Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Linebacker, not running back, is Vanderbilt's greatest strength
In today's SEC blog, in a little ongoing feature he calls "Position Superlatives," ESPN's Chris Low proclaims running back to be Vandy's best position and wide receiver its worst.
In the spirit of ranking stuff, here's how we'd rank all the Commodore positions:
1. LINEBACKER: Sure, the running backs are talented, but how can you rank them ahead of a unit anchored by a legitimate All-American candidate in Chris Marve and bolstered by the return of part-time starter John Stokes and a corps of four talented and versatile redshirt sophomores in DeAndre Jones, Tristan Strong, Archie Barnes and Dexter Daniels?
• 2009 rating: No. 1.
• 2008 rating: No. 2.
• Room for improvement: Will get stronger with the continued health of Marve and the development of the young guys.
2. DEFENSIVE BACK: Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward would have received the hype of Warren Norman and Zac Stacy as true freshmen if the 2008 secondary hadn't been simply outstanding... and if they'd gotten the ink that offensive players do. Jamie Graham is the real deal, and the three true sophomores — Samuels, Foster and Wilson — are also players. Ladler and Fullam are ringing bells in spring practice at safety, and there's a ton of talent headed to campus.
• 2009 rating: No. 2.
• 2008 rating: No. 1. D.J. Moore, Myron Lewis, Ryan Hamilton and Reshard Langford. Possibly the best secondary in Vanderbilt history.
• Room for improvement: If the new guys catch on fast and the nucleus continues to develop, look out.
3. RUNNING BACK: It's a testament to Warren and Zac that any unit returning from one of America's worst offenses is ranked this high.
• 2009 rating: No. 5
• 2008 rating: No. 9
• Room for improvement: Improvement? With a makeshift offensive line and a non-existent passing attack, let's just hope these guys are walking by the end of the season.
4. TIGHT END: Barden had a tough year, mostly because opposing defenses were laughing at our receivers and making him work for every single catch. And he was forced to be more of a downfield threat than he was capable of. But he's still a talented guy, and if Austin Monahan bounces back from injury and Mason Johnston continues to develop then this is one solid unit.
• 2009 rating: No. 8. Monahan hurt and Barden had too big a burden.
• 2008 rating: No. 7. The best thing about the 2008 offense.
• Room for improvement: Barden can and should be much improved over last season.
5. KICKER: Ryan Fowler developed into a solid field goal kicker.
• 2009 rating: No. 6
• 2008 rating: No. 6
• Room for improvement: If true freshman Carey Spear can chalk up touchbacks and nail 55-yarders like everybody thinks he can, then this will be an improved unit.
6. DEFENSIVE END: Tim Fugger is solid, Teriall Brannon and Theron Kadri have loads of experience and there's a ton of young talent, but Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone will be greatly missed.
• 2009 rating: No. 7. While Stewart was flashier, the defense never recovered from the loss of Stone, who was a quiet force for most of his career.
• 2008 rating: No. 4. Stewart and Stone healthy.
• Room for improvement: With redshirt sophomores Josh Jelesky and Johnell Thomas, redshirt freshmen Walker May and Thad McHaney, and true freshmen Thomas Ryan and James Kittredge, the Dores are loaded numbers-wise at end. Somebody out of this group will likely emerge and maybe even unseat one of the upperclassmen.
7. DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Not the same unit after the loss of Adam Smotherman to a torn ACL. T.J. Greenstone is solid, but Rob Lohr saw only spot duty last season.
• 2009 rating: No. 4. Billinger, Smotherman and Greenstone were solid, if not dominating.
• 2008 rating: No. 5. A solid contributor to a top-notch defense.
• Room for improvement: Depends on how soon the three true freshmen — Kyle Woestmann, Jared Morse and Vince Taylor — can contribute. These guys have plenty of talent.
8. QUARTERBACK: Larry Smith has most of a season under his belt but isn't 100 percent after tearing his hamstring in the Tech game. Jordan Rodgers has the bloodlines and Charlie Goro was a Parade All-American. Does any of that mean anything? We'll find out.
• 2009 rating: No. 9
• 2008 rating: No. 11. While Chris Nickson stepped up big in several victories, he and Mackenzi Adams played a major role in several demoralizing losses.
• Room for improvement: These guys will get better, which may not be apparent if the offensive line and receivers don't.
9. PUNTER: Bobby Johnson says the starter will be walk-on Richard Kent, but he'll also be grooming true freshman Carey Spear, who's only been punting for a year.
• 2009 rating: No. 3. All hail Brett Upson.
• 2008 rating: No. 3. Music City Bowl MVP.
• Room for improvement: Kent is a complete unknown and Spear is a project. If their performance is average then everybody will be thrilled.
10. OFFENSIVE LINE: Joey Bailey appears to have won the center job in the spring, James Williams is a sure-fire starter at right tackle, Wes Johnson is going to start somewhere, and Kyle Fischer just may live up to his potential. But the sudden departure of senior Reilly Lauer and the spring shoulder injury to Ryan Seymour were huge setbacks.
• 2009 rating: No. 10. Never recovered from Williams' injury against LSU.
• 2008 rating: No. 8. Admirable performance for five brand-new starters.
• Room for improvement: If Williams has fully recovered, Seymour returns from his spring injury, Johnson develops like everybody expects, Fischer lives up to his potential, Bailey becomes a solid starter, and young guys like Mylon Brown and Caleb Welchans step up, then this could be a fine unit. That's a lot of ifs. But they all could happen.
11. WIDE RECEIVER: Before last season fell apart and everything about the Commodores except the freshman kick returner appeared to be a weakness, the receivers were the obvious weak link. That's still the case. For example, John Cole is being touted by the university as an all-star candidate. A possible solid starter yes, but an all-star candidate alongside the likes of A.J. Green and Julio Jones? You've got to be kidding.
• 2009 rating: No. 11. The same guys as this year, plus Alex Washington.
• 2008 rating: No. 10. But how we'd love to have Sean Walker and Justin Wheeler back.
• Room for improvement: No place to go but up. Sophomore Brady Brown has size and skills, and true freshmen Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews and maybe even Trent Pruitt should get a chance to crack the lineup.