Brent Brewer's frustrating sophomore season is over and the shuffling in Tennessee's secondary remains never-ending.
The strong safety tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the third quarter of Saturday's 14-3 loss to South Carolina. Because of the timing of the injury, Brewer likely won't be available for spring practice.
Brewer started all eight games this year but struggled to build off his strong finish to the 2010 season. He finishes with 24 tackles, three of which went for a loss.
"Unfortunate," coach Derek Dooley said Monday at his weekly press conference. "But we got to put the next guy in and go play,"
That next guy will be freshman Brian Randolph, who had just started to settle in at free safety, where he's started the previous two games. Prentiss Waggner, who has yo-yoed back and forth between safety and cornerback this season, will move out of cornerback, his natural position where he's played the last two games, to replace Randolph.
Either Marsalis Teague or Justin Coleman, both of whom have been benched for ineffective play at some point this season, will step in for Waggner. Izauea Lanier, a junior-college transfer who moved into the starting rotation early last month, remains locked in at the other cornerback spot.
"We don't really have much options," Dooley said.
Dooley said the position switch for Randolph doesn't have to be as daunting as it may appear. How the Vols (3-5, 0-5 SEC) shape their plan of attack for Middle Tennessee State, which it hosts for Homecoming on Saturday (TV: FSTN, 7 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium, will dictate just how different it has to be for Randolph.
If Randolph were to assume the exact responsibilities Brewer had, it would be a dramatic change, Dooley said. But that likely won't be the case.
"We may mix it up a little bit now with Brian to make it easier," Dooley said. "It just depends on how you shape it for the week and who you're playing."
As Waggner showed Saturday against South Carolina, when he intercepted a Connor Shaw pass and nearly returned it for a touchdown, his play-making abilities are best utilized at cornerback. That's where he nabbed most of his five interceptions last season and where he was supposed to play all throughout 2011.
That all changed when star safety Janzen Jackson was dismissed from the team, prompting what has become a seemingly endless cycle of tinkering and maneuvering in the Vols' secondary.
"We wanted Prentiss at corner all year," Dooley said. "We finally got Randolph ready and move him to corner and he gets a good pick and he's playing good.
"We've got to move him back now."
How much of a drop-off occurs will depend largely on how Teague and Coleman respond to their respective second chances.
Coleman, a true freshman who enrolled during the spring, started the first two games of the season but was burned for a number of long pass plays and was eventually replaced by Lanier. Teague, one of the unit's veterans, struggled mightily in October and has seen his snaps drop drastically in the past two games.
"They've got to go play better," Dooley said.
Waggner's interception was just the third of the season for UT and the first made by a defensive back since the season opener. Randolph also had his hands in a turnover Saturday, forcing a fumble that was recovered by linebacker A.J. Johnson during the fourth quarter.
Both players will be looking to do the same Saturday from different spots on the field.
"The next four games, we have to keep reinforcing getting turnovers in practice," Waggner said. "Hopefully that can carry over into the game and give the offense a spark."