Saturday, August 15, 2009

What does Sean Walker's rise in the Rams camp say about this year's Vandy team?

Remember Sean Walker? The wide receiver who left Vanderbilt with some nice highlight reel plays?

Never before has a big-play guy had such a quiet season. In the season opener against Miami-Ohio, he caught a long jump ball from Chris Nickson and then a short TD pass. In the middle of the season, he caught a Mackenzi Adams pass in the homecoming game and took it 79 yards to the house and may have been the hero except that Vandy ended up losing the game, and to Duke no less, and we're still trying to forget that game.

In the regular season finale, Walker dropped the first true deep ball he saw all season, from Larry Smith. Then in the bowl game he got another chance and caught a long pass from Smith that set up a field goal.

Then he dropped off the face of the earth. Fellow senior George Smith was considered a better NFL draft prospect, which wasn't saying much. And thanks to Terence Jeffers-Harris, nobody missed Walker — or even mentioned his name — in spring practice.

Now Jeffers-Harris has turned out to be a pipe dream, and we're all trying to feign excitement over converted tight end Justin Green and walk-on Rich Tompkins.

And quietly, Sean Walker is making a serious run at becoming an NFL wide receiver. Last night in a preseason game, he scored the winning touchdown for the Rams. And it wasn't one of his patented big plays off a busted play. It was a big-time fourth quarter catch in a crowded end zone. He just muscled up and took the ball away from people.

So let's assume that Walker was an NFL-caliber wide receiver last season and we never realized it. What does that say about our team this year?

• Last year's quarterback situation was even worse than we realized. Except for those two passes in the Miami game, Nickson couldn't get the ball to Walker in traffic. Walker got a new lease on life when Adams took over in the Auburn game, but that vanished when Adams became a starter.

• Larry Smith is the only quarterback we know who can maximize the big-play potential of our wide receivers. Last season, Walker re-emerged as a deep threat only when injuries forced Smith into the Wake Forest game.

• Our wide receivers are a complete unknown. Last season, only five wide receivers caught passes. Three (Walker, Smith, Justin Wheeler) are gone. One, Jamie Graham, is now a cornerback. Another, Chris Reinert, is a walk-on returning from a broken leg. The other, sophomore Udom Umoh, caught three passes. All in the bowl game. All from Larry Smith.

• Everybody and his mother will get a chance to catch a pass. Last season's targets included four running backs (Jared Hawkins, Gaston Miller, Kennard Reeves and Jeff Jennings), two tight ends (Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan) and a defensive back (D.J. Moore). Expect more of the same, with the three true freshmen tailbacks replacing Jennings and Graham replacing Moore.

• Sure, all five starters return on the offensive line, but which five? Robbie Caldwell continues to tinker with the offensive line in an effort to improve our pass protection. For example, sophomore James Williams saw little playing time last season but he's the preseason starter at right tackle and he appears to be around to stay.


Anonymous said...

What would have happened if we had played Larry Smith last year vs Duke and Miss State?


In retrospect, we should have done it, and we would have if we weren't 5-0 going into the State game and then certain we could just show up and beat Duke and become bowl eligible.

If we hadn't gotten the breaks against SC, Ole Miss and Auburn, we'd have been 2-3 going into the State game and looking to the future, and I'm confident we'd have played Larry Smith in the first half of the season.