Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Job number one for Vanderbilt: Find somebody besides Chris Marve who can play linebacker

If you look at our last post about Vandy's 2011 playing rotation, you'll notice that we're heavy on talent at defensive back, and will be strong at running back after the incoming freshman class arrives.

We're slowly building talent and depth at wide receiver and on both lines of scrimmage.

You know where we're really weak? Linebacker, especially after Chris Marve finishes his career, hopefully in a bowl game. After Marve, here's what we've got:
• Four redshirt juniors — Archibald Barnes, Tristan Strong, Dexter Daniels and especially DeAndre Jones — who've started a total of one game and haven't come close to reaching their potential.
• A couple of projects in redshirt sophomore Blake Southerland and sophomore Chase Garnham.
• A kid, Andrew East, who was recruited to be a longsnapper and wasn't even a two-star prospect as a linebacker.

In fact, a popular parlor game for Vandy fans is to name all the players on the roster currently playing other positions who would be an improvement at linebacker. They include:
• Defensive end Walker May
• Running back Wesley Tate
• Tight end/H-backs Fitz Lassing and Blake Gowder
• Safeties Karl Butler, Jay Fullam, Andrew Simmons, Kenny Ladler and Sean Richardson
• A number of true freshmen, including tight end Darien Bryant; defensive ends Jimmy Stewart and Conor Hart; safeties Larry Franklin, Andrew Williamson and Jahmel McIntosh; and even quarterback Lafonte Thourogood

So why do we have so many defensive backs looking for a home? Because there are plenty of good ones out there. Conversely, there are fewer big stud linebackers and running backs. Sure, we've got good running backs, but they're all change-of-pace backs who wouldn't carry the load at programs with more talent.

Look at Zac Stacy, Warren Norman and the true freshman Mitchell Hester. All little guys who are great runners but not every-down backs. Coach Franklin swears that freshman Jerrod Seymour is an every down back. If that's true, then that's the kind of every down back we're gonna get right now — one that's 5-foot-5 and sneaking under the radar. You gotta love the comparisons to Barry Sanders. Let's hope so.

But our point is, we don't get the big studs who can play running back or linebacker. That's been the secret to TCU's success — recruit a bunch of true running backs and then move them all over the field, but especially to linebacker.

Maybe the closest thing we've got on our roster to a true running back, or at least one that can pass for one in an airport, is Wesley Tate. Tate didn't look very explosive last season, especially on the goal line against lowly Eastern Michigan, but maybe that's because he was recovering from injury. At any rate, he's the kind of athlete who'd make a lot of sense at outside linebacker.

Looking ahead to next year's signing class, here's how our current scholarship offers break down:

• 8 defensive ends
• 5 offensive linemen
• 4 running backs under 200 pounds
• 4 linebackers
• 3 quarterbacks
• 3 wide receivers
• 2 defensive tackles
• 2 defensive backs
• 1 tight end
• 1 running back over 200 pounds

Four linebackers? That's a good start.

Eight defensive ends? For some reason, defensive ends are always in abundance, and usually they're just tall guys with big frames who are decent athletes but don't really have a position. Ryan Seymour and Jabo Burrow started as defensive ends and moved over to O-line.


Anonymous said...


I don't totally agree with your comments on the linebackers. What I feel actual happened last year was that Bruce Fowler put way to much on knowing where to line up, and experience than raw talent. Both Campbell and Stokes did not have the talent of any of the now Junior class of linebackers, and or our then Frosh LB. Do you have to know where to line up? Well yes, however not to the point where we have LB's that are too slow to pursue and make a play from the backside. When you have OL getting to the "second level" which are 3 and 5 techique DL would allow and mix in two club foot Sr LB's well need I say more? We were weak on the corners up front at the end position as well as outside LB because of lack of speed. Also we had a Lb coach that refused to allow more athletic Soph and Frosh's to play. It was easier to play two seniors that where solid on techique but not SEC caliber players from a athletic stand point. This is a league that require's read,reaction and speed and there is no getting around it. Real poor LB coaching from a guy that knew he was on the way out. Bottom line is simplify want your asking your OLBers to do and get the speed on the field. Watch the NFL combine OLB are running 4.6's or better.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't totally excuse the junior class, but let's not forget longtime LB coach Warren Belin for Georgia before last year. He was a really, really good coach -- in fact, he just left Georgia for the Carolina Panthers.

Vandy never signed a LB coach to replace him. I can't help but wonder if maybe the players didn't get the attention and coaching they needed.

It's weird to be worried about linebacker. I swear it's been a strong spot for the last 15 years.


No doubt linebacker has been a strong position for us in years past. In fact, I actually said this time last year that linebacker was our strongest position, which was proven false as the season progressed. You know what you're talking about, and you're right to say that coaching could have played a factor. For whatever reason, the lack of production from the four redshirt juniors has been troubling. Outside of John Stokes, DeAndre Jones is one of the most highly rated linebackers we've ever signed. These guys have also faced injury. Anyway, thanks to both of you for your comments.


What would your 2-deep depth chart be at linebacker for this season, for middle, weakside and strongside?

Anonymous said...

Right on the money on Belin.

I would mix it up some. My line-up I think would put the best athletes on the field.

Middle- Marve,Barnes,Jones
Strong- Garnham,Strong,Jones

5 player rotation putting the most speed possible on the field at anyone time without giving up power to stop the "in box" run game and baring injuries.

When I watch these guys during LB drills there feet and play recon skills are what I look for. How long does it take the guy to find the ball and react? In my opinion Marve and Garnham have by far the best feet (first step)and play recon skills(change of direction) of this current group.

Dimon,no disrespect here but I see red about "Star Counting" on these guy's after they have been on campus. In my opinion it means nothing.Are they a bust because Rivals said they where a 4 star coming out of high school,and have not produced? Well had Fowler played the guy's that he should have our current LB cadre may not look like a bust.If you ever get a chance to sit in on a film grading at the college level you see a bunch of blown assignments,what we had last year is few blown assignments but Stokes and Campbell couldn't get there unless it was 10 yards down the field. We had very few blown assignments,but no athletes to make plays.

I think this group can play.It is simple can the guy read, run and tackle.Last year we just had the guy's who knew where to line-up and that was all. That logic will get you fired and beat in the SEC. "At most schools"!

Anonymous said...

Dimon, I have said it before on this blog that our position coaching was just awful in many areas. Belin was very good and well respected. It's hard to imagine that the LB position might be considered a "weakness" at Vandy given our recent history of having a pretty good defense with solid LB play. Even in years when the offense was lagging, most around the sec knew that the Vandy defense and it's LB's were going to be pretty good. Another great reason to have made the coaching changes and focus on teaching our young defensive players good technique. Should be a great spring.


Some great comments. I didn't mean to count stars, but was saying that DeAndre Jones was a highly regarded athlete and still looks like he can play. I guess I was thinking that if Nate Campbell and John Stokes were playing ahead of Barnes, Jones, Strong and Daniels, then maybe they're not very good, even though they're unquestionably better athletes than last year's starters outside of Marve.

I do think the four juniors are SEC-caliber athletes, or close to it, and Garnham is a good prospect with speed and, as you say, footwork.

I never thought about the effect of losing Belin on last year's team. It didn't matter much because the 2009 team won two games with a bad offense and a decent defense, and the 2010 team won two games with a bad offense and a below average defense, which was made worse because the offense was so incredibly bad.

But I think the defense would have been better last season with Belin.

CAR said...

Jay Fullam is apparently transferring to Air Force. So, that is another scholarship opening.