Sunday, February 22, 2009

Focus of Vanderbilt spring football: expounding on three points from Chris Low

You know I think Chris Low does a fine job tracking all the teams in the SEC on his blog. On Friday, he listed concerns for each SEC team going into spring practice. For Vanderbilt, those were finding replacements in the secondary, settling on a starting quarterback and improving the passing game, and helping the offensive line gel as a unit while finding punch in the running game.

Here's what I think:


I agree with Low that it'll be a challenge replacing corner D.J. Moore and safety Reshard Langford. I disagree with Low that it'll be a challenge replacing nickleback Darlron Spead, because Spead (above photo) is a redshirt junior who should return next season. Spead was dynamite last season until he broke his leg in the South Carolina game at the tail end of a 41-yard interception return. But yes, Myron Lewis can be an all-star cornerback, and yes, Ryan Hamilton was one of the league's most underrated players last season. And yes, Sean Richardson is the heir apparent to Langford at strong safety and Casey Hayward will get every chance to replace Moore at corner — both guys played as true freshmen and came up big in the Music City Bowl. And yes, redshirt sophomore Alan Strong will get a shot at cornerback too. I would add Brent Trice, a rare true senior who played linebacker last season and could always return to safety; senior Joel Caldwell, a returning backup safety; and two redshirt freshmen, cornerback Micah Powell and safety Al Owens. And don't be surprised to see true freshmen Eric Samuels and Trey Wilson get some playing time in the opener against Western Carolina. Also, don't be surprised if the Commodores give receiver Jamie Graham another look in the secondary during the spring — in addition to more practice time at tailback.


I agree that the quarterback race will be interesting and that Johnson has no qualms about playing a passel of quarterbacks if he has to. Expect Larry Smith to eventually get the nod, with Adams maintaining his reputation as the most battle-tested and game-ready backup in the SEC. Also, expect rising junior Jared Funk to get plenty of snaps in the spring and one last chance to compete for playing time. If he can't, it'll be Smith-Adams next season, with Charlie Goro getting every shot to earn the backup position as a redshirt freshman in 2010. As for targets, next year's quarterbacks will have plenty of them: Returning starters Graham and Justin Wheeler, backups Udom Umoh and Alex Washington, redshirt freshmen John Cole and Akeem Dunham, and transfers Terrence Jeffers and Tray Herndon. And don't forget true freshman Brady Brown. As for tight ends, Brandon Barden, Austin Monahan and Justin Green return, and true freshman Mason Johnston could get some playing time too. Running back Jared Hawkins does a nice job catching passes out of the backfield, too, which is also a strength of true freshman Warren Norman.


Of course, having all five starters returning on the offensive line should help the passing game. But the real concern — at least for anybody who witnessed the Commodores' pathetic performance on third and one in the Music City Bowl — is the power running game. I agree with Low that Coach Robbie Caldwell will help these guys get better. Center Bradley Vierling, tackle Thomas Welch and guard Eric Hensley provide senior leadership, and junior Reilly Lauer and sophomore Kyle Fischer round out the starting lineup. Depth and competition will come from junior Joey Bailey, senior Ryan Custer, sophomore Jamie Williams, and redshirt freshmen Michael Bryant, Richard Cagle and Caleb Welchans. Yes, while Jared Hawkins is sitting out the spring with a foot injury, expect to see lots of Gaston Miller, Kennard Reeves, Jermaine Doster and Ryan van Rensburg. Expect a healthy Hawkins to have a big senior season but are any of those other guys really the answer? And no, we won't miss Jeff Jennings. Expect Jamie Graham to get some spring snaps at tailback — in addition to just about everywhere else — and then in August expect to see at least one of the true freshmen — Wesley Tate, Zac Stacy or Warren Norman — challenge for serious playing time. There's been a lot of buzz about Stacy, who looks physically ready and who had stupendous schoolboy stats, but we'll have to wait and see.

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