With signing day in the rear view mirror, Vandy now has 89 scholarship players on the roster. If Anthony Standifer, a cornerback prospect from Illinois who’s visiting Nashville this weekend, chooses us over Pittsburgh, then that’ll be 90 scholarship players, which means five guys will have to go.
So who will it be? As usual, we’re willing to offer our opinion, with the understanding that we can’t anticipate problems with grades or discipline. James Franklin has said he’s not going to pull a Saban and take scholarships away from guys who hold up their end of the bargain on the practice field and in the classroom, but that he reserves the right to (1) deny an additional year of eligibility to kids who’ve already been on scholarship for four years, and (2) tell kids at the bottom of the depth chart that he needs to transfer if he wants to play somewhere.
Three rising redshirt juniors have already withdrawn their names: LB DeAndre Jones, RB Micah Powell, and OL Caleb Welchans. Welchans was a versatile backup who should easily be replaced on the depth chart by one of the redshirt freshmen, and Powell won’t be particularly missed as a special teams coverage guy. But we could have used Jones, who saw meaningful action last season at middle linebacker and was seemingly being groomed to take Chris Marve’s starting job. He’s chosen to start his career as a mechanical engineer and we wish him the best.
Meanwhile, rising junior C Logan Stewart and redshirt freshman RB Mitchell Hester have been dismissed from the team. Andre Simmons vanished from the roster after his run-in with the law in November, and Blake Gowder had his recent run-in with the law long after he left the team at the start of last season.
OK, here’s our best guess as to who’s gonna stay, who’s gonna go, who’s gotta wait, and who’s got a decision to make.
REDSHIRT SENIORS WHO’LL STAY
• LB Archibald Barnes: The late bloomer became a starter after Tristan Strong’s season ending injury, and became a star with two huge interceptions against UT, including a 99-yard TD return. Along with Chase Garnham, he’s one of only two sure things we have right now at linebacker.
• OL Josh Jelesky: This time last year, we had him pegged to be four and done, but after an emergency switch from defensive end to offensive guard, he caught on quickly and by season’s end had beaten out starter Mylon Brown. Sure, we signed a great freshman class of O-linemen, but with only six guys returning with any experience, we need Jelesky on the roster.
• P Richard Kent: He’s our punter and we need him back. But because he’s a walk-on, he doesn’t count toward our scholarship limit.
• DT Rob Lohr: He’s a two-year starter at defensive tackle, and kicked it up a higher notch this past season. He’s a lock.
• DT Colt Nichter: Whether he can hold onto his starting job with Morse, Taylor and Dixon breathing down his neck remains to be seen, but we absolutely need Nichter in our tackle rotation.
• QB Jordan Rodgers: One of the only guys with no family members standing with him on senior day, which this year included redshirt juniors. That’s because Rodgers’ Vandy career is only just beginning.
• OL Ryan Seymour: After Rodgers, our most important redshirt senior. With the loss of Fischer to graduation and Stewart to disciplinary issues, we absolutely can’t afford to lose any veteran linemen, and Seymour is one of our best and most versatile.
• LB Tristan Strong: He’s struggled with injuries throughout his career, but the buzz is that he’s been working hard at a comeback since his mid-season knee injury. With early enrollee Darreon Herring and converted safety Karl Butler getting long looks at outside backer in the spring, Strong appears to be a possibility to inherit Marve’s job in the middle.
• DE Johnell Thomas: Mention defensive end, and Vandy fans might automatically think about Walker May, signee Caleb Azubike and even sophomore Kyle Woestmann. But expect Thomas to return and play a significant role in the rotation, which should also include Thad McHaney.
REDSHIRT SENIORS ON THE BUBBLE
• WR John Cole: Cole’s not going to supplant one of our top four targets — Matthews, Boyd, Krause and Tate — but he may get a shot to replace Udom Umoh, who filled in wherever needed. On the other hand, with redshirt frosh Jacquese Kirk and signees Cory Batey and Tip McKenzie, that may not be necessary.
• WR Akeem Dunham: A longer shot because he lacks Cole’s experience and versatility, but he’s big and athletic and could do some things Cole can’t.
• PK Ryan Fowler: Was headed for the door before Carey Spear started missing important field goals. Now Fowler should return unless Spear suddenly shows coaches that he can handle the placekicking duties by himself.
• TE Austin Monahan: He’s been big, talented, at the top of the depth chart – and injured – for his five years at Vandy. Does he really have the intestinal fortitude to return for a sixth year? With talented prospects Dillon van der Wal, Darien Bryant and Steven Scheu in the fold, that may not be his decision to make.
• OLB Al Owens: This time last year, he was a lock to be four and done. But Owens filled in admirably when Tristan Strong and then Chase Garnham were felled by injuries. He lacks the talent of all five linebacker signees (if you include Weatherly as a backer) but coaches would probably like to redshirt a couple of those guys and they may give a nod to Owens’ experience, especially if Strong isn’t fully recovered.
REDSHIRT SENIORS WHO WON’T RETURN
• DE Dexter Daniels: He became quite a hit man on special teams last season, but he played sparingly on defense and can be easily replaced by one of the redshirt freshmen.
• DT Taylor Loftley: How expendable was Loftley? When Greenstone was injured last season, coaches filled his spot on the five-man rotation by burning the redshirt off freshman Barron Dixon.
POSSIBILITIES TO TRANSFER (IF THEY WANT TO PLAY)
• Brady Brown: One of our highest rated receiver prospects ever, Brown hasn’t played since his true freshman year (during which he was later injured and redshirted) and was criticized by Coach Franklin last season for being a possession receiver who didn’t get yards after the catch (“we don’t want any possession receivers on this team”).
• Trent Pruitt: A small, tough kid in the mold of John Cole, he played special teams early last season as a redshirt freshman and could still find a role somewhere on the team, but he doesn’t appear to be an SEC-caliber receiver.
• Grant Ramsay: Didn’t come close to seeing the field as a redshirt freshman. Lots of offensive linemen take a couple of years to develop (Mylon Brown, James Williams), but we’re not sure if big Grant is one of them.
• Thomas Ryan: A solid recruit at end who didn’t play last season as a redshirt freshman. With the arrival of Caleb Azubike and Stephen Weatherly and the development of Franklin’s boy Jimmy Stewart, it’ll be an uphill climb to see playing time, though not impossible. If Ryan does return and doesn’t play, expect him to be moved to another position.