Thursday, April 30, 2009

Long-range draft projections are good for some laughs

How futile is projecting next year's draft prospects? Well, D.J. Moore is proof that it's futile to even project April's draft picks in January of the same year.

Moore was a first-rounder in January and a fourth-rounder in April. Now Myron Lewis is a first-rounder in some projections but who knows where he'll be next January — not to mention next April?

So we won't do it. But we will make fun of projections for next season. For example, has rated the top 750 rising seniors and even rising juniors and sophomores. No kidding. Here are Commodores on the list:

• Myron Lewis, CB, No. 43
• Patrick Benoist, LB, 253
• Greg Billinger, DT, 333
• Ryan Hamilton, FS, 354
• Broderick Stewart, DE, 458
• Brett Upson, P, 570
• Mackenzi Adams, QB, 588
• Drew Gardner, OL, 628
• Steven Stone, DE, 720

Drew Gardner over Thomas Welch and Bradley Vierling? Gardner lost his starting position to a redshirt freshman last year, and at the end of the season announced that he wasn't returning for a fifth year. So he's no longer playing football.

Also interesting are the top prospects for 2011, which would be last year's sophomores:
• Joey Bailey, No. 37 center
• John Stokes, No. 41 outside linebacker
• Justin Green, No. 42 tight end

Bailey and Green aren't even starters, and almost certainly won't be this upcoming season. How about Austin Monahan, the tight end who before injury started ahead of both Branden Barden and Green? These guys, even Stokes, are still raw prospects who could boom or bust in the next two years.

Here are the top prospects for 2012:
• Chris Marve, No. 4 linebacker
• Brandon Barden, No. 5 tight end
• T.J. Greenstone, No. 44 defensive tackle

Rising sophomores, these guys will be a big part of our team for the next three seasons. Marve is a star who could make all-conference this season and get thoughts planted in his head about declaring for the draft after his junior year. Let's hope not.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Bobby Johnson increases talent level at Vandy — the proof's in the past four drafts

With D.J. Moore’s selection in the fourth round, Bobby Johnson has now produced five NFL draft picks in the last four years, including two first-rounders. (He’s been at the helm for eight years now, and 2006 marked his first batch of seniors. Note that he didn’t recruit Jay Cutler but coached him for four seasons.)

We’ve already told you how far Vanderbilt lags behind the rest of the SEC in talent, and how few Commodores have been drafted over the years, especially at the running back position. In fact, in addition to running back, Vandy has produced the few draftees at wide receiver, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and defensive back.

But the Dores have actually produced more draft picks at quarterback than Auburn, Kentucky, South Carolina and Miss State, and more kickers and punters than South Carolina, LSU, Kentucky and Miss State. Go ahead and pop the cork.

In case you’re curious, here’s who sets the bar at different positions in the SEC since 1967:
• Quarterback U: Tennessee and LSU with 10 picks each
• Running Back U: Auburn (29)
• Receiver U: Florida (43)
• O-Line U: Tennessee (45)
• D-Line U: LSU and Alabama (34)
• Linebacker U: Tennessee (35)
• D-Back U: Tennessee (34)
• Kicker U: Tennessee (14)

But that’s over the past 40 years. What about the past four, with Bobby Johnson developing his own talent? Here’s the draft count from 2006-2009:

1. LSU (25 total, 7 first-rounders)
2. Georgia (21/2)
3. Florida (17/4)
4. Auburn (17/1)
5. Tennessee (14/5)
6. Arkansas (12/3)
7. South Carolina (12/1)
8. Alabama (11/1)
9. Ole Miss (7/3)
10. Vanderbilt (5/2)
11. Kentucky (5/0)
12. Miss State (2/0)

So here’s what Bobby Johnson has done in the past four years with mostly two- and three-star recruits, while every other school’s had three-, four- and five-star recruits: Developed as many first-rounders as Georgia’s Mark Richt, and more than SC’s Steve Spurrier, Auburn’s Tommy Tuberville, Bama’s Mike Shula/Nick Saban, Kentucky’s Rich Brooks and MSU’s Sylvester Croom.

You know how Woody Widenhofer would attract linebackers and George MacIntyre would get receivers and tight ends? Well, Johnson gets talent across the board. He’s actually had six picks in his four classes if you count Jovan Haye, who left school a year early.

Three of them have been on offense: QB Cutler, OT Chris Williams and WR Earl Bennett.

Three of them have been on defense: DT Haye, DB Moore and LB Jonathan Goff.

Six different positions.

And here's the thing: While our best players are better than we've ever had, our role players and even the guys standing on the sidelines are better than we've ever had.

I realized this a couple of years ago when I was sitting in South Carolina's stadium and saw captains Chris Williams and Jonathan Goff take the field first. They were as impressive-looking as any of the Gamecocks. And then the rest of the team took the field. When I was a student back in the late 80s, we had a couple of guys like Corey Harris and Chris Gaines, but our bench — and even the two-deep roster — was loaded with pudgy fellows who looked like we recruited them from fraternity flag football. But in South Carolina, I saw that even the Commodores who weren't playing were big, strong and fast. And sure enough, we overpowered the Gamecocks that day for a stunning victory.

And we stunned them again last season.

How many draft picks do you think Vandy will have next season? DB Myron Lewis seems like the best possibility, followed by OT Thomas Welch. Also, DT Greg Billinger and DEs Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone could join them, and LB Patrick Benoist, S Ryan Hamilton and C Brad Vierling would at least get invited to somebody’s camp.

Monday, April 27, 2009

George Smith bumps Vanderbear total to six — oh, and Reshard Langford's an Eagle

George Smith has signed a free-agent contract with the Chicago Bears, putting the number of former Commodores in the Bears camp to six.

Which means he'll be competing against Earl Bennett, his Vandy teammate of three years, as well as 2009 draft picks Juaquin Iglesias of Oklahoma (third round) and Johnny Knox of Abilene Christian (fifth round).

