Saturday, July 9, 2011
Franklin raises the bar for talent; so start defending your favorite Vanderbilt football player now
Remember when James Franklin said on signing day that he didn’t want anybody who wasn’t ready to compete, and that he was telling new recruits he was going to go out and get somebody better than them?
You know I think Bobby Johnson made huge progress improving the Commodores’ overall level of talent and depth. I noticed this during our victory at South Carolina four or five years ago when even the guys on our bench looked like SEC players, which was not the case when I attended Vandy in the late ’80s.
But it was all relative – while our players were good by Vandy standards and capable of the occasional upset or even seven upsets in one season, they weren’t good enough to win consistently. Instead, Johnson blamed losses on a lack of execution, valued experience and work ethic over talent, and immediately redshirted nearly every freshmen who set foot on campus.
Now here comes James Franklin, who’s focused like a laser on our talent. He’s run off Charlie Goro, whom he said didn’t meet his standards for a quarterback, and criticized Brady Brown for waiting to get tackled when he catches the ball.
His philosophy, as he stressed to the other day to Tennessean's Jeff Lockridge (who by the way is doing a bang-up job, probably in part because Franklin is a straight-shooter), is to go out and get the best possible talent:
“One year I threw it to a really good player or handed off to a really good player and it went for 85 yards, and all of a sudden I’m smart. And the year before I threw it to a guy that was a good kid, but you know, it went for seven yards. Our staff understands, our players understand, our recruits understand that recruiting is paramount to our success."
You think some of the returning starters are nervous going into training camp?
Franklin has said that he’s looking for playmakers and difference-makers, and that he’d rather have a tremendous athlete who can compensate for a mistake than a mediocre athlete who executes everything perfectly. Um, think Turner Wimberly or Nate Campbell would have started for Franklin?
Here’s what’s going to happen in preseason camp:
• Josh Grady and Lafonte Thourogood are going to push Larry Smith and Jordan Rodgers hard, and then they might just move over to the receiving corps and, together with fellow freshman Jacquese Kirk, ensure that John Cole and Udom Umoh never see the field.
• Dillon van der Wal, Steven Scheu and Darien Bryant are going to make backup tight ends Mason Johnston, Austin Monahan and Fitz Lassing earn every second of playing time.
• Jarron Seymour’s going to motivate Wesley Tate to hit the holes as quick as he can, and he’s going to have Warren Norman and Zac Stacy getting as fit as they can, because if they get hurt this season they may not have a starting job when they come back.
• James Lewis and Jake Bernstein may not start right away, but they could see the field a whole lot sooner than projects like Andrew Bridges and Chase White.
• Barron Dixon already weighs nearly 40 pounds more than our heaviest defensive end and as much as our defensive tackles, and appears to be the most SEC-ready defensive linemen we’ve had in a long time. That’s got to motivate juniors like Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter and underclassmen like Vince Taylor and Jared Morse.
• And you’ll see guys like Kyle Woestmann, Walker May and Chase Garnham try to grab starting positions as fast as they can, because it won’t be any easier next year when a boatload of talented ends and backers — Sealand, Herring, Weatherly, Azubike, Dawson and friends — arrives in Nashville.
• Oh yeah, and true freshmen safeties Jahmel McIntosh, Larry Franklin and Andrew Williamson could boot guys like Karl Butler and Andre Simmons off the depth chart or move to outside backer and do the same to a host of veterans over there.
• And don’t forget Derek King, who’s got the talent to immediately knock Wilson, Foster or Hal out of the starting rotation.
Sure, it kind of hurts saying that guys who’ve worked hard and paid their dues may never see meaningful playing time. Go ahead and comment about guys you think I’ve slighted. Folks have been defending Goro on this site for years. Somebody recently commented that Chase Garnham will be a third- or fourth-round draft pick. Maybe so. But that doesn’t mean we’re gonna write his name – or anybody’s name – in ink on our depth chart.
This doesn’t mean Franklin’s out looking for thugs or morons. But it also doesn’t mean he has to settle for MAC- or WAC- or CUSA-level talent.
Go to his Twitter account sometime and read his posts. They make Norman Vincent Peale look like a pessimist.
The guy’s walking into the living rooms of the nation’s top prospects and he’s telling them he’s not taking no for an answer. If a recruit tells Franklin that other SEC coaches are saying Vanderbilt’s academics are too hard, then Franklin tells the recruit that those SEC coaches are really telling the recruit that he’s not smart and not a hard worker.
And is that true? Of course not. Does the kid — who, for example, may be the No. 2 all-purpose back in the nation and run a 4.2 40 — have what it takes to get a Vandy degree AND play in the SEC? Of course he does. At least, of course we're going to see if he does.
Franklin’s got a different blueprint for success than his predecessors. Instead of thinking he can lead the SEC’s worst recruits to a bowl victory every decade, he absolutely believes he can get the best talent in the nation and challenge for championships.
Heck, let’s try it and see what happens.