Why, on the eve of the season opener, does Josh Grady know he’s redshirting? Because we’re playing our weakest opponent first.
Last year, Vandy opened with Northwestern, a polished FBS team coming off an overtime bowl loss to Auburn. We figured that game would go down to the wire, which meant we were only going to play our starters, top backups, and the guys we planned to use all season on special teams.
Tomorrow, though, a good number of players will likely see their only playing time of the year. This will include little-used upperclassmen and a merry band of walk-ons.
It won’t include true freshmen. That’s because the coaching staff is not about to deploy a promising young talent like Josh Grady whom they don’t plan to play against the remaining teams on our schedule. That would just waste a year of eligibility.
It’ll be interesting to see which true freshmen play against Elon, because those will be the guys who fit into our plans for the season. And the freshmen who don’t play? They’ll likely see the field only in the event of injuries to players ahead of them on the depth chart.
We think the guys with the best bet to play this season are skill players who can help immediately on special teams and be playmakers for us on either side of the ball. Franklin has said from the beginning of camp that he hopes to redshirt all the offensive linemen, and he’s talked about our defensive ends “growing into the position” and our tight ends gaining weight and becoming dominating blockers. That takes time.
Anyway, here’s our best guess as to which true freshmen will definitely burn their redshirts this season:
1. Jerron Seymour, RB: We need this guy on the field, regardless of whether Warren Norman is healthy or not. Hopefully he’s healed from whatever kept him out of practice last week. Remember how Auburn put a fresh Michael Dyer into games late to wear down opponents? Seymour’s short, sure, but he’s a real weapon.
2. Derek King, CB: We haven’t had a cornerback redshirt since, well, forever. King’s got the body and the skills to play right away. The depth chart is filled for the time being with Hayward, Wilson, Hal, Foster and Clarke, but we think King starts the season knocking heads on special teams and works up from there.
3. Lafonte Thourogood, ATH: Sure, he’s our fourth or fifth string quarterback. But he’s also one of our best athletes, and he came to Vandy so he could get on the field and play. What message does it send to recruits to park a flashy young signee like Thourogood on the bench (unless the kid is really serious about investing a couple of years into becoming an SEC quarterback)? He’s missed a lot of practice time in camp, but I have a hunch that by the time we reach the heart of the SEC schedule we will have figured out a way to get him on the field and get him the ball.
4. Mitchell Hester, RB: Remember that by the end of last season Stacy and Norman were injured and DB Eric Samuels was carrying the ball. Franklin knows he needs a stable of running backs in the SEC, and Hester would be an asset on special teams too.
5. Andrew Williamson, S: Just a hunch, but Williamson set himself apart from the other two freshmen safeties. He’s a hard hitter who can start out on special teams and help out at linebacker in a pinch.
6. Jacquese Kirk, CB/WR: Another hunch. He’s been quiet in camp, but he’s way more athletic than receivers Umoh and Cole. His best position is probably corner, and he’d be an asset on special team coverage units.
7. Jimmy Franklin, S: We’ve got a whopping six safeties jammed into our two-deep depth chart, but Franklin’s a fast, strong kid who could help immediately on special teams.
Here’s what it would take for these other guys to get on the field:
1. Spencer Pulley, OL: If Logan Stewart can’t return from injury, Josh Jelesky can’t adapt to his new position, or at least one of the redshirt freshmen (White, Bridges, Ramsay) struggle.
2. Joe Townsend, OL: If Logan Stewart can’t return from injury and then Wesley Johnson is injured. Townsend is currently listed as second team center, but Stewart would replace him there if he can return from his mystery injury.
3. Barron Dixon, DT: If a couple of the five tackles ahead of him get injured or struggle, or if he proves to already be significantly better than one of the other guys in the rotation.
4. Josh Grady, QB: If both quarterbacks ahead of him are injured.
5. Darien Bryant, DE: If Walker May can’t return from injury and if he proves to be significantly better than sophomore Thad McHaney.
6. Steven Scheu, TE: If either Barden and Monahan are injured, or maybe both. We could go with van der Wal, but Scheu seems to be more game-ready as a pass-catching tight end.
Will definitely redshirt:
• Jahmel McIntosh, S: Could land a spot on special teams, but there are two true freshman safeties ahead of him.
• Jake Bernstein, OL: If we have a spate of injuries, he could be ready to go at guard, but Pulley and Townsend are ahead of him right now.
• James Lewis, OL: This guy will be special at tackle, but already has gotten off to a slow start by being injured.
• Dillon van der Wal, TE: An enormous athlete who needs some time to develop and find the right position.
• Jose Valedon, OL: Seems to be at the bottom of the freshman linemen for the time being.
• Jimmy Stewart, DE: Needs to put on some weight. Similar to Walker May a couple of years ago.
• Kris Kentera, QB: A project who’s going to need some time.
• Conor Hart, DT: A fast, good-looking lineman who just needs to put on weight.