Don't bet on George. His photo will forever be in the dictionary under "Perseverance." And his huge third-down catch in the Music City Bowl set up the winning field goal. But he had trouble catching balls in traffic last season, and I guarantee you Earl isn't worried about him, though he may be worried about Iglesias and some other guys.

Oh, and Reshard Langford is going to the Eagles' camp. I'm telling you, Reshard's going to be a tough guy to cut and the Eagles seem like a good fit for him.

Should D.J. Moore have stayed in school? No.

Chris Low is saying on his blog that D.J. Moore should have stayed in school another year. Sure, the Commodores would be better off with him in the lineup next season.

But I disagree.

What else could D.J. possibly have accomplished with the Commodores next season? He was first-team All-SEC and second-team All-American. He had two interceptions and two touchdown receptions in a nationally televised game against Kentucky that made Vandy bowl-eligible for the first time since the first Reagan administration.

He played big and he played fast and so guys like Mel Kiper were projecting him as a first-rounder. But then he went to the combine where numbers on paper matter more than how you played in big games in college. And the scouts realized that in addition to being 5-foot-8 — instead of his listed 5-foot-10 — he also ran a 4.55 40-yard dash.

All of a sudden, Scouts Inc. dropped his Height-Weight-Speed rating from a 2 to a 4, and his closing burst down to a 3. And his ball skills down to a 2. Anybody who's watched D.J. play knows he's got top-notch ball skills.

If D.J. stayed in school another year, there's no guarantee he'd put up the same numbers he did last season because people would be keying on him. And there's no guarantee Vanderbilt would be in the national spotlight like the team was last season. And there's certainly no guarantee with the talent in the SEC and the exposure that the big-name schools get that he'd even make first-team all-conference again, let alone second-team All-American.

And he'd probably post similar numbers in the combine. He'd still be 5-foot-8, and he wouldn't be running a 4.3 or a 4.4. So take away last season's fanfare but keep this year's combine results and his stock isn't going to be any better.

Can you say Derek Pegues or Arian Foster? Both were all-conference players for bowl teams in 2007 and would have been drafted last year if they'd come out early. But they stayed in school, their teams struggled, and their stock dropped. Neither was drafted yesterday.

I think D.J. made the right decision. He's a football player. He can always go back and get his Vanderbilt diploma. And when he gets on the field, people are going to take notice.

Scouting guru Mel Kiper, who's said all along that D.J. will be fine when he gets to the NFL, called him a "good pick." Todd McShay says the Bears "hit a homer" with D.J. and called him the team's best pick of the draft.

If we could fly around the world like Superman and reverse time and take away these three plays, I think D.J. would have gone a lot higher:

• D.J. falling a yard short of the goal line on his punt return against Miami-Ohio.

• D.J. being tackled a yard short of the goal line on his punt return against Rice.

• D.J. giving up a quick down and out from No. 1 pick Matthew Stafford to future first-rounder A.J. Green in the first quarter of the Georgia game. Green looked about 8 feet tall on that play, which made D.J. look about 4 feet tall.

Them's the breaks. But D.J. had a great season and he felt he was ready for the next level.

“I felt I was ready to go," he told the Nashville City Paper of his decision to forgo his senior season. "I didn’t believe I was going to get too much better than what I was. I was one of the best cornerbacks in the best conference, playing with the best players. I felt I was the best cornerback in the draft.”

And maybe he was. Time will tell. But he's not going to have to wait a year to prove it.

Chicago Bears overtake Tampa Bay Buccaneers for most Vanderbilt players

So has any NFL team in recent history had as many Vanderbilt players as the current edition of the Chicago Bears?

With the way rosters change it's tough to tell exactly, but as far as permanent rosters go, with five Commodores I think the Bears are in the lead — or in the cellar, depending on how you look at it.

Of course, the Buccaneers had the market cornered at the turn of this century. I remember watching a Monday Night Football game in 2001-2002 when Dennis Miller exclaimed, "Tampa Bay has more Vanderbilt football players than... Vanderbilt!" (OK, I thought it was funny, but then again I'm one of three people on earth who liked Miller on MNF.)

Between 2000 and 2008, the Bucs have had six Vandy players on their rosters, though not at the same time. The most at one time was four in 2000-2001, with Shelton Quarles, Jamie Duncan, Eric Vance and Todd Yoder. They had three in 2006, with Quarles, Jovan Haye and Jamie Winborn.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

D.J. Moore joins Earl, Jay, Chris and Hunter in Chicago

Still can't believe D.J. slipped from a projected first-rounder in January to a fourth-rounder today, the second day of the draft.

Months ago, D.J. Moore was one of the top three cornerbacks along with Jenkins of Ohio State and Davis of Illinois. But today he was actually the 18th cornerback selected. He was taken 36 picks after Asher Allen of Georgia and 27 picks below Jerraud Powers of Auburn, and those guys had never been mentioned in the same sentence as D.J.

But I think he'll do just fine, and I think he'll be a better pro than Earl Bennett, whom the Bears took in the third round last season. Of course, Earl has that whole mind-meld thing going with his new quarterback and old Vandy teammate Jay Cutler.

If you like following Vanderbilt plays in the NFL, you might as well just watch the Bears, who now have a whopping five Commodores — Moore, Bennett, Cutler, Chris Williams and Hunter Hillenmeyer.

Maybe Reshard Langford can sign as a free agent. Wasn't surprised Reshard didn't get drafted, especially when D.J. slipped as far as he did, but still think he'll surprise some folks when he gets to an NFL camp.

SEC COUNT: South Carolina led the way among SEC teams with seven drafted, including Ryan Succop, the kicker-punter, as Mr. Irrelevant. (Sure it was irrelevant when there were 27 rounds or whatever in the draft but is it really that irrelevant anymore?) Georgia and LSU were next with six players, then Bama and Ole Miss with four each, then Auburn and Florida with three. Arkansas, Vandy and Tennessee had one guy each. Miss State played but did not score.

D.J. Moore still on the NFL Draft board at the start of day two — and it's not the end of the world

For those of you who are angry that D.J. Moore didn't get picked yesterday and you missed the chance to talk some trash on chat boards with Volunteer fans: chill out.

