A couple of weeks ago — after Zac Stacy hurt his knee, Kennard Reeves hurt a hammy and Wesley Tate re-hurt his foot — we wondered who else could play running back for the Commodores.
That was before Warren Norman had his knee scoped. Now it looks like Reeves could be our only healthy running back for the Northwestern game. Of course, Ryan van Rensburg can play some running back too, which is why Fitz Lassing will likely burn a redshirt as a backup tight end.
We’ve already suggested that cornerback Eric Samuels is our best bet to play running back in a pinch. After all, he was more highly rated as a prep running back than either Norman or Stacy.
We threw together a Top 10 list that also included quarterbacks Charlie Goro and Larry Smith, cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jamie Graham, true freshman tight ends Fitz Lassing and Blake Gowder, wide receiver Trent Pruitt, and linebackers Archibald Barnes and Micah Powell. We based this list almost solely on high school rushing experience and statistics.
Well, Coach Caldwell has found some emergency fill-ins, and one of them is redshirt sophomore Micah Powell, who came to Vandy as an all-purpose athlete who rushed for 1,500 yards in two high school seasons. He was a special teams performer and backup safety last season and was moved to outside linebacker in the spring.
And the other guy? True freshman cornerback Steven Clarke, who’s 5-10, 180 pounds. Clarke has wowed coaches in preseason with his athletic prowess, but he only gained 153 yards and scored three touchdowns as a high school senior who played mostly at defensive back and wide receiver.
Clarke’s been flying under the radar since he was in high school. “Steve has kind of been overshadowed here,” said Clarke’s high school coach at Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., on signing day. “We've had several great defensive backs, including the player most recruiting experts think is the nation's top prospect right now. But don't take anything away from Steve because he's a player.
“Steve has plenty of skill. He's a hard worker that possesses all the bells and whistles. He's is a 4.4 guy that tackles with power. Steve is going to be a blessing for Vanderbilt, and going to be a great player for their team.”
While fellow freshmen defensive backs Andre Hal, Karl Butler, Andre Simmons and Kenny Ladler have all received more publicity, nobody’s terribly surprised that Clarke has already proven himself to be a keeper.
But at running back? Really?
With Norman, Stacy and Tate all expected to return within a couple of weeks, with the continued improvement of Reeves, and with van Rensburg capable of getting tough yardage, it appears the coaching staff is looking for a temporary fill-in, not a permanent fix.
Larry Smith, of course, is the starting quarterback, and Charlie Goro is still learning the position and needs to keep doing so. Hayward and Graham are the starting cornerbacks, with Graham warding off nagging injuries and Samuels the reason the secondary may not miss a beat if he sits out the opener.
Pruitt and Gowder are struggling to adjust to the college game and will likely redshirt, and Lassing will be needed at tight end and is not a college running back anyway. The versatile Barnes will be needed all over the field on defense, and besides he’s 6-4 and would like to keep his knees.
Which brings us back to Clarke. He’s going to play right away on special teams and as a situational defensive back. Who cares if he wasn’t a 1,000-yard rusher in high school? Warren Norman never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in high school. With the bulked-up Reeves capable of becoming a workhorse and with van Rensburg more than able to grind it out in short yardage, the team needs a temporary burst of speed on the corners and some nifty inside running until Stacy and Norman return.
In a couple of weeks, Vandy should have plenty of skilled full-timers to tote the rock. We don’t need to convert a player for good. That’s probably why the coaches decided not to waylay the development of Samuels, who has all-star potential as a cornerback and will be needed right away.
Unless… Samuels is our best running back and we don't know it.
I keep thinking about Robert Edwards, the NFL’s rookie of the year as a tailback for New England. At Georgia, Edwards was an All-SEC freshman at cornerback and that football genius Ray Goff never thought about playing him on offense. But then he moved Hines Ward to receiver (OK, not a bad move) and a bunch of guys got hurt or left school and that’s when Goff tried Edwards at tailback on a whim in the spring and he was an immediate superstar.
And to think the move would have never happened if nobody had been injured.