Friday, June 25, 2010

Don't forget Charlie Goro

These days, the vast majority of every Vandy football preview breaks down the quarterback situation like this:

1. Larry Smith is freaking terrible.
2. Jared Funk has been on the team 17 years and might get a shot.
3. But probably not because Jordan Rodgers is a great quarterback — or at least, Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback and Jordan is his brother.

No mention of Charlie Goro.

We've been saying it for a while now — and the "Go Goro!" guy's been saying it for the past two years — that Goro is tough, he's a winner and he's going to surprise some people when he gets a shot.

Oh, and Moral Victory! readers now have granted Goro a 29-28 lead in our poll to see who fans think will be our starting QB. (The Go Goro Guy must have 29 computers. Just kidding, Go Goro Guy.)

But first let's breakdown what everybody's been saying about the Vandy quarterbacks:

1. Larry Smith is not terrible. Last season, Larry Smith played terrible after his offensive line broke down and his receivers dropped his 97th consecutive pass. If the Larry Smith we recruited in 2007 walked onto campus today, we'd be screaming for him to start right away. The kid's athletic, he's got a cannon, he was a big-time winner in high school and an authority no less than power lifter/D-line recruit Kyle Woestmann says he's never seen a quarterback as "jacked" as Larry. (Hopefully that means really, really strong.)
2. We've needed a quarterback since Chris Nickson started his junior season, which happened to be Jared Funk's second season on campus, so if he hasn't thrown a pass yet, I see no reason for him to do so now, unless he's in mop-up duty against Eastern Michigan.
3. Bobby Johnson's been saying since signing day that Rodgers has three years to play two, which means he's probably going to redshirt.

Maybe Larry will play the whole season, but at some point he's going to suffer some sort of injury (we've got only two linemen out of 15 who weigh 300+ pounds) and with Rodgers redshirting, Bobby will turn around and see Funk and Goro. Bobby's a loyal guy who may reward Funk for his stellar performance on the punt coverage team, but he'll likely turn to Goro in a hurry.

And if Larry's not injured, I think the staff will take precautions to keep him from getting that way, which may mean that Goro gets some snaps in short yardage situations. Woestmann, who's apparently an authority on the physical fitness levels of quarterbacks, says that he doesn't know if he could tackle Goro. (If you've seen Woestmann, you know he was experimenting with a bit of self-effacing humor.) His point is that Goro is a tough guy and a hard runner, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to use him in predetermined situations during big games.

Go Larry, and Go Goro!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Expectations for Vandy football are dropping by the minute

A buddy just called to say he was listening to the Paul Finebaum radio program — Finebaum's a UT grad but a Bama lover stationed in Birmingham who's got a pretty good afternoon sports talk show — and Finebaum says Vandy's going 1-11 next season and Bobby Johnson won't be coaching the Commodores in 2011.

That seems to be the conventional wisdom, even among Vanderbilt fans. In fact, as assorted media outlets and blogs roll out their 1-120 rankings of all the FBS teams, Vanderbilt is widely regarded as the second-worst BCS conference team in America, ahead of Washington State.

But don't forget that Vandy wasn't expected to do much better in 2008, the year the Commodores went 7-6 and won the Music City Bowl. That team had a makeshift defensive line, no returning starters on the offensive line, a shaky returning starting quarterback from Alabama, a questionable receiving corps and a young, talented defensive back seven.

Here are some things that need to happen:

1. The offensive line gels and is able to protect the quarterback and open up holes for talented runners Warren Norman, Zac Stacy and Wesley Tate.

2. Receivers John Cole and Udom Umoh hit their strides, and a couple of guys emerge from a promising group of youngsters, including sophomore Brady Brown and true freshmen Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause and Jordan Matthews.

3. Larry Smith blossoms into a legitimate SEC starting quarterback.

4. At least one of the true freshmen defensive tackles — Vince Taylor, Jared Morse, James Kittredge and Kyle Woestmann (who'll probably slide over to end) — puts on enough weight this summer to contribute to a defensive line smarting from the loss of senior Adam Smotherman to a knee injury.

