Thursday, December 8, 2011
Vanderbilt's Lafonte Thourogood no longer a quarterback - making room for Gunner Kiel?
Lafonte Thourogood, the four-star athlete that Vandy stole from Virginia Tech on signing day, practiced last night at running back and will make the move from quarterback.
Thourogood was one of three players – Josh Grady and Kris Kentera being the others – to sign in February as a quarterback. Coach James Franklin emphatically stated on signing day that all three were quarterbacks.
That’s because he’d promised all of them the opportunity to compete for the quarterback job.
At the same time, he was telling reporters that Lafonte could change positions anytime Lafonte wanted. In other words, Lafonte came to Vanderbilt because he wanted to play quarterback, not because Vanderbilt wanted him to play quarterback.
Franklin said after last night’s practice that Thourogood came into his office and asked to change positions, but that it was something he wanted too.
“He wants an opportunity to play next year,” Franklin said, “and looking at our situation at quarterback he didn’t think that was going to happen.”
Smart kid. Jordan Rodgers grabbed the starting job this year and will only get better. Austyn Carta-Samuels, the transfer from Wyoming who was MVP of the New Mexico Bowl as a freshman and captain of the Cowboys as a sophomore, has been sharp on the scout team this year and will push Rodgers in the spring.
In fact, Grady and Kentera have been lining up at scout team receiver to catch passes from Carta-Samuels. But Grady is an impressive leader and continues to show potential to be a dual-threat quarterback in the SEC. Kentera, a wing-T quarterback in high school whose only major offer was from Vandy, is considered a project. Both will get some more time to develop as a signal-caller.
How much time?
It depends. For 2012, Vandy is set with Rodgers as its quarterback, with Carta-Samuels and Grady competing for the backup job as well as the starting job for 2013. Meanwhile, Kentera gets more time to develop as a quarterback.
But if Gunner Kiel, the nation’s No. 1 QB who by the way attended Vandy’s Liberty Bowl announcement party on Sunday night, shocks the world and signs with Vandy, then he’ll likely enroll early and play in the spring. That means everybody, even Rodgers, will feel the heat. Rodgers would likely start, but how sincere is Franklin’s sales pitch to “Come to Vanderbilt and play right away” if the nation’s No. 1 quarterback redshirts?
If Kiel did redshirt, he’d be groomed as a four-year starter, and suddenly Carta-Samuels is looking at finishing his career as a backup and Grady is switching to receiver or defensive back. Meanwhile, Kentera would likely fit whatever role – backup quarterback or maybe receiver or safety – in which he could most help the team.
Franklin is proving himself to be a shrewd collector of talent. We’ve said all along that he’s going to eventually get a blue chip quarterback to develop. It takes time to get one of those, and if he doesn’t get Kiel then Carta-Samuels and Grady will man the fort while Franklin keeps recruiting.
Neither Thourogood, Grady or Kentera was his quarterback of the future. As he said last night: “It wasn’t like we recruited three guys who could only play quarterback. We knew they’re athletic enough to play other positions and help us in other areas. You’re not gonna sign three drop-back quarterbacks where that’s the only position they can play.”
In other words, these guys can play quarterback if we don’t get our superstar drop-back passer, and they can change positions if we do.
Gunner Kiel would not be moving to wide receiver or safety. Ever.
As for Thourogood, Franklin said after practice that “he came out here and did a great job and the guys were very supportive of him and excited about watching him do some things… Instead of waiting till spring ball, I thought it was great on his part from a maturity standpoint to realize this is an opportunity to get some work in so when spring ball comes he’s further ahead.”
Now think about our running back situation for next year. We’ll have:
• Zac Stacy, senior, a 1,000-yard rusher and All-SEC performer
• Warren Norman, redshirt junior, former SEC freshman of the year who started his first two seasons ahead of Stacy
• Jerron Seymour, sophomore, who showed flashes of brilliance while rotating with Stacy
• Brian Kimbrow, freshman, the fastest man in high school football who’ll likely start his career as a return specialist and an all-purpose back for the Commodores
• Mitchell Hester, redshirt freshman, another speedster who was impressive in preseason camp
• Jaborian McKenzie, freshman, another solid recruit with speed and ball skills
Oh, and Thourogood, a big, strong athlete. And right now we’re the front-runner for Wes Brown, a big (at least by our standards) four-star running back.
Not all these guys will play running back, but they’ll play somewhere. Will Lafonte stick at quarterback? Who knows? Maybe he'll line up next year at wide receiver. Lots of folks think he'd make an outstanding outside linebacker. Can you imagine him at safety? The point is, Lafonte's position is now "not a quarterback," which means he's free to move around and find a home. He's a stud, and he's going to play somewhere.
Go back and watch Franklin’s signing day press conference and you’ll notice that he keeps repeating the word “flexible.” He wants athletes he can move around the field.
It’ll be fun to watch where all these guys play.