D.J. remains a great college player and could end up being a better pro than Matthew Stafford. Who knows?

He's never been a guy who enjoys talking to guys with clip boards and then running around cones while they jot down notes. Let's face it: He doesn't make a good first impression. How did a high school kid who made such an immediate impact in the SEC fall under the radar of guys like Steve Spurrier and Mark Richt?

When he's in a camp and all that matters is keeping the guy he's covering from catching the ball or catching the ball and not getting tackled, I think he'll do fine.

The NFL draft is the ultimate meat market and everybody's an expert. One minute D.J.'s a first-rounder who's 5-foot-11 and runs a 4.3 40. The next minute he's 5-foot-1 and runs a 4.9 40.

And don't forget, lots of 10-year NFL players were taken in the second day — or not at all. And this year, lots of guys who were supposed to go yesterday are still waiting for a phone call. The list includes defensive end Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech and safety Rashard Johnson of Alabama and tight end Jared Cook of South Carolina.

But what if D.J. is a bust? What if Earl Bennett never catches a pass in the NFL? Both guys would still be proof that Bobby Johnson's system of developing players nobody wants — and enabling them to compete at the highest level and contribute to a team that's starting to scare the bejeebers out of powerhouses — works. Because regardless of Vanderbilt's success, Johnson's never going to be recruiting high school players like Bryce Brown who think they're going to be the first pick in the draft in a couple of years. He's recruiting kids who want to be successful people regardless of whether they're playing sports or not. And isn't that what attracted us to Vanderbilt in the first place?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Vanderbilt talent problem begins at running back

Running back.

No other position better sums up the plight — and future hope — of Vanderbilt football.

Consider this: Since 1967, a running back has been drafted from Auburn, on average, every 1.5 years. At Tennessee, it’s been every 1.6 years. And it’s been less than every two years at Georgia, Florida and Alabama.

In other words, on any given year, those teams have between two and three running backs who will be drafted by the NFL.

Vanderbilt has had one running back drafted in 42 years.

It was Frank Mordica, the Commodores’ all-time leading rusher, who was drafted in the ninth round. Today, there are only seven rounds in the draft.

For almost 30 years, Mordica held the NCAA record for most yards in a game — 321 against Air Force in 1978. He did it on 22 carries, scoring five touchdowns. Yes, Vandy won. McFadden broke the record in 2007 against South Carolina, gaining 323 yards on 34 carries with a touchdown.

Mordica, who gained 2,632 in his career, posted his best season as a junior in 1978 with 1,065 yards. Only two other Commodores have 1,000+ yards in a season: Jermaine Johnson with 1,072 in 1995 and Corey Harris with 1,103 in 1991.

Harris was drafted in the third round in 1992 by the Oilers, but as a wide receiver/ defensive back. Cornerback Jimmy Williams, who was drafted in the sixth round in 1997 by the Bills, played running back as a freshman and led the Commodores with 527 yards.

The closest thing to an NFL running back the Dores have had lately has been Lew Thomas, who gained 178 yards in a near upset of Auburn in 2001. Thomas darn near made the San Diego Chargers as a free agent, and the Commodores haven’t had a running back of his skill since.

Any SEC team, let alone Vanderbilt, is going to struggle without a big-time running back. No other team has attracted less draftable talent at the position. Ole Miss is closest with 10 players drafted, followed by Miss State with 13 and South Carolina and Kentucky with 14.

But help is on the way. Vanderbilt has signed three highly regarded running backs — Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate and Warren Norman — and at least one of them may get significant carries this upcoming season.

But let’s don’t start rejoicing just yet. Tennessee just signed the nation’s top schoolboy runner (and pain in the neck), Bryce Brown, as well as David Oku, who rated a star better than any of Vandy’s recruits.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How the SEC teams rank in all-time draft picks and first-rounders

With the NFL draft coming up soon and not much going on elsewhere, here's a look at how many players each SEC school has contributed to the draft since 1967:


1. Tennessee, 223
2. Florida, 194
3. LSU, 170
4. Georgia, 163
5. Alabama, 155
6. Auburn, 154
7. Arkansas, 130
8. Ole Miss, 102
9. S Carolina, 100
10. Kentucky, 96
11. Miss State, 95
12. Vanderbilt, 54

Not surprisingly, Vanderbilt is at the bottom, with almost half as many picks as the next-to-last place team. But last year the Commodores had three players taken: Chris Williams in the first round, Earl Bennett in the third round, and Jonathan Goff (pictured above) in the fifth round.

Here's how many first round picks each team has had since 1967:


1. Florida, 36
2. Tennessee, 34
3. Alabama, 25
4. LSU, 19
4. Georgia, 19
6. Auburn, 18
7. Arkansas, 16
8. Ole Miss, 10
9. S Carolina, 9
10. Kentucky, 6
10. Miss State, 6
12. Vanderbilt, 4

It's interesting that things haven't changed much in the SEC over the years. In these two draft rankings, there's a clear line between the top six and the bottom six teams in the league. Likewise, there's a clear line between the top six and the bottom six in SEC and national championships, BCS bowls, size of stadiums, elite recruits, All-Americans, television appearances, etc.

For the last 35 years, no team other than the top six — Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, LSU, Georgia or Auburn — has won an SEC or national championship. The next three — Arkansas, Ole Miss and South Carolina — have moved the needle a bit with high-profile coaches but still have a ways to go. Despite occasional bowl visits, the bottom three teams — Kentucky, Miss State and Vanderbilt — are still the SEC teams that strike the least fear in the hearts of opponents and fans.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Vanderbilt adds to 2009 football recruiting class — but where will Collin Ashley play?

Thanks to the fellows at Vanderbilt Sports Line for keeping such a close eye on recruiting. While monitoring 2010 recruiting — with one signee so far, DE Thomas Ryan of Florida — Douglas James discovered that Vandy's actually added to its 2009 class.

According to both and, athlete Collin Ashley of Flower Mound, Texas, signed a letter of intent on Monday to play with Vanderbilt starting this fall. (Or get red-shirted, but more on that later.)

