Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chris Boyd ready to join Vandy receiving corps

Dang it. Five Vandy recruits played in the Georgia high school all-star game yesterday in my hometown. And I was at work.

Receivers Bradley Roby and Chris Boyd, linemen Grant Ramsay and Kyle Woestmann, and safety Sharrod Golightly were on the roster. All three-star guys, and Ted Cain personally recruited four of them.

The word from scouts was that Woestmann looks like a big-time player.

Oh, and about Chris Boyd, the 6-foot-5 receiver:

Got open in the end zone, quarterback threw him a nice pass...

And he dropped it. He'll fit right in.

I know, I know, it's only one drop. I'll look forward to seeing what he can do.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Vandy gets a receiver named Jordan to go with its new quarterback named Jordan

Days after signing JUCO quarterback Jordan Rodgers (did we mention he was Aaron Rodgers' little brother?), the Commodores got a verbal commitment from wide receiver Jordan Matthews of Madison, Ala.

So Jordan could be throwing passes to Jordan. Maybe.

A lot can happen. We've had hot-shot transfers before — there's Richard Kovalchek from Arizona, of course, but don't forget Tim Olmstead from Florida about 10 years ago. Olmstead was a 4-star or maybe even 5-star prospect lured to Florida by Steve Spurrier. But Spurrier was also in the process of developing or signing Doug Johnson, Rex Grossman, Jesse Palmer and Brock Berlin, and he happily let Olmstead transfer to Vandy, something that whipped the Commodore fan base into a frenzy and then left them scratching their heads when Olmstead couldn't beat out Greg Zolman.

Jordan Rodgers isn't nearly as hyped. He just has good bloodlines. Maybe he'll beat out Larry Smith and maybe he won't. And if he doesn't win the job, maybe he'll beat out Charlie Goro (who after all, was a Parade All-American) and maybe he won't. If he does, then maybe Larry Smith will get hurt and he'll get to play and maybe he won't.

As for Jordan Matthews, he's an unknown. Dore fans are chirping on chat boards about his size (6-3, 190), his speed (4.5 40), his basketball skills (20 points in the state championship game). Sounds kind of like Akeem Dunham, a former hoops star who couldn't catch a pass last season as a redshirt freshman.

Oh, except that the fellows over at VSL are saying that Matthews is kin to Jerry Rice. Cool.

He's certainly flying under the radar. Matthews is unrated by all the major recruiting services, and at least on paper is a much less-regarded prospect than the other four wide receivers from whom we've received commitments (Bradley Roby, Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd and Trent Pruitt). Matthews had offers from Jacksonville State and Tulane. He's also listed by as a safety.

We seemed to still have a chance to grab more three-star receiving prospects, including Julian Horton, a gifted athlete who's been holding out for Alabama. So Matthews' announcement on Christmas Eve comes as something of a surprise.

Five receivers are an awful lot for one signing class. Of course, Boyd could play H-back, Pruitt could be an all-purpose back and Roby is also highly rated as a cornerback. I expect that some of the receivers currently on the roster won't return. Turner Wimberly, for example, could go ahead and graduate like Justin Green has already chosen to do. After the football season ends, decisions like this often go unannounced until the spring roster is released and you can figure out who's no longer on it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What Jordan Rodgers' letter of intent means for Vanderbilt

Maybe you've heard that Aaron Rodgers' little brother, junior college quarterback Jordan Rodgers, just signed a letter of intent with Vanderbilt. He told a California newspaper that Vandy coaches "definitely want me to come and compete with the quarterbacks they have right now." He'll start school in January and says he'll get a chance to win the starting job in the spring, though he adds that he hasn't ruled out the possibility of a redshirt year.

This is encouraging news on many levels:

1. RODGERS COULD BE FOLLOWING THE SAME ROAD TO SUCCESS AS HIS BROTHER: Jordan played last season for Butte College in his hometown of Chino, California. Before becoming an NFL star, Aaron got no scholarship offers from D1 schools, though Illinois invited him to walk on. Instead, he played a year at Butte College, where he impressed Cal coach Jeff Tedford, who offered him a scholarship. In his second start, he upset No. 3 USC. Jordan is the same size (6-foot-2, 210-220) and has wheels like his brother, who by far leads the NFL for rushing yards by a quarterback. He had scholarship offers from Kansas, Washington State and Western Kentucky.

2. BOBBY JOHNSON IS SERIOUS ABOUT IMPROVING HIS TALENT: Jordan Rodgers says that Vandy coaches only contacted him a couple of weeks ago. (His official recruiter was Rick Logo). Chat-room jockeys are speculating that one of Vandy's other quarterbacks must be leaving, but the real reason Vandy made a move was because Mark Mangino was forced out at Kansas. Rodgers was considered a lock for the Jayhawks, where he had a good shot at replacing departing quarterback Todd Reesing. So Johnson and his coaches are tracking talent and are looking to grab a player under the radar. Let's face it: Vandy will always have trouble competing for the handful of 5-star quarterbacks out there, and we've all seen what a crap shoot it is developing 3-star quarterbacks (Nickson, Adams, Funk, Smith). Why not get one with some experience under his belt? And hey, let's not fall in love with our own talent. Sure, Bradley Vierling was the best center we had, but he hardly looked all-conference last season. Sure, John Cole's a scrappy guy and our best receiver, but could he really play for another SEC team? I'm not dissing those guys, especially Vierling, who had a solid career for us. But let's continue to upgrade whenever we can. And let's start on offense.