5. Nobody gets injured, but especially not to LB Chris Marve, CB Casey Hayward and SS Sean Richardson.

6. Either walk-on sophomore Richard Kent or true freshman Carey Spear proves an able replacement to punter Brett Upson. (We wouldn't have had a winning season or a bowl victory in 2008 without Upson, who was MVP of the Music City Bowl.)

Can all that happen? You bet it can.

Does it seem likely right now? No way, because everybody's lowered their expectations after last season's disappointing showing. But Vanderbilt's opponents have lowered their expectations, too. And when our guys come out next season and kick them in the mouth, our opponents are going to think, "This is the team that Paul Finebaum said would only win one game and get their coach fired?" And like we saw in 2008, some of those teams (Auburn, South Carolina, Ole Miss) just may panic.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tracking the Vanderbilt football talent pool from 2009 to 2012

Our buddy from Anything But Gatorade — everybody’s favorite Kentucky/Vandy site — questioned our use of the word “stockpile” when referring to the talent the Commodores will have in 2011 and 2012.

And yes, how often do you see “stockpile” and “Vanderbilt football” in the same sentence?

But check out how the number of Vandy upperclassmen who received at least one three-star rating — from either Scouts, Rivals or ESPN — increases from last season to the year 2012.

That’s an astounding increase in talent. Sure, you'll have two-star guys like Chris Williams and Myron Lewis who'll rise to the top; Sean Richardson is this year's version. But there's no doubt that getting higher rated recruits helps a program.

In 2009, Vandy had six upperclassmen on the roster who’d received three stars from one of the above recruiting services. In 2012, based on current rosters, we’ll have 42.

That talent will make a difference.

Just wait and see.

2009 (6)
• QB Jared Funk (unanimous)
• QB Mackenzi Adams
• DT Adam Smotherman
• DT Greg Billinger
• LB John Stokes
• ATH Turner Wimberly

2010 (12)
• QB Jared Funk (unanimous)
• QB Larry Smith (unanimous)
• OL Kyle Fischer (unanimous)
• FB/TE Ryan van Rensburg (unanimous)
• DT Adam Smotherman
• LB John Stokes
• WR Udom Umoh
• ATH Turner Wimberly
• ATH Jamie Graham
• DB Casey Hayward
• TE Brandon Barden
• LB Chris Marve

2011 (23)
• QB Larry Smith (unanimous)
• OL Kyle Fischer (unanimous)
• FB/TE Ryan van Rensburg (unanimous)
• LB DeAndre Jones (unanimous)
• WR Brady Brown (unanimous)
• WR Udom Umoh
• DL Taylor Loftley
• DB Eric Samuels
• RB Zac Stacy
• RB Warren Norman
• DB Trey Wilson
• DB Al Owens
• ATH Jamie Graham
• DB Casey Hayward
• TE Brandon Barden
• LB Chris Marve
• WR John Cole
• LB Tristan Strong
• OL Richard Cagle
• DB/LB Micah Powell
• OL Ryan Seymour
• DT Colt Nichter
• QB Jordan Rodgers

• LB DeAndre Jones (unanimous)
• WR Brady Brown (unanimous)
• OL Wesley Johnson (unanimous) (redshirt)
• TE Mason Johnston (unanimous) (redshirt)
• DB Karl Butler (unanimous)
• DB Andre Hal (unanimous)
• TE Blake Gowder (unanimous) (may redshirt)
• DL James Kittredge (unanimous)
• DL Jared Morse (unanimous)
• DL Vince Taylor (unanimous)
• DL Kyle Woestmann (unanimous)
• OL Grant Ramsay (unanimous)
• WR Jonathan Krause (unanimous)
• DL Taylor Loftley
• DB Eric Samuels
• RB Zac Stacy
• RB Warren Norman
• DB Trey Wilson
• DB Al Owens
• DB Eddie Foster
• DB Jay Fullam (redshirt)
• DE Walker May (redshirt)
• DE Thad McHaney (redshirt)
• LB Blake Southerland (redshirt)
• RB Wesley Tate (redshirt)
• WR Chris Boyd
• DB Kenny Ladler
• DB Andre Simmons
• WR John Cole
• LB Tristan Strong
• OL Richard Cagle
• DB/LB Micah Powell
• OL Ryan Seymour
• DT Colt Nichter
• QB Jordan Rodgers (if redshirt in 2010)
• QB Charlie Goro
• OL Mylon Brown
• WR Jordan Matthews
• K/P Carey Spear
• OL Andrew Bridges (may redshirt)
• OL Logan Stewart (may redshirt)
• DE Thomas Ryan (may redshirt)

