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Vanderbilt Commodores: Team Overview
Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, WR, LT, C, RT, TE)
Returning Defensive Starters: 6 (LDE, MLB, SLB, RCB, SS, FS)
Returning Specialists: 1 (PK)
Projected Overall Record: 7-5 (OM, TAM, UF, UGA, USC)
Projected SEC Record: 3-5 (OM, TAM, UF, UGA, USC)
Projected SEC East Record: 3-3 (UF, UGA USC)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Fr Defensive Line: Fr
Running Backs: Av Linebackers: Av
Wide Receivers: Vg Defensive Backs: Vg
Offensive Line: Av Special Teams: Av
Vanderbilt, for years, has tried to enter the realm of big-time football. One could argue that it finally happened over the offseason, when four players were dismissed following arrests for rape and a fifth player was suspended after being indicted as an accessory. Vanderbilt isn’t accustomed to headlines like these, and as disturbing as the charges were on their face, on the field it creates more headaches for this program than it would for most SEC teams. Vanderbilt is still a thin team, and all five players charged were in the two-deep. This comes just as James Franklin is trying to take Vanderbilt from being a perennial SEC doormat to a program that can compete for postseason trips to Atlanta.
Vanderbilt wanted to get more multiple with its offensive systems, and at least prior to the offseason arrests, was headed in that direction. The Commodores are typically a one-back spread team, but also incorporate split-back looks, some spread-option and even a little I-formation in their attack. In 2012, the offense was just OK, and the team relied on its defense. This year, the offense needs to bring more to the party.
Jordan Rodgers was, at times, as good an SEC quarterback as one could find. More often, though, he failed to make the proper reads and missed several opportunities to hit open receivers. Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels settled in as his backup and, for a time, pushed for the job. The job is all his now. Carta-Samuels isn’t great at any one particular thing, but has the tools to be an effective quarterback in the SEC. Redshirt freshman Patton Robinette led sophomore Josh Grady coming out of the spring, but the question is how long will either stay ahead of true freshman Johnathon McCrary, who was one of Vandy’s most highly regarded signees in February. None of the three are ready to take the reins now, so keeping Carta-Samuels healthy is crucial.
There is no more Zac Stacy, but if Vanderbilt can keep the injury bug away, this group has the chance to be very solid. Wesley Tate has plenty of size and speed, and could be a true weapon in the passing game thanks to the fact he once was in the depth chart there. He’s since grown into a 245-pound downhill runner. Behind him is sophomore Jerron Seymour, who looks more than a little like Stacy at the same stage in his career, and scatback Brian Kimbrow. All three bring something unique to the table. Vanderbilt also has options at fullback, headed up by Fitz Lassing, who is not bad at it, and who can also play tight ends. Joseph Hoffman and Blake Gowder provide depth there. Derek King provides depth at tailback.
Vandy was set to have one of the best units in the league until the offseason troubles arose. Chris Boyd was set to return at flanker, but he’s been suspended from the team after being charged as an accessory after the fact. The Boyd family has been extremely vocal in their defense of their son, and the fact Boyd was not kicked off the team permanently might be a sign of support from the program. His case is still up in the air, though, and it’s unlikely to see him in the mix for playing time unless the case wraps up quickly and the school decides to let him back on the field. With Boyd out, Jonathan Krause becomes the No. 2 to Jordan Matthews, who was the SEC’s leading receiver in 2012 and who could play for anyone, Alabama included, and likely start as well. The issue is Krause, who despite being a senior and an important part of the rotation last year, is nowhere near Matthews in terms of ability, or even Boyd. Vanderbilt might have to ditch the three-wide as the base offense if a replacement can’t be found. Tip McKenzie, who was supposed to be Krause’s backup, was one of the four jettisoned from the team as a result of the rape case. That leaves junior Trent Pruitt as a possibility to start, or perhaps one of two true freshmen, Carlos Burse or Jordan Cunningham. Cunningham was particularly well thought-of by scouts. Trey Wilkins provides depth. As far as tight end goes, Vanderbilt was looking to feature it more and was planning on Brandon Vandenburg being a major part of the plan, but Vandenburg is another of the four kicked out of the program. That leaves returning starter Steven Scheu as the most likely starter, with Kris Kentera his backup. Scheu needs to get more consistent catching the ball, while Kentera’s blocking leaves a bit to be desired. Blocking specialist Dillion van der Wal and fullback Fitz Lassing figure to be next in line, with true freshman Mitchell Parsons a possibility.