3. VANDY IS LOOSENING ITS MID-YEAR ENROLLMENT REQUIREMENTS: The Commodores will never be a haven for Jucos like, say, Mississippi State. In fact, Johnson has signed only two of them in eight years. But Rodgers is a smart kid who didn't get attention as a high school player so, like his brother, he stayed at home and developed his skills at the junior college level. Remember how Vandy missed out on J.P. Prince, the Memphis native and Arizona transfer who wanted to play for the Dores but wasn't allowed to enroll second semester? Well, that appears to have changed. Rodgers is enrolling and will compete in the spring. And Kenneth Ladler, a stud safety prospect from Georgia who apparently resisted a late wooing from Steve Spurrier, has said all along that he wants to start college classes next month, and it looks like he'll be allowed to do so at Vanderbilt.

4. JOHNSON ISN'T GOING TO PUT ALL HIS EGGS IN LARRY SMITH'S BASKET: Chat-room cowboys say Johnson brings his quarterbacks along too slowly. Um, that's because none of ours are ready to play when they get here. True blue-chip quarterbacks are extremely hard to sign. If we had Matt Barkley, he'd be playing as a true freshman. But he's at USC, where he beat out two other five-star quarterbacks. Don't tell me our three-star recruits are the same thing. Lots of fans still want to give Jared Funk a shot. Are you kidding? He's been holding a clipboard for four years on one of the worst offenses in college football and he still hasn't thrown a pass. In fact, he was on the punt coverage team this season. We'd have played him if he could play. I wouldn't be surprised if he goes ahead and graduates. As for Smith, nobody has supported Larry like I have; he's the best thing we've got, but can we do better? Based on last season, we've got to start looking at a Plan B. And besides, we've lost our starting quarterback to injuries the past three seasons. During the Cutler years, Johnson had three scholarship quarterbacks after he moved Steven Bright to fullback. After Cutler left, and with the absence of a true heir apparent, Johnson picked up Arizona transfer Richard Kovalchek and has gone with at least four scholarship quarterbacks ever since:
• 2006: Four: Starter Chris Nickson (R-SO), backups Mackenzi Adams (R-FR) and Kovalchek (R-JR), true freshman Jared Funk
• 2007: Five: Starters Nickson (R-JR) and Adams (R-SO), backup Kovalchek (R-SR), understudies Funk (R-FR) and Smith (FR)
• 2008: Four: Starter Nickson (R-SR), middle reliever Adams (R-JR), closer Smith (R-FR) and bench Funk (R-SO)
• 2009: Four: Starter Smith (R-SO), backup Adams (R-SR), special teams contributor Funk (R-JR) and true freshman Charlie Goro
• 2010: Five: Smith (R-JR), Rodgers (T-JR), Funk (R-SR)?, Goro (R-FR), true freshman Nash Nance

• Auburn's still making a run at Bradley Roby, but it looks like he still would rather be Vandy's top receiver than a nickel back at Auburn. And fellow commitments Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause and Trent Pruitt all appear ready to line up for the Dores.
• Speaking of receivers, there's talk that Collin Ashley might be leaving school. That's OK. He was a tough little guy, but not an SEC caliber receiver. There's been some speculation, too, that Brady Brown might be getting restless because he never caught a pass. Who's fault was that? Vandy was dying for somebody, anybody to catch a pass last season. That said, I think Brown has the tools to be a solid receiver. Remember that Justin Wheeler didn't catch a pass his freshman year either (and he was a redshirt).
• Running back Myron Ross has reneged on his verbal commitment and will be matriculating at Temple. That's OK, too. We've got Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, and redshirt Wesley Tate may turn out to be a better player than both of them.
• Top recruits that we do need — tackles Jared Morse and Kyle Woestmann, athlete Jerrell Priester, and safety Ladler — appear to have gotten over their bouts with wanderlust. Priester's an exciting playmaker who'd flirted with Kentucky but maybe he's figured out that he's not touching the ball as long as a certain Randall Cobb's in Lexington.

This is by far the best recruiting class Vandy's had in modern history and I think you'll see some surprise decisions from the coaching staff once these recruits put ink to paper in February.

More later. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Warren Norman makes the SEC All-Freshman team... twice

Despite a rough season, Vandy landed four players on the SEC All-Freshman team. Well, that's if you count Warren Norman, who won SEC Freshman of the Year from both the coaches and the AP, twice:

• Warren Norman, RB, true freshman: Norman the runner led all SEC freshman running backs with 783 yards. He also had three rushing touchdowns, two of them against Western Carolina.

