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An Honors student in high school, Tennessee freshman safety Brian Randolph knows a lot of things. One thing he didn't know Saturday night was the Vols' opponent, and that cost him his helmet.

Moments after a violent collision with an opposing wide receiver, Randolph was so woozy as he trotted to the sidelines that he asked fellow Vol defensive back Izauea Lanier, "How did it look when I tackled Trent Richardson?"

That was in intriguing question, since Trent Richardson plays for Game 7 foe Alabama, and the Vols were playing Game 11 foe Vanderbilt.

"He was dinged around pretty good," Vol secondary coach Terry Joseph said of Randolph. "That's when I knew he had an issue, and we got him out of the game."

More accurately, the Vols tried to get him out of the game. Twice, in fact.

Fearing a concussion, Joseph told Randolph he would be sitting out the remainder of the game. To the Vol aide's surprise, Randolph took the field for Vandy's next possession. Joseph immediately summoned Randolph to the sidelines and reminded him that he was in no shape to continue playing. Moments later, however, Randolph was back in the Vols' defensive huddle.

"One of the bad things about him is that he wants to play so bad," Joseph said. "He actually ran into the game twice after he was declared out. I finally made Jason (trainer Jason McVeigh) take his helmet because Brian didn't realize he couldn't go back in the game."

Randolph subsequently was diagnosed with a mild concussion that leaves him questionable for Saturday's regular-season finale at Kentucky. He hopes he can play, and Vol coaches hope he can, too.

"We're probably one or two injuries away from me having to play safety," Joseph deadpanned. "It's a bad deal back there right now."

Since preseason camp began last August Tennessee has lost starting safeties Janzen Jackson (dismissed) and Brent Brewer (ACL tear). That forced Prentiss Waggner to move over from corner but now he's questionable for the UK game due to a shoulder injury. Making his availability critical is the fact he can play both free and strong safety. So can Randolph, which makes him one rare rookie.

"His body is a tweener," Joseph said of the 6-foot, 190-pounder. "He's not too big to be at free but he can't really play that bandit (strong safety) full-time right now at his size. He can pop back and forth, and he's smart enough to handle both responsibilities. He has some FBI — football intelligence — to where he figures it out on his own."

Randolph started at free safety in Games 2, 4, 7 and 8, then started Games 9, 10 and 11 at strong safety after Brewer was injured.

"I think Brian has the ability to do both," defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox said following Wednesday's practice. "He is a physical kid. He'll stick his face in there. He's got a lot to work on, no doubt, but he has the physical skills and the intangibles that I think will make him a good player."

Statistically, he already is a pretty good player. Randolph is tied for fitth among all Vols with 43 tackles, even though he started just seven of the first 11 games.

Randolph posted a 3.7 grade-point average during his days at Kell High School of Kennesaw, Ga., and utilizes his intelligence on the football field. He calls the secondary coverages for the Vols, quite a feat for a first-year player.

"The good thing about Brian is that he can really quarterback us back there as a true freshman, adjust to all of the switches, motions and different formations," Joseph said. "He's like a pro. He's on time, he knows what to do, he's disciplined and he asks questions."

One of those questions — "How did it look when I tackled Trent Richardson?" — is sure to get him a lot of kidding this week.

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