Ashley bears a striking resemblance to 2008 signee John Cole:

• Both are listed around 6-0, 170 pounds.
• Both run 4.4 forties.
• Both had offers from academic schools (Cole at Stanford, Ashley at Wake Forest).
• Both are three-star guys.
• Both had similar ratings from ESPN and (Cole 5.5 Rivals and 74 ESPN, Ashley 5.6 Rivals and 73 ESPN).
• Both rang up big numbers playing in pass-happy offensive schemes, though Cole is without question the more polished receiver of the two, and Ashley has the ability to switch over to defense.

Though Ashley is listed by ESPN as a defensive back and Rivals as an athlete, the speculation seems to be that Vanderbilt wants him to play receiver. The university has not issued an official release on the signing. VSL reasons that Vandy already has enough DBs and needs receivers.

I agree that Ashley will probably wind up on offense, but not for the same reason. Defensive back still remains a huge concern for Vanderbilt. Last season, all 10 of the Commodores' top defensive backs returned, and most of them had starting experience. Still, Bobby Johnson, who'd just as soon redshirt everybody, threw Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward on the field as soon as they arrived on campus and red-shirted the two other DB recruits, Al Owens and Micah Powell, who weren't battle-ready. So he was 12-deep at DB, but he needed every one of them when players like Darlron Spead started dropping to injury, and now Richardson and Hayward are ready to step in for departing starters.

This season, however, only six of Vanderbilt's top 10 DBs return (returning starters Myron Lewis and Ryan Hamilton, starters-in-waiting Richardson and Hayward, and experienced subs Alan Strong and Joel Caldwell. That's why Bobby Johnson has made the following moves since the Music City Bowl victory:

• Listed recruit Eric Samuels, his top running back prospect, as a defensive back on signing day. When Samuels signed last summer, Johnson told Samuels he would receive consideration as a running back. Vandy was then able to sign three solid running back prospects — Wesley Tate, Zac Stacy and Warren Norman — but none of them were ranked as highly as Samuels as a running back.
• Signed another four defensive backs — Trey Wilson, Eddie Foster, Javon Marshall and Jay Fullam — to his 2009 class.
• Moved the wide receiver with the most touchdowns, Jamie Graham, to cornerback in the spring.

So Johnson took two guys with unmistakable offensive firepower, Samuels and Graham, and moved them to defensive back. That gives him eight defensive backs. Throw in Trey Wilson, the other incoming freshman DB who appears most ready to play right away, and he's got nine.

He still needs a couple more, and those are going to come from redshirts Owen and Powell and true freshmen Foster, Marshall and Fullam.

So the secondary is still shaky. Lose one of your top five or six guys early, like we did with Spead in our second game last season, and things are really shaky.

Which means if we were signing another guy like Samuels or Graham, they'd be headed straight to defense. But Ashley is not another guy like Samuels or Graham. He's got 4.4 speed, but scouting reports say he looks slower on the field. He's a good athlete and leaper, but he lets receivers get behind him and lacks the hips of an ideal DB. Also, he's slight at 6-0, 170 pounds.

Last summer, Ashley was listed as a cornerback prospect and he wanted to sign with Arkansas. He was planning to attend the Razorback football camp, but when the Razorbacks told him they weren't interested in signing him, he canceled his plans to attend. He also liked SMU, but the Mustangs had too many DBs and receivers.

According to a local newspaper, it was a mystery to people in the Flower Mound area why Ashley wasn't getting more scholarship offers from BCS schools. The paper, the Collierville Courier, said that Ashley concentrated on wide receiver his senior year after starring at cornerback his junior season. He told the paper that in addition to Wake Forest he could have received scholarship offers from Colorado, Marshall and UNLV, but was holding out for a school he wanted to attend.

He had planned to visit Vanderbilt in January but apparently never did and the Commodores, which were heading toward signing 18 players, didn't make an offer. But one of the Commodore commitments, DT Darrius McMullin, didn't qualify academically and then Justin Wheeler suffered an injury in the spring that will likely keep him off the field next season. Ashley planned to walk on at Arkansas until Vandy extended him an offer on Monday.

Vanderbilt still needs stud defensive backs who are ready to go right away. And with Justin Wheeler's injury, it also needs to add to a wide receiver pool that has one clear star in Terence Jeffers and some interesting pieces in Cole, fifth-year senior Alex Washington, transfer Tray Herndon, sophomore Udom Umoh, true freshman Brady Brown and redshirt freshman Akeem Dunham. Some of them will fall into place, some of them won't.

At least right now, Ashley fits the bill more as a pool receiver than a stud DB. And if he's not needed at receiver right away, then, as the VSL guys point out, he can take a redshirt year, gain some weight, and find his niche.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Bobby Johnson right on Mark Richt's heels for longest-tenured SEC coach — but for how long?

Been on vacation and just noticed Chris Low's post from last week about Georgia Coach Mark Richt being the SEC coach with the longest current tenure at one school. Nine years.

Bobby Johnson is second with eight years at Vandy, and Rich Brooks is third with six years at UK.

Low figures that of those three Richt has the best chance of staying put for another 10 or 15 years.

Makes sense. Brooks has already named a coach-in-waiting. And Johnson will need to pull off a balancing act to stay at Vandy for another decade.

How so? Well, sure, Bobby keeps saying he wants to stay in Nashville forever, but what else is he going to say? Remember back when the Dores were 5-0 and Tommy Bowden had just gotten fired and everybody, especially Clemson fans, were anointing Johnson as the next Tiger coach.

Then Vandy lost six of its next seven games, and Johnson's name wasn't connected with any coaching jobs except Vanderbilt, where nobody expects you to win anyway. And then the Dores won the Music City Bowl and Johnson was lauded for doing what nobody at Vandy had done since the Eisenhower administration, but he wasn't getting any offers to leave, either.

