OK, we're back for another season. Hopefully, Vandy will start kicking people's butts on a consistent basis and the name Moral Victory! will become ironic instead of descriptive.
In case you're wondering, I landed my dream job in May as executive editor of my hometown newspaper and have been busy with that. If I start writing the long, analytical statistics-obsessed stuff that I've done here in the past, then I'm bombing my day job and will soon be living in the library and posting from there.
Tonight let's look at position groups, grouping them into "We're excited," "We're cautiously optimistic" and "We're kind of scared." Notice we're sticking with personnel here. No, I'm really not excited that we named the stadium foghorn "The Admiral."
Here we go:
• Running backs: This is easy. The SEC's leading returning rusher (Zac Stacy) plus the fastest true freshman in college football (Brian Kimbrow) plus a healthy Jerron Seymour plus a hopefully healthy Warren Norman plus Wesley Tate suddenly and unexpectedly from the slot.
• Wide receivers: Jordan Matthews had a great preseason camp last season but took some time to get on track; expect him to come blasting out of the gate. Krause looks better than ever, Boyd looks as good as ever, redshirt frosh Jacquese Kirk will come out of nowhere, and Grady and Tate are capable of getting the ball anytime and anywhere. Should be fun.
• Safeties: If they can stay healthy, Ladler and Marshall make a great combo, and senior Eric Samuels is primed for a breakout season before he rides off into the sunset. And you can expect Andrew Williamson to eventually be the latest 2-star Vandy DB to turn heads on the national stage.
• Punter: Has any punter in America seen more live game action than Richard Kent?
WE'RE CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC
• Quarterbacks: James Franklin has said that QBs make a huge jump from their first season to their second. I've never thought Jordan Rodgers has a cannon, but with the Gamecocks' defensive ends he's not gonna have much time to drop back. Expect to see him throw a lot of screens and short stuff to the likes of Stacy, Norman, Kimbrow, Grady, Tate, Kirk and Kentera. Carta-Samuels should prove to be a capable backup in time, but let's hope he doesn't have to play any meaningful minutes Thursday night.
• Tight ends/fullbacks: Old man Monahan is back for his 17th season and will hold down the fort until van der Wal and Scheu take over. Kentera has made an astoundingly rapid conversion from quarterback and is an intriguing weapon. Lassing and Panu are solid. Lots of stuff to work with here, but as the departed Brandon Barden was prone to point out last season, we're not sure how any of it fits into the game plan.
• Defensive tackles: A nice mix of returning starters/seniors (Lohr/Nichter) and some young talent that's ready to take it to the next level (Morse, Taylor, Dixon). Heck, Taylor and Dixon are 300-pounders. One of Vandy's best D-lines in a long time, but still lacking the size and talent of most SEC teams.
• Defensive ends: One of Vandy's deepest and most versatile collections of ends in a while, but the best one (Azubike) is a true freshman. May and Thomas have starting experience, Woestmann continues to be a nice prospect, and Bryant and Stewart provide depth. Again, an interesting collection of talent, but it will take some time to gel, and does lack the size of other SEC units.
• Cornerbacks: OK, we've got the usual All-SEC candidate (Trey Wilson), the sleeper candidate (Andre Hal), the versatile vets (Foster and Clarke), the redshirted bluechipper (Derek King) and some talented true frosh (Head, McGaster and Banks). It's a nice collection of players, but again, we'll have to wait and see if they can shut down SEC opposition.
WE'RE KIND OF SCARED
• Offensive line: Well, another season, another couple of starting offensive linemen booted off the team. That would be sophomores Mylon Brown and Logan Stewart. Junior Wesley Johnson is a rock here, and with senior Ryan Seymour forms a solid left side. Sophomore Spencer Pulley is the big question mark at center, and Josh Jelesky and Andrew Bridges are proving to be fast learners but maybe not fast enough. We'll see.
• Linebackers: We like Garnham at middle linebacker and Barnes outside, but wish we had some bigger boys at backer. The other starter and his backup (Butler and Franklin) are really safeties. The best one of the bunch (Herring) is a true freshman. Depth is coming from three more true freshmen (Sealand, Thomas and Harper), a walk-on (Williams), and the longsnapper (East). We could use engineer DeAndre Jones about now. In a couple years, this could be the strength of the team. But for now, these guys will be hanging on for dear life.
• Kickers: The good news is that Spear and Fowler staged a fierce competition, in the placekicking department but the bad news is that neither one emerged as the clear favorite. For now, we'll keep holding our breath.
It's good to be back. Let me know what you want to read about here.