KNOXVILLE -- Brian Randolph now has worn a green noncontact jersey in Tennessee's football practices for more than two months.
The Volunteers' valuable safety still is playing through some pain.
Randolph missed a couple of defensive series in Tennessee's loss at top-ranked Alabama last week before returning, and though he was limited in the open part of Tuesday's practice, the Vols feel he'll be ready to play through the shoulder injury Saturday night at 10th-ranked Missouri.
"Brian, he's a huge part of our defense," cornerback Justin Coleman said following Tuesday's practice. "He knows everything about it. He takes control, he leads and lets everybody know if they don't know what they're supposed to do. He's going to help them a little bit.
"We really value Brian back there, and he helps us a lot."
During the walk-through of Tuesday's practice, LaDarrell McNeil and walk-on Max Arnold took the first-team repetitions. Freshman Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who's working in the secondary this week after moving to linebacker from safety in August, and Geraldo Orta, who played late in the Alabama game, were with the second team.
With Randolph and Byron Moore (sprained right ankle) banged up, the Vols' lack of depth is being tested.
"Brian's been playing through that all season long," coach Butch Jones said, "so we fully anticipate him ready to go."
Randolph is the Vols' second-leading tackler (48) and leads them with three interceptions. During one of the possessions on which he was on the sideline receiving treatment, Tennessee messed up a coverage in the secondary and allowed Kevin Norwood's 22-yard touchdown catch in a third-and-long situation.
"I feel like he's trying his best to help us out," Coleman said. "[He's] trying not to hurt it more, but what he's doing is he's laying off a little bit so he can be prepared for the game."
Jones was giddy with an extra bit of news he shared Tuesday after practice.
The NCAA informed Tennessee its program will have no Academic Progress Rate issues moving forward. Due to attrition and some academic problems over the past few years, Tennessee's four-year APR score dipped to 924 in the numbers released in June. Programs that come in under 930 now face postseason bans.
The Vols incredibly posted a perfect APR score of 1,000 for the spring semester, during which 48 players registered a 3.0 grade point average and raised their average to 962 for the year, which raises the average above the 930 benchmark.
Players receive one point for staying in school and a second point for remaining academically eligible for each academic term.
"With a coaching turnover, that's almost impossible to do," Jones said. "I don't want to underestimate that or undervalue that, because that is monumental in our football program in moving forward.
"I think this speaks volumes about the commitment toward academics here at Tennessee, from our coaching staff to our athletic administration to our Thornton Center and to our student-athletes."
The Vols' most recent score covered three head coaches, from Phillip Fulmer's final season in 2008 to Lane Kiffin's lone season in 2009 and Derek Dooley's first two seasons. Tennessee added bonuses to Jones' first contract. A single-year APR score of 945 earns him an extra $50,000, and a score of 965 or higher nets $100,000.
Jones called the development "probably one of the greatest victories we've had in Tennessee football" and barely contained his excitement at how proud he was of the accomplishment.
"It's huge," he said. "That is one of the things that we have fought in the recruiting process. As you know, opponents, they're going to look and they're going to read everything and they're going to try to throw everything at your competition. We had a great plan in place, and we executed the plan.
"I'm very proud of that."
Dating back to the fourth quarter of the Florida game in mid-September, receiver Jason Croom's last nine catches have gone for first downs.
Six of those plays were third or fourth downs. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman made two key third-down grabs against Georgia and added another in the first half against Alabama. His 5-yard catch on fourth-and-3 in the fourth quarter against the Crimson Tide set up Tennessee's lone touchdown.
"All I do is go get the ball when it comes my way," Croom said. "I'm happy I've happened to come in at clutch situations. They trust me. I've improved greatly, just taking what Coach Z [receivers coach Zach Azzanni] teaches and putting it out on the field."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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