That's what I mean by a balancing act. If Johnson had beaten Miss State and Duke, he'd have finished 9-4. If Nickson hadn't fumbled away the field position battle against the Vols, he could have even finished with double-digit victories. And if that had happened, I don't think Bobby Johnson would still be in Nashville.

But he can't slip too much, either. Remember what happened to George MacIntyre, the last Vandy coach to go to a bowl? He followed up a magical 8-4 season in 1982 with a 2-9 season but then he raised hopes with a 4-0 start in 1984 but then he lost six of his last seven (sound familiar?) to finish 5-6 and then he sealed his fate in 1985 with a 3-7-1 record.

So like MacIntyre before him, Johnson has earned himself a free pass in Nashville for two or three more seasons. But to stick around longer than that he's got to continue to hover around .500 — and at Vanderbilt that's mighty hard to do.

Sure, some Vandy fans will be offended by me saying this. They already expect to win an extra game or two next season to finish with eight or nine wins. But let's be realistic. If the Commodores can go 4-2 at the midway point next season (beating Western Carolina, Rice, Miss State and Army and losing to LSU and Ole Miss) then we'll all be excited, right? But to finish where they did last season the Dores have still got to grab wins over two of these teams: Georgia, South Carolina, Georgia Tech, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee. Not easy.

On the other hand, if Richt has one bad season he'll be feeling more heat than Bobby Johnson ever will in Nashville.

What do you think?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

D.J. Moore projected for second round — and other Vanderbilt news and notes

The months leading up to the NFL draft have been a period of leaps and drops for D.J. Moore. In January, right after he declared for the draft, D.J. appeared to be a sure-fire first rounder, maybe even a Top 10 or Top 15 pick.

But his 40 times at the combine and at Vandy's pro day didn't excite the scouts and his projected draft status dropped into the low second or high third round.

And now everybody's talking about how underrated he is and how he's going to be a steal for somebody.

ESPN's draft guru, Mel Kiper, now predicts D.J. will go in the low second round; his latest four-round projection has him going to the Titans as the 62nd player taken, behind five other cornerbacks and two other DBs: First-rounders Vontae Davis of Illinois and Malcolm Jenkins of Ohio State and second-rounders Darius Butler of UConn, Alphonso Smith of Wake Forest, Sean Smith of Utah, Sherrod Martin of Troy (listed as a DB) and Louis Delmas of Western Michigan (listed as a safety).

Scouts Inc. lists Moore as the 44th best player in the draft and the fifth best cornerback.

Here's the link to ESPN's draft page. You have to be an Insider subscriber to access the complete Kiper mock draft and the Scouts Inc. list.


I've said all along that I think Reshard Langford can play linebacker in the NFL, and Langford tells the Tennessean's Jim Wyatt that some NFL teams have told him the same thing, but he thinks he can play safety in the big league. Wyatt writes that Langford scaled back on his weight-lifting at Vanderbilt so he wouldn't grow out of the safety position, where he started for four years. He's still listed as a safety on draft boards, where he's projected as a sixth or seventh pick at the earliest or a possible free agent.


Looks like Orlando Pace will be protecting Jay Cutler's blind side in the upcoming NFL season, and former Vandy first rounder Chris Williams will be moved to right tackle for the time being. He's still the left tackle of the future, but was eased into action last season.


Vanderbilt stunned No. 1 Arkansas last night in Fayetteville, 9-0. That Mike Minor's a stud, and he got the win and tossed eight shutout innings.


The Lady Commie Heavy Ballers, as we like to call them, won't be playing in the finals on ESPN today. They lost to Farleigh Dickinson yesterday, then beat Arkansas State, then were eliminated by Central Missouri. Dang.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Vanderbilt women's bowlers in NCAA championships today

The Lady Commie Heavy Ballers are slingin' it right now against Farleigh Dickinson in the NCAA women's bowling championships in Canton, Mich.

They landed the fourth seed out of eight teams yesterday after nine matches of bowling. The first four were team matches in which everybody bowls a full game, and the last five were in the Baker format, in which the team members divide up the frames and bowl four complete games together.

That's a lot of bowling. You can't say these women aren't athletes. Well, especially if you consider weight-lifters athletes.

The only Vandy lady who seemed comfortable on the lanes was Brittni Hamilton (pictured above). According to a university press release, the other bowlers, especially Josie Earnest, struggled with the lane conditions. Lane conditions? Did somebody spill her beer? Was the jukebox experiencing technical difficulty?

Anyway, today's play is double elimination. If Vandy survives today, the team will play the other remaining team for the national championship on ESPN2. And you didn't think this was big-time.

In today's double-elimination play, total pinfall matters. And you thought total pinfall always matters. But sometimes team play is best of three or best of five or whatever, and the Lady Commies seem to perform better in that type of format. For example, in yesterday's final match Vandy beat Maryland-Eastern Shore in three out of four games but they fared so poorly in the game they lost that they finished behind UMES in total points and got a No. 4 seed instead of a No. 3 seed.

Nebraska's the top seed (can you say grain-fed?) followed by New Jersey City and Maryland-Eastern Shore. After Vandy, there's Fairleigh Dickinson, Central Missouri, Delaware State and Arkansas State.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Vanderbilt's MVP punter Brett Upson may add some placekicking duties

Despite the loss of Music City Bowl hero Bryant Hahnfeldt to graduation, the Vandy kicking game appears to be in fine shape.

At the start of spring practice, Bobby Johnson said, "Ryan Fowler's taking over. We're just gonna work on him."

At the end of the spring, Johnson said that Fowler had indeed "done very well."

But punter Brett Upson was kicking field goals "very consistently from 40 yards and in."

So we could be looking at a situation where Fowler handles kickoffs and long field goals and Upson boots PATs and shorter field goals.

As for punting, Music City Bowl MVP Upson is the man. Last week, Johnson broke down Upson's game for a Nashville radio station:

"He’s got a couple of different deliveries for the rugby kick — he does the end over end one and he does sort of a power delivery which is a low drive punt that he does on the run, its more of a low spiral instead of an end-over-end and sometimes he can punch that thing in there like it’s a low three-iron."