Some guy in Alabama thinks Bobby Johnson's on the hot seat

According to some guy named Phil Paramore, who writes for the Dothan Eagle, there are nine coaches in danger of losing their jobs this season. They include Ron Zook, Les Miles, Rich Rodriguez and...

...Bobby Johnson.

Yes, Bobby's done a nice job with his little collection of scholars and no athletic director, but 12 SEC wins in eight seasons "just doesn't cut it."

Nobody's predicting the Commodores to win even four games this season. But as we've pointed out earlier, Bobby's been stockpiling talent, particularly linemen on both sides of the ball, and these guys are going to be ready to make some noise starting in 2011. It would be a travesty if he didn't get at least one more season to show what he can do provided he can beat Eastern Michigan, the only team he'll be favored to beat.

Of course, the last time Bobby was only favored to win one or two games, the Commodores got their first bowl victory since the Eisenhower administration.

A winning season would be a miracle, and Johnson should be granted a lifetime contract on the spot if that happens. I'm going to sit back and enjoy this season, keeping an eye on the future. The trick will be getting two back-to-back winning seasons, which I believe we can do in 2011 and 2012.

If Bobby wins two games in 2011, then yes, he'll be on the hot seat. But I believe he's got at least two seasons left to develop the talent he's lured to Nashville — and of course to show that his offenses can at least hit double digits in points.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bobby Johnson's quarterback dilemma: Maybe win now or probably win later

Let’s assume Larry Smith really is Vandy’s best quarterback right now. I believe he is. But does that mean he should get every meaningful snap this season, providing he can stay injury-free, which is of course a long shot?

As pigskin prognosticators and even Vanderbilt’s own fans are predicting, 2010 should be a rough season for the Commodores. SEC games are won in the trenches, and Vandy’s offensive line is unbelievably inexperienced, having lost seven starters or part-time starters to injury, graduation and academic ineptitude. Oh, and the receiving corps is still far from SEC caliber. Sure, the running backs are good, but they’re not enough to save us this season.

What does that mean for Larry Smith?

It means trouble.

But let’s say Larry gets all the snaps and survives the season and the boo birds who’ll be quick to pin all the blame on him. Then he’ll deserve to take the field in 2011, when he’ll have those same fine running backs but also an improved offensive line and receiving corps, and an extremely talented defense and kicking game.

And let’s say Larry becomes the player we’ve always suspected he could be and he leads the Commodores to a winning season and a bowl bid. That would be great, huh?

But then 2012 would be here, and we’d have a dramatically improved, veteran offensive line and receiving corps, the same fantastic running backs, and a killer defense led by our best defensive line in many years.

And a green quarterback — either redshirt junior Charlie Goro and redshirt senior Jordan Rodgers or perhaps a talented redshirt freshman we haven’t recruited yet.

See the dilemma? Fans are worried, and maybe rightfully so, that Bobby Johnson will stick with the most experienced quarterback and ignore the development of the younger quarterback and the transfer quarterback. (See: Kovalchek and Olmstead, and Walker and Funk.) But that’s exactly what Bobby tried not to do with Larry Smith, whom he chose over senior Chris Nickson in the bowl game and senior Mackenzi Adams last season.

When it became clear, in the face of a staggering list of injuries, that 2009 would be a rebuilding year, Bobby left Larry in the lineup to gain experience and be ready for 2010. But 2010 may be the same deal. And while 2011 could be a rebound year like we had in 2008, we could be building toward a special team in 2012, one that will need an experienced quarterback.

I think a lot depends on what the administration is telling Bobby.

