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.

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