Left tackle Wesley Johnson is one of the most technically sound linemen in the conference and should have a career at the next level. Center Joe Townsend and right tackle Andrew Bridges also return from a year ago. The guards will be new. Jake Bernstein and Chase White are battling for one spot, with Will Holden, Barrett Gouger and Spencer Pulley fighting it out for the other job. Pulley will also be the backup center. Freshmen Andrew Jelks and Blake Fromang will be the reserve tackles. Provided Bernstein can return fully from injury, the line has a chance to be solid. But despite the good technique and improving depth, Vandy has continued to struggle with quickness and footwork issues here in recent seasons.
The Commodores run a fairly standard 4-3 base set, and are finally starting to build depth in the front seven. The secondary is frequently a strength for this team, and the 2013 version is no different. This is one of the most upperclassmen-laden defenses in the league, but rush defense could be improved slightly.
There is plenty of experience here, but just one returning starter, end Walker May. May has grown into a respected pass rusher and run-stopper, but he’ll need help. Kyle Woestmann is expected to start opposite him – for now – but super sophomore Caleb Azubike will be starting somewhere sooner rather than later. Jimmy Stewart and Stephen Weatherly will provide additional depth outside. The question marks are inside, where both tackles are new. Vandy is looking to a four-man rotation of juniors Barron Dixon, Jared Morse, Vince Taylor and redshirt freshman Adam Butler. All four weigh in excess of 300 pounds, giving the Commodores unaccustomed size in the middle. Another redshirt freshman, LaDarius Banks, rounds out the top group. The coaches feel confident in the depth; time will tell the truth.
Middle linebacker Chase Garnham developed into a force in the middle last season, and has the size necessary to compete at the SEC level. Sophomore Darreon Herring had an impressive freshman debut, and there’s as much buzz about him as anyone on the team. Strongside backer Karl Butler excels in pass coverage, but isn’t very big. There is plenty of competition at the backup spots, with redshirts Harding Harper and Ja’karri Thomas threatening to unseat sophomore Jake Sealand and junior Kellen Williams. Larry Franklin rounds out the unit.
Cornerback Andre Hal has developed from a special teams demon into one of the best corners in the league. He has elite speed and will hit people. He is the anchor of an all-senior starting lineup that includes Steven Clarke at the other corner position and returning starters Javon Marshall and Kenny Ladler at strong and free safety, respectively. Ladler, in particular, is a feared center fielder. Unfortunately, depth took a huge hit due to the court case, with Brandon Banks and Cory Batey dismissed from the team. That leaves freshman Paris Head as the top reserve corner and sophomore Andrew Williamson as the lone safety with experience. Torren McGaster takes Banks’ position at corner, while Jahmel McIntosh will move up at safety.
Carey Spear made as much improvement at placekicker from 2011 to 2012 as any player did, at any position, in college football. But he’d better not get too comfy, because signee Tommy Openshaw will push him all year long. Long-distance kicking is Spear’s only weakness, so Openshaw might get a look in that role. Openshaw is also in the mix at punter along with Colby Cooke and Taylor Hudson. This one might go all the way up to opening day. Andre Hal can be one of the most dangerous kick returners in college football; he and Jonathan Krause are expected to get most of the work, but there are other competitors, including Brian Kimbrow.
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