• If Bobby’s got a couple of years to get back to a winning season: He redshirts Jordan Rodgers, lets Larry start early in the season, and finds some meaningful snaps for Charlie Goro, whom I believe will be a pleasant surprise. Then he’s got a three-horse race in the spring of 2011, and while he has a shot at a winning season, he still works in two and maybe even all three quarterbacks into the game plan so he’ll be ready in 2012 after Larry graduates to make a serious run at Vandy’s best season ever in the modern era.

• If Bobby’s got to win now, or win no later than 2011: He burns Rodgers’ redshirt, starts Larry and then pulls him as soon as he struggles to hit shaky receivers behind a shaky line, puts in Jordan Rodgers, and then when he struggles pulls him for Jared Funk, who's been in the program for 50 years, and then play Goro when Funk struggles. Then if he survives the season he lets Smith, Rodgers and Goro battle it out again in 2011, and then in 2012 he’s got only Goro and a redshirt freshman to be named later as the quarterbacks of an otherwise outstanding team.

I believe Bobby has enough credit to register one more bad season because he’s signed and is developing plenty of young talent. So I think he:

1. Redshirts Rodgers and lets him learn the system and travel with the team.
2. Has a heart-to-heart with Jared Funk to see if he’d like to leave or stay on the team for another year of covering punts.
3. Names Goro the backup, gets him some meaningful snaps — maybe in running situations — and if Larry goes down then he sticks with Goro and names Funk the backup for the rest of the season.

In other words, try to win with Larry but keep an eye to developing the guys who’ll be behind center in 2012.

What do you think?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

2011 will be the year of the Commodore

Everybody’s already spreading the gloom and doom about this year’s version of the football Commodores. And things may get a bit dark this year. But they should get much, much better by 2011.

Here’s a quick prognosis:

• Stronger: Running backs, receivers, tight ends, linebackers, cornerbacks, kickers
• Holding steady: Safeties
• Weaker: Quarterbacks, defensive tackles, defensive ends, punters
• Much weaker: Offensive line

• Much stronger: Linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties
• Stronger: Quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive line, defensive tackles, defensive ends, kickers, punters
• Weaker: NOTHING

• Much stronger: Offensive line, defensive tackles, defensive ends
• Stronger: Running backs, receivers, cornerbacks, kickers, punters
• Holding steady: Linebackers, safeties
• Weaker: Quarterbacks, tight ends

Let’s not panic. There’s plenty of talent to develop this season, especially at the skill positions and on both lines. We’ll have some growing pains, especially on the offensive line, but it would be a huge mistake to dump Bobby Johnson and staff if we go 3-9 or 4-8, which everybody’s predicting us to do. 2011 will be better than 2008 for us. Just watch. In two years, Johnson will have a powerful defensive front, something we've always lacked, plus a greatly improved receiving corps and offensive line. In the meantime, with no true freshman to redshirt this season, we really need to recruit a top-notch quarterback or two.

Here’s a closer look at how each position breaks down over the next three seasons:

2010: DOWN: Larry Smith returns from injury with no proven backup.
2011: UP: Much improved as Smith returns for his senior year with depth from Charlie Goro and Jordan Rodgers, one of whom should have some snaps under his belt
2012: DOWN: Unless Goro or Rodgers (if he redshirts) have already grabbed the reins, expect some growing pains

2010: UP: A huge boost as sophomores Warren Norman and Zac Stacy return from solid rookie seasons, with support from fifth-year senior Kennard Reeves
2011: UP: Norman and Stacy should be even better with help from an experienced Wesley Tate, who looks like a prototypical every-down tailback
2012: UP: Norman, Stacy and Tate enter their fourth year on campus. Look out!

2010: UP: Returning starters John Cole and Udom Umoh should be improved, but their backups are unproven
2011: UP: Cole and Umoh will know the ropes, big target Brady Brown will have much-needed reps, and true sophomores Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews will be game-tested and ready to shine.
2012: UP: The Dores will have at least five upperclassmen with blue-chip pedigrees and extensive game experience.

2010: UP: If Austin Monahan returns from injury, he’ll take some heat off the talented Brandon Barden.
2011: UP: Barden and Monahan should form one of the nation’s finest tight end tandems in their senior season.
2012: DOWN: Promising prospects Mason Johnston and Blake Gowder step in for the graduating seniors.