• Warren Norman, RS, true freshman: Norman the return specialist gained more than 1,000 yards and scored three touchdowns. His kick returns are what propelled him past Herschel Walker to become the SEC's all-time leader for all-purpose yards gained by a freshman.

• Ryan Seymour, OL, redshirt freshman: The converted defensive end was likely named to the team on the strength of his start in the Florida game against the Gators' hulking defensive ends. Expect him to step in for the departed Thomas Welch at left tackle.

• Ryan Fowler, PK, redshirt freshman (unanimous selection): Repeats the accomplishment of his predecessor, Bryant Hahnfeldt, who in 2005 was named to the All-Freshman team. So I guess Fowler will start four seasons and end his career with a bowl-winning field goal.

Going into next season, Vanderbilt has seven players who've made All-Freshman in the SEC. In addition to this year's class of Norman, Seymour and Fowler, there's last year's class of tight end Brandon Barden, offensive lineman Kyle Fischer, defensive lineman T.J. Greenstone and linebacker Chris Marve, who like Fowler was a unanimous selection.

Of those seven guys, only Warren Norman was a true freshman.

In the previous two seasons, the Commodores had only one player make the freshman team — D.J. Moore in 2006.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Maplewood tackle James Stone lists Vanderbilt in his final four... but don't hold your breath

No, we haven't been in mourning over Vandy's two-win season. We've been grilling and getting in the holiday spirit and occasionally watching universities with low academic standards play each other in football.

Now until January, expect a post here and there, but nothing major — it's not like the Commodores are in a bowl or anything. We'll let you know if anything good or bad happens on the recruiting trail.


Speaking of which, massive offensive tackle James Stone of Maplewood has narrowed his choices down to Auburn, Alabama, Stanford and Vanderbilt. His high school coach Ralph Thompson tells an ESPN affiliate that it'll probably be either Auburn or Alabama, adding that Stone likes the academics at Stanford and Vandy, but Stanford's too far away, and nearby Vanderbilt is "not doing too well right now."

To ever get a big stud four-star lineman like Stone, who is 6-5, 300 pounds, Vandy will probably need to piece together back-to-back winning seasons. Meanwhile, the Dores are still wooing some good-looking three-star prospects with Stone's size if not his athleticism:

• Zac Tait (6-4, 315) from Knoxville
• Max Garcia (6-5, 280) from the Atlanta area
• Parker Mack (6-4, 305) from Arkansas
• Joe Burgess (6-6, 295) from Missouri

We've already got verbal commitments from two nice guard prospects, Grant Ramsay and Logan Stewart, and a project at tackle, Chase White. Bobby Johnson has never played a true freshman offensive lineman, though Stone would probably be the first if he signed with the Commodores.

Of the other guys, Garcia's the best athlete but will need to fill out, and Tait, Mack and Burgess are hulks in the mold of Mylon Brown, who redshirted last year and will get a long look at a starting position next season. Have you noticed that Vandy coaches really, really don't want to start Reilly Lauer but haven't had any other choice the last two seasons?


Yes, we absolutely need better offensive linemen. We also absolutely need better wide receivers, but we've got verbals from four — unfortunately, the best of the bunch, Bradley Roby, who would start for us right away, is flirting with Auburn.

Oh yeah, we also badly need a punter to replace Brett Upson. We've offered William Russ, a former teammate of Trey Wilson, and he can punt and kick.


Speaking of Upson, Brett made the coaches' second-team All-SEC team, and so did Chris Marve, Myron Lewis and, as a returner, Warren Norman.

Have you noticed we haven't had a single offensive player make even All-SEC honorable mention since Chris Williams and Earl Bennett were wearing black and gold?

Thanks for reading. Until next time...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Warren Norman runs away with SEC Freshman of Year

If I'd told you in August that a Vandy player would win SEC Freshman of the Year, who would you have picked?

Most of you thought wide receiver Brady Brown would have the most impact. He didn't catch a single pass.

As far as running backs go, Warren Norman was supposed to be our third-best true freshman, behind Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate, but Norman was off to the races in preseason camp and never looked back. Stacy was brilliant before injuring his foot against LSU, and Tate wowed coaches on the scout team and could be a force next season as a redshirt freshman.

But Norman was our one bright spot this season, and he represents the future. We're all trying to forget the Army game, but that was the game Norman became a star. He was the best player on the field, returning a kickoff for a touchdown and having two other long touchdown runs called back. He was also a true freshman, straining for the goal line in overtime but fumbling and watching the ball roll out of the end zone.

Norman amassed a whopping 1,941 total yards, breaking Herschel Walker's 28-year-old record for total all-purpose yards gained by a freshman. Here's a breakdown:
• Kickoff returns: 40 returns for 1,050 yards and three TDs
• Rushing: 145 carries for 783 yards and three TDs
• Receiving: 19 carries for 108 yards and one TD

Senior cornerback Myron Lewis was named to the second team, and Chris Marve was one of only three honorable mentions on defense.