Johnson said redshirt freshman Richard Kent is "a very good traditional punter. He can really kick."

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Five things we learned from Vanderbilt spring training

Spring practice is over and thoughts have turned to final exams. (Study hard, Terence Jeffers.) Here are five things we learned:


At the start of the spring, Johnson said this of Larry Smith: "He's just too smooth of an operator to be on the bench." But his goal was not to name a starter at the end of the spring; his goal was for Larry Smith to get more experience running the first-team offense, to keep Mackenzi Adams healthy, and to give Jared Funk lots of reps in case the Commodores need three quarterbacks like they did last season. And he wants to keep the heat on Smith to earn the job.

Don't misread Bobby Johnson's loyalty to Ted Cain as a lack of concern about his offense. I promise you Bobby's figuring out a way to improve it. And Smith will be a big improvement. Last year Johnson had a quarterback who could run and a quarterback who could lob jump balls. In Smith, he's got a quarterback who can run and a quarterback who's got a cannon. The media continue to play up the quarterback battle between Adams and Smith because they don't realize how good an arm Larry has. They take one look at him and assume he's strictly a running quarterback like Nickson. Remember Larry's bomb that Sean Walker dropped in the Wake Forest game? Or Larry's first two drives of the Music City Bowl — you know, before Chris Nickson replaced him in each one and we had to kick field goals?

Last season, Nickson entered the game whenever we wanted to run, and Adams — and later Smith — entered the game when it was a clear passing situation. Larry Smith can do both, and that will improve both our running and passing games. And Smith's teammates said they were amazed at how cool the quarterback was in the Music City Bowl.


OK, it'll be tough to make first team with Julio Jones and A.J. Green in the league. But if Jeffers has enough credit hours to play in the fall — and Johnson sounds cautiously optimistic he will — he could be the breakout star that the Dore offense has been looking for. We should have a strong short game with tight ends Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan and true freshman wide receiver Brady Brown, a 6-foot-5 possession receiver, and some deeper threats in senior Alex Washington, redshirt sophomore Udom Umoh, sophomore transfer Tray Herndon and redshirt freshman John Cole. Which means defenses won't be able to focus on Jeffers alone, though Smith has the arm to get him the ball whenever he wants to, and Jeffers is big, strong and nasty enough to go get it.


Our entire front seven returns, along with all their backups: Starting tackles Greg Billinger (who dominated in the spring) and Adam Smotherman and supersub T.J. Greenstone (who made the Freshman All-SEC team); starting ends Steven Stone (who was recognized as the top D-Lineman in the spring banquet) and Broderick Stewart (who returns from injury) and three backups with starting experience, Teriall Brannon, Theron Kadri and Tim Fugger; and starting linebackers Chris Marve, Patrick Benoist and John Stokes (who missed spring with injury), and proven backups Brent Trice, Austin Newton, Nate Campbell and Brandon Bryant (who missed last season with injury).

And those guys will be challenged by a boatload of redshirt freshmen: ends John Burrow, Johnnell Thomas and Josh Jelesky; tackles Rob Lohr and Taylor Loftley; and linebackers Tristan Strong, DeAndre Jones, Dexter Daniels and Archie Barnes.

The secondary remains the biggest question mark with the absence of D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford, but cornerback Casey Hayward and safety Sean Richardson have been groomed since last season to replace them and have looked impressive. Cornerback Myron Lewis (recovering from surgery in the spring) should be a star and safety Ryan Hamilton will be a quiet force like he was last season. Jamie Graham's making a smooth transition to cornerback/nickelback.


All five starters return on the offensive line, but count on Coach Robbie Caldwell to keep tinkering with the lineup and making it better. Seniors Thomas Welch and Bradley Vierling are fixtures at tackle and center, respectively, and Kyle Fischer, who made Freshman All-SEC last season, should also stay in the lineup, though he could move from guard to tackle. Junior Reilly Lauer cracked the lineup at left tackle by the end of the season; he's athletic but slight at 6-foot-6, 275 pounds. Senior guard Eric Hensley's starting slot is probably the shakiest, and upperclassmen backups Joey Bailey, Ryan Custer and Chris Aaron had better fight to keep from slipping. That's because redshirt sophomore James Williams and four redshirt freshmen, Richard Cagle, Michael Bryant, Richard Seymour and Caleb Welchans, continue to improve.


At Vanderbilt, defensive backs are more likely to play as true freshmen than any other position. Three years ago, D.J. Moore, Myron Lewis and Brent Trice all played in the secondary as true freshmen, while Alan Strong redshirted. Last season, with every starter and backup returning, true freshmen Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson still cracked the two-deep roster (Trice was moved to linebacker) and Al Owens and Micah Powell were redshirted.

This season, though, five regulars are gone — starters D.J. Moore and Reshard Langford, nickelback Darlron Spead, and backups Josh Allen and Jared Fagan. Hayward and Richardson are ready to go as starters, and sophomore Jamie Graham, who played scout team cornerback his redshirt year and wide receiver last season, appears ready to go at nickelback. But the only proven depth is cornerback Strong, now a junior, and redshirt senior safety Joel Caldwell, a former starter.

Owens and Powell, the two redshirt freshmen, will challenge Caldwell as a backup to Hamilton and Richardson at safety, but the only other cornerback is walk-on Rich Thompkins, who is not the answer.

That's where the true freshmen come in. Cornerbacks Trey Wilson and Eric Samuels are smooth, rangy athletes who'll almost surely crack the two-deep almost as soon as they arrive on campus. Eddie Foster, who runs a 4.3 40 but is 165 pounds soaking wet, will get a chance too but may sit a year.

Javon Marshall, a wicked hitter with frightening closing speed, may get into the mix at safety; fellow frosh Jay Fullam is more likely to redshirt.

So expect at least two true freshmen defensive backs to play in the fall — and as many as four.

Don't expect many other true freshmen to see the field.

Brady Brown, a 6-foot-5 possession guy, should be ready to go at wide receiver.

