Vandy burned the redshirts off 13 players last season. That wouldn’t be a big number at some schools, but it is at Vandy, which last season had only four upperclassmen (seniors John Stokes and Theron Kadri and juniors Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson) who’d avoided redshirts.
Of course, the staff was trying to save their jobs. And granted, those 13 freshmen were pretty good. But should they have played? Here’s our take:
SHOULD HAVE PLAYED
• FS Kenny Ladler: Played in all 12 games and started nine; had 57 total tackles, including 5.5 for a loss; had an interception against Tennessee; named to the coaches’ freshman all-SEC team.
• WR Jonathan Krause: Started 10 games, finishing third in receptions (24) and receiving yards (243); also scored two rushing touchdowns on six carries.
• CB Andre Hal: Played in all 12 games and started against Florida and Wake Forest; had 13 total tackles, including seven against Florida; returned 11 kickoffs for a 23.6 yard average, and had two returns for 58 yards against Florida
• C Logan Stewart: Played in team’s last eight games, starting six of them; took over after senior captain Joey Bailey was injured and then didn’t relinquish the job when Bailey recovered.
• WR Jordan Matthews: Played in all 12 games, getting one start; scored a touchdown in each of Vandy’s last four games; had seven catches for 74 yards in the finale against Wake Forest
• CB Steven Clarke: Played in 11 games; had 16 total tackles, including eight against South Carolina, and a sack against Arkansas
As bad as Vandy was last season, imagine the receiving corps without Krause and Matthews, the offensive line without Stewart, and the secondary without Ladler, Hal and Clarke. All those guys should have played.
THE JURY’S OUT
• PK Carey Spear: Served as team’s kickoff specialist; 40 percent of his kicks were unreturned, and he limited opposing teams to a 20.7 yard average on kick returns; had a couple of tackles in coverage
• DT Jared Morse: Played in eight games, finishing with seven tackles; burned redshirt after Smotherman and Greenstone were injured
Sure, Spear was a superior kickoff guy to Fowler, but did we really need two kickers last year? Next time, let’s don’t sign a kicker who can’t handle kickoffs. And while Morse was a solid backup last season, didn’t we play three D-tackles (Billinger, Smotherman and Greenstone) during the Music City Bowl season? After we lost Smo and Greenstone to injury, we still had Lohr, Nichter, Loftley and Jelesky, who granted is awfully light to be playing tackle.
SHOULD NOT HAVE PLAYED
• S Karl Butler: Played every game on special teams; had three total tackles and an interception and 33-yard return against Florida
• LB Chase Garnham: Played in 12 games, mostly on special teams; had eight total tackles
• OL/DL James Kittredge: No notes with his new profile, but I think he played in just a couple of games
• TE Fitz Lassing: Played in 10 games, mostly on special teams, and also lined up at tight end after injuries piled up at that position; had a 3-yard catch against Wake Forest
• S Andre Simmons: Played in 10 games, primarily on special teams, and finished with four tackles.
We burned the redshirts off four guys – Butler, Garnham, Lassing and Simmons – so they could play mainly special teams and record a total of 15 tackles. Sure, Butler had a nice pick against Florida in mop-up duty, but was it worth losing a year of eligibility? Lassing’s 3-yard catch against Wake Forest sure wasn’t. As weak as our outside backers were, we’d be applauding the decision to play Garnham if he’d actually seen substantial time there, but instead he played primarily on special teams.
As for Kittredge, we’ll give the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt. He was impressive in practice after moving to offensive line but had a less-than-memorable showing at center after Bailey was injured, which paved the way for Stewart, who grabbed the starting job and will probably keep it for the next three years. That’s how it works: A guy gets a chance and struggles and gets pulled from the game so the next guy gets a chance and he shines and he never leaves the lineup.
It could have been a whole lot worse. If Vince Taylor hadn’t hurt his hand in the preseason, he’d have played too. Now we’ve got three solid defensive linemen – Taylor, Thomas Ryan and Kyle Woestmann – who’ve got four years of eligibility left.
And if Krause and Matthews hadn’t proven to be SEC-caliber receivers, we may have burned the redshirts off Chris Boyd and Trent Pruitt trying to find somebody who could catch the ball. And if Blake Gowder hadn’t injured his shoulder, he’d have probably lined up at tight end after Mason Johnston got hurt.
Grant Ramsay would have likely played if he hadn’t injured his knee, and Chase White was queued up and ready to go if another O-lineman had gone down. Oh, and Jordan Rodgers might have burned up his redshirt if he hadn’t hurt his shoulder.
Not saying we’re glad guys got hurt so they would be redshirted, but if Jordan Rodgers rebounds and becomes our leader, won’t we be glad we didn’t waste one of his two years of eligibility on last year’s crappy season?
You’re probably thinking about Franklin’s so-called philosophy about not redshirting freshmen. I’ll remind you that the stud freshman quarterback he had at Maryland this past season – and who helped him get the Vandy job – was a redshirt. What Franklin means is, when you sign with Vanderbilt you’d best show up to campus ready to play right away. He’s not going to say on national signing day that he expects to redshirt this and that kid. Bobby Johnson used to do that. Remember, he was going to redshirt Warren Norman.
Is Franklin going to burn the redshirts off all three freshmen quarterbacks? No way. Is he going to burn the redshirts off two safeties, a linebacker and a tight end so they can all play special teams? That remains to be seen, but I hope not. We’ve got enough young talent to fill the roster on special teams without burning any redshirts to do it.
I think Franklin is going to be surprised at the general quality of the talent he’s inherited. Definitely something to build on.