in the Vols' 37-20 loss to Florida Saturday.
Randolph hurt his knee while trying to tackle Florida wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. during Hammond's 75-yard touchdown catch-and-run in the fourth quarter. Randolph caught up to Hammond during his run, but stepped awkwardly after Hammond made a strong cut back to the middle of the field at around the 25-yard line before cruising into the end zone.
Losing Randolph is a big deal for the Vols. He has tremendous field instinct and is an exceptional playmaker. He finished the season as the team's leading tackler, with 22 stops, including 17 solo. Randolph really made a splash with the Vols as a freshman last year, playing in all 12 games and starting eight. He collected 55 tackles and was a Freshman All-SEC selection by the league's coaches.
Randolph's absense leaves a big hole in not just Tennessee's secondary, but the entire defense. Junior safeties Byron Moore, who started the first three games at strong safety, and Brent Brewer will man the starting safety spots. Brewer started eight games last year before suffering a season-ending ACL injury against South Carolina.
There's experience in the defensive backfield, but there's no question that Randolph's replacement has very big shoes to fill.
"It's real big," sophomore linebacker Curt Maggitt said. "It's real key. He's a real vocal guy, real smart, understands his position and understands others' positions. [He] can help out a lot and he's a great playmaker, and he's a good person. You can trust him behind you."