One of three true freshmen — Zac Stacy, Wesley Tate and Warren Norman — should get a chance early to become the SEC-caliber every-down running back the Commodores have lacked.

Senior Jared Hawkins is plenty tough, but not really big enough to be the battering ram he tries to be and he's returning from a foot injury. He'd be a great situational back, with a short run here and a pass out of the backfield there. Redshirt junior Kennard Reeves looked serviceable in the spring as a feature back. Gaston Miller is a solid little returner and specialty back, but as much as the Vanderbilt staff uses its receivers in running plays, he doesn't really seem necessary in the backfield. And redshirt sophomore Ryan van Rensburg, really a fullback, reeled off some nice runs in the spring but also got stuffed an alarming amount of times on third and short.

Of the three true freshmen, Stacy looks the best on film — a shifty 5-9, 192 pounds who zigs and zags through defenders. Tate is tall and really fast, but looks a bit stiff and runs upright. Norman is smooth, can slice through the line and is supposedly a good receiver but is also the slightest of the three. Good prospects, all.

But I doubt if Johnson burns up these guys' redshirt seasons just to have more tricks in his bag. Hawkins, Reeves and Miller can do the basics, if not spectacularly. Expect Johnson to pick the best-looking back in the first couple weeks of practice and redshirt the other two guys. Tate looks the part and has the sprinter's speed and the pedigree, but don't be surprised if Stacy becomes the guy. Should be interesting.

If tight end Austin Monahan or Brandon Barden go down to injury and backup Justin Green doesn't improve his toughness, then Mason Johnson could play as a true freshman. He's plenty talented, but let's hope he won't be necessary.

Don't expect Charlie Goro to crack into the three-quarterback battle. He'll likely wow folks on the scout team next season.

With five returning starters on the offensive line being challenged by four red-shirt freshmen, expect Wesley Johnson, Mylon Brown and Justin Cabbagestalk to redshirt. Same thing for Thad McHaney, Walker May and Blake Southerland at defensive end/linebacker, where the Commodores are three and four deep.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vanderbilt installs the no-huddle offense

You may have heard that Vanderbilt has installed the no-huddle offense. Some folks speculated a couple of weeks ago that Johnson was just running it in the spring because some recruits were in attendance. Every young kid wants to run the no-huddle, right? When former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck, who does radio work on 104.5 The Zone, heard that, he told Coach Bobby Johnson that he wouldn't have been attracted to the no-huddle as a college recruit. You know, because it forces you to get the lead out.

Anyway, Johnson had some interesting stuff to say about the no-huddle in a radio interview last week. For one thing, he said it's not an easy thing to install. "It’s really hard to make sure all 11 (players) are doing the right thing if you’re trying to do it quickly." The advantage, he said, is that the team runs more plays in practice than it usually does.

On what the offensive linemen think about the no-huddle: "The offensive linemen like it because the defensive linemen get tired in a hurry and get confused and sometimes aren’t lined up correctly and we’ve got a chance to get a big play, and also defensive coordinators can’t have time to line up a zone dog or a man blitz and most of the time go vanilla."

How his offensive line is suited for the no-huddle: "We’re not the biggest offensive line in the conference. We are a little more athletic than we’ve been and it does give our guys a chance to use their ability to get out and come back to the line and ... you do use a few more things like the jail breaks and bubble screens and things like that and it gives them a chance to get out on the screens and make a few good blocks."

Yep, Reilly Lauer isn't the biggest left tackle in the world (6-6, 275) but he's a converted defensive end and pretty quick. Guard Kyle Fischer is the backup left tackle. And right tackle Thomas Welch came to Vanderbilt as a tight end.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

D.J. Moore ready for the NFL — forget his 40 and think about his 20

D.J. Moore's stock has dropped since he's been poked and prodded and timed in the combines.

The main knock on him is his 40-yard dash times, which have dropped into the 4.5s. Lately Mel Kiper, the draft guru who projected D.J. as a first-rounder before the combines, now says he could go as late as the third round but will be a steal for somebody once the stop watches are put away and D.J. dons pads.

The other day in a radio interview, Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson said the number that really matters is 20 — as in D.J.'s 20-yard dash time.

"D.J.’s as fast as anybody is in 20 yards," Johnson told Nashville's FM 104.5. "He’s got great ball skills. If we’d kept him on offense all four years, he might have made Earl Bennett second team as far as I’m concerned. If somebody takes him, they’re gonna get a great player."

Friday, April 3, 2009

Vanderbilt's got 'David Boston without the steroids'

Chris Low, whose blog work you know we love, continues to say what we've been saying too: Vanderbilt badly needs Terence Jeffers in the lineup this fall.

And apparently the only thing that'll keep that from happening is if Terrence doesn't have enough credit hours transfer from Connecticut, where he played for two seasons, and if he can't pass enough credit hours this spring and summer to make up the difference.

Vanderbilt wrapped up its spring with a final practice on Thursday, and one of the keys to the Commodores' 2009 season will be receiver Terence Jeffers' progress in the classroom.

"He's doing what he needs to do," Coach Bobby Johnson told Low. "It's just a matter of meeting NCAA requirements, and you can never depend on what's going to transfer from another school. We're looking at hours right now as being the biggest obstacle. He's trying and working hard. I'm somewhat confident that he'll make it."

Somewhat confident. Thanks for the reassurance, coach.

Johnson and the other Vanderbilt folks haven't exactly been talking up Jeffers attributes to the media probably because (1) they don't want to get everybody's hopes up and (2) they want to maintain the element of surprise. Maybe we can get him down to Baton Rouge without much fanfare (we open with Western Carolina and then travel to LSU) and let the Bayou Bengals get all cocky and then Larry Smith can launch some rockets to Jeffers.

But Low quotes senior center Bradley Vierling saying that the 6-foot-2 Jeffers is a burner who bench-presses more than 400 pounds.

"Terence's weight room statistics are unbelievable," Vierling said. "He weighs 225 pounds, and it's all muscle. He looks like David Boston out there without the steroids. He's got a tremendous amount of speed, too."

Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett — together again

Know who's the happiest man in Chicago right now?