2010: WAY DOWN: The Commodores lose a whopping seven linemen with starting experience, replacing them with a talented but inconsistent junior (Kyle Fischer), a steady senior (Joey Bailey), a heralded but underweight redshirt freshmen (Wes Johnson), some promising sophomores (Ryan Seymour and Caleb Welchans), and a bunch of guys who’ve never played (sophomore Jabo Burrow, redshirt freshmen Mylon Brown and Justin Cabbagestalk and true freshman Grant Ramsay).
2011: UP: Great improvement as only Bailey departs and a bunch of kids have a year of experience under their belts.
2012: WAY UP: Fischer departs but the Dores will be two-deep with three-star kids who’ve had time to bulk up and get some big-game experience.

2010: DOWN: Super sub junior T.J. Greenstone, backup sophomore Rob Lohr and prep stars Vince Taylor and Jared Morse are promising, but they can’t immediately replace the departed Greg Billinger and the injured Adam Smotherman.
2011: UP: Four returning players, plus a bulked up James Kittredge, could give the Dores their best defensive line in recent history
2012: WAY UP: Greenstone departs, but by then Vandy will have a powerful front of Taylor, Morse, Lohr and Kittredge

2010: DOWN: Upperclassmen Tim Fugger, Theron Kadri, and Teriall Brannon add experience, and redshirt freshmen Walker May and Thad McHaney and true frosh Kyle Woestmann add fire, but it’ll take a while to replace the departed Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone.
2011: UP: Senior Fugger and youngsters May, McHaney, Woestmann and Thomas Ryan form a deep, talented group.
2012: WAY UP: Now battle-tested, these guys will be a force to be reckoned with.

2010: UP: Pat Benoist and Brent Trice are gone, but the Vandy backers will be even better, thanks to a surgically repaired Chris Marve, senior John Stokes, and a quartet of athletic sophomores in Tristan Strong, DeAndre Jones, Dexter Daniels and Archibald Barnes.
2011: WAY UP: Watch out! If Marve doesn’t jump to the NFL, he’ll have a killer supporting cast in Barnes, Strong, Daniels, Jones and youngster Blake Southerland.
2012: HOLDING STEADY: Marve is gone, but Vandy has four outstanding, versatile senior linebackers, with support from Southerland, Chase Garnham and Fitz Lassing.

2010: UP: Sure, Vandy will miss Myron Lewis, but Casey Hayward replaces him as an all-star candidate, junior Jamie Graham showed flashes of brilliance last season, and sophomores Eddie Foster, Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson are fast and dangerous.
2011: WAY UP: Everybody’s back, and Andre Hal and Karl Butler have a year under their belts and are ready to make some noise too.
2012: UP: Hayward and Graham are gone, but Vandy shouldn’t skip a beat with seniors Foster, Samuels and Wilson, heir apparents Hal and Butler, and likely even more new talent.

2010: HOLDING STEADY: Sean Richardson’s a sure-fire all-star candidate, and redshirt freshman Jay Fullam and true frosh Kenny Ladler should be an improvement over the departed Joel Caldwell. Plus, Vandy’s got corners like Graham, Samuels and Wilson who can shift over to safety.
2011: WAY UP: Richardson’s a senior, Fullam and Ladler are seasoned and ready to go, and Andre Simmons has joined the mix, with even more depth from seniors Al Owen and Micah Powell, who has potential to be a Brent Trice-like safety/linebacker combo.
2012: HOLDING STEADY: Richardson’s gone, but Fullam, Ladler and Simmons should be established forces, with plenty of support coming from a loaded corps of cornerbacks.

2010: SLIGHT DIP: Ryan Fowler should be deadlier than ever, but the amazing Brett Upson will be replaced by walk-on Richard Kent at punter.
2011: UP: Fowler and Kent will both be tested by strong-legged Carey Spear.
2012: UP: Fowler, Kent and Spear should all return.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Some questions about Vandy football

Sorry for the dearth of posts lately. Been busy, um, working.

Congrats to the baseball team, which barely missed the College World Series. Some Vandy fans are surely complaining that we haven't been to a CWS yet, but as somebody who runs a Vandy football blog, I think the Vandy baseball team is wildly successful and that Tim Corbin does an incredible job.

