Friday, March 6, 2009

Don't forget about DeAndre Jones and the other redshirt freshmen Commodores

Until we play Western Carolina on Sept. 5, Vanderbilt fans will no doubt be talking about Commodores who were on the field last season — whether it was LP Field in the Music City Bowl or high school fields as three-star prospects.

But don't forget that this time last year few people were talking about receiver Jamie Graham or tight end Brandon Barden or tackle Kyle Fischer or linebacker Chris Marve or quarterback Larry Smith.

That's right, all those guys were redshirt freshmen who were wowing their teammates on the practice field during the 2007 season and 2008 spring practice (except for Graham, who was wowing fans with his hustle and intensity on the basketball court). And all those guys were starters for the Music City Bowl. And another redshirt frosh, T.J. Greenstone, was a huge part of the defensive line rotation and even made Freshman All-SEC, joining Barden, Marve and Fischer. (Why didn't Graham make it? Ever heard of A.J. Green and Julio Jones?)

Other redshirt freshmen on last season's two-deep chart were receiver Udom Umoh, defensive end Tim Fugger and tackle James Williams.

Who were the true freshmen who started last season? Um, nobody. And only three of them — Casey Hayward, Sean Richardson and John Cole — played last season. Hayward and Richardson played key roles in Vandy's bowl victory, but Cole was injured in the opener and should start over next season as a redshirt freshman.

So while everybody's raving about Trey Wilson, Wesley Tate, Zac Stacy, Brady Brown, Eric Samuels and the other members of Bobby Johnson's best-ever signing class, don't forget about the redshirt freshmen, who have a much better chance of becoming major contributors on next year's team.

You know how we need depth at defensive line and how recruiting junkies have been mourning the loss of Darrius McMullin? Well, we've got a whopping seven redshirt freshmen D-linemen — Tayor Loftley, Colt Nichter, Ryan Seymour, Rob Lohr, Johnell Thomas, John Burrow and Josh Jelesky — on the team.

We need secondary help, too. What about redshirt freshmen Al Owens, a safety, and Micah Powell, a cornerback? Athlete Archie Barnes could play in the secondary, too, though he's 6-4 and may wind up at receiver.

Next year's Chris Marve could be linebacker DeAndre Jones, a high school teammate of John Stokes who was turning heads in practice last season with his wicked licks and aggressive play. And don't forget linebackers Tristan Strong and Dexter Daniels.

On offense, lanky receiver Akeem Dunham should contribute to the new-look passing game, and offensive lineman Richard Cagle, Michael Bryant and Caleb Welchans have been getting bigger courtesy of food coach Magic Noori and stronger courtesy of strength coach John Sisk.

And don't forget kicker Ryan Fowler. We should be in a lot of close games next season, and he's the front runner to replace Bryant Hahnfeldt.

We'll be monitoring reports from spring practice, which starts next week, and speculating about which one of these guys could be starters next season.

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