Earl Bennett. Because his personal quarterback is coming to town.

When Cutler was starting his senior season at Vanderbilt with six total wins in 34 starts, Bennett joined his receiving corps as a true freshman.

He quickly became Cutler's favorite target, hauling in 79 passes for 876 yards and nine touchdowns. He caught the touchdown pass that put the Florida game into overtime in the Swamp, though Vanderbilt was going for two and the win until Bennett was flagged for throwing up the celebratory six-shooters in one of the worst calls in college football history. In the Kentucky game, Bennett caught five TD passes from Cutler, and against Tennessee he broke a long losing drought with 168 reception yards and the winning touchdown.

How good was Bennett? After Cutler left, he became the SEC's all-time leading reception leader in only two more seasons despite being constantly double-teamed and having Chris Nickson as his primary quarterback.

When he declared himself eligible for the NFL draft, Bennett called Cutler and asked him to be his quarterback at pro day in Nashville. Cutler agreed, even working out with him for three weeks leading up to the event. On pro day, Bennett caught every pass and impressed scouts.

"Anytime you play with a pro quarterback like Cutler it is great," Bennett said after that workout. "He throws great balls and once you get your timing down, everything is cool. I'm thankful that he came out here."

That day, Cutler said he was the one who felt the pressure.

"I was a little nervous today," Cutler said. "I think he was more relaxed than I was because I had a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to give him good balls. He made some catches for me and it turned out really well."

"He is such a great kid," Cutler said of Bennett then. "He is a pro. In Denver we talk about being a pro and doing things the right way, and Earl does it on and off the field."

The Bears drafted Bennett in the third round. He struggled in his rookie season, making the active roster late in the year and failing to catch a pass.

Bet he catches quite a few this season.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Jay Cutler traded to Bears — Chicago now Vanderbilt North

About an hour ago, Jay Cutler was traded to the Chicago Bears, one of the two teams he wanted to play for — the Titans were the other.

Brian Urlacher says he has no problem with Cutler. Hey, that's a start.

Jay will be reunited with Earl Bennett, his favorite target when he was a Commodore. Bennett was a freshman back then and eventually became the SEC's all-time leading receiver in only three seasons despite the fact that two of those seasons he was catching balls from Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams, neither one of whom will ever play in the NFL.

Other Chicago Bears who played at Vanderbilt are linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, a seven-year pro, and Chris Williams, the first-rounder who was a rookie last season. Williams is listed as a left tackle but the Bears just picked up Orlando Pace, the legendary left tackle who was released by the Rams.

That makes four Commodores on the Vanderbilt roster. Maybe five if the Bears pick up D.J. Moore. That'd be cool, huh?

Anyway, Cutler is a blue-collar guy with an attitude, and like so many people have said, he's a team guy through and through. I think he'll get along fine with Lovie Smith, and Bears fans will consider him a vast upgrade over Kyle Orton, who's headed for the Broncos, and Rex Grossman.

It'll be interesting to see what Cutler's presence will do for Earl Bennett, who struggled in his rookie season and still hasn't caught a regular-season pass as a pro.

Cutler moves closer to home — he's from Santa Claus, Ind. — and he finally has a defense. And we don't have to hear everybody try to psychoanalyze him anymore. And we can see if Josh McDaniels in Denver really can work magic with quarterbacks.

Yep, we'll see.

Bobby Johnson: "Jay Cutler is not a whiner"

When asked yesterday about the Jay Cutler situation, Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson told Nashville radio station 104.5 The Zone:

"I’ll tell you one thing: Jay Cutler is not a whiner.

"He was here for four years with us and he did everything we asked him to do every time we asked him, and he went beyond that. He was loyal to a fault. He could have left here and gone in the draft before his senior year but he stayed here and he stayed over the summer. He’d keep guys in his apartment so they could stay here in the summers to work.

"He is not a whiner and he is a team guy."

You can download the 10-minute conversation, which was mostly about spring football. I'll post some more of what he said later.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

D.J. Moore goes from highly rated to underrated

With the NFL draft less than a month away, the conventional wisdom seems to be that D.J. Moore will be drafted in the second or third round because of his disappointing 40 times in the combines, but that he'll still be an impact player on Sundays.

Mel Kiper calls him underrated. That's pretty funny. You project a guy to go in the first round and then a couple of weeks later you project him to go in the third round and then you call him underrated.

The knock on D.J. used to be his height, which is a shade under 5-foot-9, but now it's his speed. He's clocked in lately at about 4.55 in the 40-yard dash. Of course, that's also the time of Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, the top cornerback in the draft and a sure-fire first-rounder, but Jenkins is over 6 feet tall. So you can be slow as long as you're tall?

Kiper has accurately pointed out that D.J. is a football player and when you put the pads on him and put him on the field, he's going to hold his own. For now, he lacks the measurables that are going to land a guy in the first round. He thinks the Patriots, which have six picks in the first three rounds, will jump on Moore if he's available.

"In the defensive backfield, not any first-round, guaranteed stars at the cornerback spot," Kiper said. "I like a D.J. Moore out of Vanderbilt as a third-round pick. He'll be a heck of a third-round pick. He's a very underrated kid, and there are several others that fall in that category. You're going to get good players that fall for the reason that they don't have the great measurables, but they're good football players. Some of these guys with good measurables are busts. You're going to do extremely well with those picks if you're the Patriots."

Right now, D.J.'s considered to be the fifth best cornerback in the draft according to ESPN's Todd McShay, who's got him ranked behind Jenkins, Illinois' Vontae Davis, UConn's Darius Butler and Wake Forest's Alphonso Smith.

Here's some links to other D.J. news:

• He's working out for the Titans today.

• His stock's been dropping because he lacks certain measurables.

• The Patriots like D.J. and thinks his versatility would suit their system.

Speaking of Vanderbilt cornerbacks, Cory McCartney of Sports Illustrated has picked Myron Lewis (pictured above with Moore) to be one of 10 breakout college players in 2009. I thought he broke out pretty well last season.