Some thoughts generated by a recent anonymous commenter's post. Thanks to you, whoever you are, for the thoughtful musings.

1. Why did WR Tray Herndon play so well as a Minnesota freshman and so sparingly as a Vandy transfer sophomore? And is Jordan Rodgers really going to redshirt? And should former QB and Arizona transfer Richard Kovalchek have played more and was he a better quarterback than Nickson and Adams?

Good questions all, and they boil down to one big question: Will we ever have a decent transfer or should we just stop accepting them? Especially wide receivers: The Clemson kid was too hurt to play and the Terance Jeffers-Harris-Jones-Smith was not studious enough. I think Kovalchek was signed for insurance and I do believe that Nickson and Adams were better — Arizona forced Kovalchek to leave, I believe, but could Nickson and Adams have played at Arizona? Don't know. Rodgers isn't the same kind of transfer. DB Bill Alford was a pretty good JC player for us, so maybe Rodgers can be too. Have you heard that his brother is Aaron Rodgers?

2. Should Rodgers redshirt, and who'll be number 2 if he does?

If Rodgers doesn't beat out Larry, then I think he does redshirt. I think coaches are quietly considering this year to be a rebuilding one and would consider the five-win seasons of old to be a smashing success, and then we'll have a ridiculous amount of starters returning in 2011. With no true freshmen quarterbacks on board, I think the staff would feel better about having Rodgers on the team after Larry graduates, which is only possible if he redshirts. And don't forget Charlie Goro, who (1) traveled with the team last season and knows the system, (2) had a pretty good spring, (3) is a tough runner and natural spread guy, and (4) is almost dead even with Larry in our poll asking who will be this year's starting quarterback.

3. Should Jamie Graham play WR or DB?

I think he's primarily a DB. He's not a fast-twitch guy or a burner, but he's a smooth possession receiver and utility skill guy who has a better shot at the next level as a safety or nickel back. Sure, we have a bunch of young guys in the secondary, but I think Jamie should play corner or nickel or even safety and then enter the game on offense for the occasional jump ball in the corner of the end zone.

4. Who else could play receiver for us?

Sure, Wesley Tate's a possibility. He'd be a mighty big receiver, but that's not a negative. Also, DBs such as Eric Samuels, Trey Wilson and Eddie Foster are possibilities, but they're first and foremost defensive backs.

5. Is Walker May as good as he looked in the spring?

Sure, our offensive line has problems and we should be skeptical about any defensive lineman who dominated in the spring. But May has always been fast and he's always been a playmaker and folks who know him rave about him. And now he's added some weight. But he's still light in the pants for an SEC defensive end. I'd like to see him at outside linebacker. But either way, I think he's the real deal and will be tough to keep off the field.

Just my two cents.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Big offensive lineman chooses Commodores

James Lewis, a 6-5, 275-pound offensive tackle from Arlington, Tenn., has chosen the Commodores over Illinois. He's a two-star player, which doesn't mean much. You know, Chris Williams was a two-star guy coming out of high school. We really need offensive linemen.

Vandy was the last team in the SEC to get a verbal commitment for the 2011 signing class, so it's good to finally get a name on the board. But Lewis had apparently committed to Vanderbilt three weeks ago, so who know who else we've already locked up. And upcoming camps and recruiting weekends should yield some commitments too.

While Vandy had one of its best recruiting classes ever, Kentucky had shockingly few commitments heading into the fall but finished with a class rated equal to or better than Vandy's. So keep in mind that it matters most how you finish.

Oh, and it's nice to get a big player at a position we need, and it's also kind of nice that he's not highly rated. I trust that the coaching staff offers its first round of scholarships to the players it really wants and then rounds out the class with second-tier players as signing day approaches. So I believe Lewis will be a good player for us, and I'm kind of glad he's not a four-star guy who'll have to stave off poachers during the upcoming season.

No, Lewis is a guy who'll likely stick with the Commodores until signing day. Hopefully we'll get some prep superstars, but hopefully they'll sign closer to signing day — after we've had a winning season — so we can avoid last year's painful, last-minute loss of talent.