Monday, August 17, 2009

Vanderbilt offensive line sees lots of healthy competition in the trenches

Jeff Lockridge has a nice blog entry about Robbie Caldwell and the progress of his offensive line, which is timely considering the holes those guys opened up for the all those young tailbacks during Saturday's scrimmage.

"I’m just excited about the group," Caldwell told Lockridge. "I’ve got some guys we can develop into depth. I’ve got quite a few that have had a start here and a start there. Last year some of it was out of necessity, injuries ... whatever. But now they’re beginning to gel.

"My biggest task now is to get the best five. Our motto in the offensive line room is ‘the best five start.’ If that means a position change, we’ll shuffle people around."

All five starters return, but that doesn't mean they'll all start this season. For one thing, it looks like redshirt sophomore James Williams, who played in only three games last season with no starts, has nailed down right tackle. After a solid spring, Williams entered the preseason listed as a starter and has done nothing to change that. Here's what defensive end Tim Fugger told the official Vanderbilt site about facing Williams in practice these days:

"I go against James Williams all the time and his progress from last camp, to this spring, to this camp has been tremendous and that just makes me better, makes (defensive end Steven) Stone better, and makes everyone he faces better. You can tell everyone on the O-line has progressed and that just benefits us all."

At the start of the preseason, Williams was battling last season's starting left tackle, Reilly Lauer, for the right tackle slot, but now Lauer is battling last year's right guard, Eric Hensley, for Hensley's starting position.

Here's how the starting battles seem to be shaping up:

• Bradley Vierling (6-3, 290; R-SR): Started all 13 games at center; as sophomore played in every game at either center or guard; 34 career games

• Thomas Welch (6-7, 310; R-SR): Started all 13 games at right tackle; as sophomore played in every game as the team's top backup tackle; moved from tight end to tackle during his redshirt freshman season; 33 career games

• Kyle Fischer (6-6, 308; R-SO): Started final seven games, three at left tackle and four at left guard; played in every game and named All-Freshman SEC
• Ryan Custer (6-3, 292; R-SR): Nine starts at left guard last season, played in all 13 games; has played in 34 career games

• James Williams (6-6, 315; R-SO): Played in three games last season as a reserve tackle; impressed coaches in the spring with his agility, technique and improved strength

• Eric Hensley (6-6, 322; R-SR): Started the last seven games at right guard, and played in every game; as a sophomore backed up Chris Williams at left tackle; 24 career games
• Reilly Lauer (6-7, 272; R-JR): Started 10 games at left tackle, playing in 12 games; as a sophomore played one game at defensive end; listed as backup left tackle on preseason depth chart, but now also practicing at right guard

• Ryan Seymour (6-5, 294; R-FR): Moved to offensive tackle from the defensive line in the spring; getting work backing up Thomas Welch at left tackle
• Joey Bailey (6-4, 289; R-JR): Five starts at right guard before injury, played nine games in all; has practiced at tackle; played four games at center as a redshirt freshman.
• Chris Aaron (6-4, 285; R-JR): One game at backup center last season before injury.
• Rob Ashabranner (6-2, 280; R-SO): One game played at guard, spent some time practicing at center.
• Richard Cagle (6-4, 275; R-FR): Played on scout team last year; practicing at guard
• Caleb Welchans (6-5, 290; R-FR): On scout team last year; practicing at tackle and guard

Between them, that's 64 starts and 169 games played.

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