Monday, July 27, 2009

Earl Bennett was the rare Commodore to play on offense as a true freshman

Have you noticed all the redshirt freshmen on the Vanderbilt roster, including a whopping eight on the defensive line and three on the offensive line?

We all knew Bobby Johnson liked to redshirt players. But how much?

Let's take a look at his recruiting classes from 2005-2008. That starts with the first class of the post-Cutler era, when Johnson had already built a decent talent base and was consistently winning more than two games a year.

In those four classes, the Commodores signed 76 players who've stuck with the program past their first year. Of those, 12 — or less than 16 percent of them — have avoided redshirts. Here's a list:

• Earl Bennett, WR (2005)
• Bryant Hahnfeldt, PK (2005)
• Patrick Benoist, LB (2006)
• Greg Billinger, DT (2006)
• Myron Lewis, DB (2006)
• D.J. Moore, DB (2006)
• Brent Trice, DB-LB (2006)
• Brett Upson, P (2006)
• Theron Kadri, DE (2007)
• John Stokes, LB (2007)
• Casey Hayward, DB (2008)
• Sean Richardson, DB (2008)

Of these 12 guys, only one of them, Earl Bennett, played offense. Two were kickers and the other nine played defense.

Let's look at how often true freshmen play at Vandy, position by position:

KICKERS (2-3, 66 percent)
The team doesn't sign many placekickers and punters, so they're often needed right away. Bryant Hahnfeldt and Brett Upson played as true freshman. This year's likely starter at placekicker, Ryan Fowler, did not.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (4-11, 36 percent)
Johnson won't hesitate to play a talented defensive back as a freshman, and D.J. Moore, Myron Lewis, Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson are proof. (You could include Brent Trice, who began his Commodore career as a safety, but we're grouping him with the linebackers.) This season, expect Eric Samuels, Trey Wilson and maybe even Javon Marshall to take the field as true freshmen.

LINEBACKERS (3-12, 25 percent)
Patrick Benoist, Brent Trice and John Stokes avoided redshirts, but the best NFL prospect in the linebacking corps, Chris Marve, did not.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES (1-7, 14 percent)
Greg Billinger avoided a redshirt, unlike the talented Adam Smotherman and T.J. Greenstone. Kyle Woestmann of the 2010 signing class has set his sights on playing as a true freshman.

WIDE RECEIVER (1-8, 13 percent)
Earl Bennett is the exception to the rule, though true frosh John Cole returned punts in the opener last season before getting injured, missing the remainder of the season and redshirting.

DEFENSIVE ENDS (1-9, 11 percent)
Theron Kadri managed to avoid a redshirt, while starters Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone did not. Thad McHaney will be Johnson's highest rated defensive end recruit ever, but he'll probably take a redshirt too.

QUARTERBACKS (0-3, 0 percent)
Mackenzi Adams, Jared Funk and Larry Smith have all redshirted. Charlie Goro will do the same this year.

TIGHT ENDS (0-4, 0 percent)
If Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan couldn't join Jake Bradford in the lineup as true freshmen, then it's unlikely Mason Johnston will avoid a redshirt this season.

RUNNING BACKS (0-5, 0 percent)
Will likely change this season, when three-star recruits Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate join the team. Expect at least one of them to play.

OFFENSIVE LINE (0-14, 0 percent)
It's automatic: Regardless of how much weight they need to put on, offensive linemen always take a redshirt at Vanderbilt.

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