Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Linebacker, not running back, is Vanderbilt's greatest strength

In today's SEC blog, in a little ongoing feature he calls "Position Superlatives," ESPN's Chris Low proclaims running back to be Vandy's best position and wide receiver its worst.

In the spirit of ranking stuff, here's how we'd rank all the Commodore positions:

1. LINEBACKER: Sure, the running backs are talented, but how can you rank them ahead of a unit anchored by a legitimate All-American candidate in Chris Marve and bolstered by the return of part-time starter John Stokes and a corps of four talented and versatile redshirt sophomores in DeAndre Jones, Tristan Strong, Archie Barnes and Dexter Daniels?
• 2009 rating: No. 1.
• 2008 rating: No. 2.
• Room for improvement: Will get stronger with the continued health of Marve and the development of the young guys.

2. DEFENSIVE BACK: Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward would have received the hype of Warren Norman and Zac Stacy as true freshmen if the 2008 secondary hadn't been simply outstanding... and if they'd gotten the ink that offensive players do. Jamie Graham is the real deal, and the three true sophomores — Samuels, Foster and Wilson — are also players. Ladler and Fullam are ringing bells in spring practice at safety, and there's a ton of talent headed to campus.
• 2009 rating: No. 2.
• 2008 rating: No. 1. D.J. Moore, Myron Lewis, Ryan Hamilton and Reshard Langford. Possibly the best secondary in Vanderbilt history.
• Room for improvement: If the new guys catch on fast and the nucleus continues to develop, look out.

3. RUNNING BACK: It's a testament to Warren and Zac that any unit returning from one of America's worst offenses is ranked this high.
• 2009 rating: No. 5
• 2008 rating: No. 9
• Room for improvement: Improvement? With a makeshift offensive line and a non-existent passing attack, let's just hope these guys are walking by the end of the season.

4. TIGHT END: Barden had a tough year, mostly because opposing defenses were laughing at our receivers and making him work for every single catch. And he was forced to be more of a downfield threat than he was capable of. But he's still a talented guy, and if Austin Monahan bounces back from injury and Mason Johnston continues to develop then this is one solid unit.
• 2009 rating: No. 8. Monahan hurt and Barden had too big a burden.
• 2008 rating: No. 7. The best thing about the 2008 offense.
• Room for improvement: Barden can and should be much improved over last season.

5. KICKER: Ryan Fowler developed into a solid field goal kicker.
• 2009 rating: No. 6
• 2008 rating: No. 6
• Room for improvement: If true freshman Carey Spear can chalk up touchbacks and nail 55-yarders like everybody thinks he can, then this will be an improved unit.

6. DEFENSIVE END: Tim Fugger is solid, Teriall Brannon and Theron Kadri have loads of experience and there's a ton of young talent, but Broderick Stewart and Steven Stone will be greatly missed.
• 2009 rating: No. 7. While Stewart was flashier, the defense never recovered from the loss of Stone, who was a quiet force for most of his career.
• 2008 rating: No. 4. Stewart and Stone healthy.
• Room for improvement: With redshirt sophomores Josh Jelesky and Johnell Thomas, redshirt freshmen Walker May and Thad McHaney, and true freshmen Thomas Ryan and James Kittredge, the Dores are loaded numbers-wise at end. Somebody out of this group will likely emerge and maybe even unseat one of the upperclassmen.

7. DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Not the same unit after the loss of Adam Smotherman to a torn ACL. T.J. Greenstone is solid, but Rob Lohr saw only spot duty last season.
• 2009 rating: No. 4. Billinger, Smotherman and Greenstone were solid, if not dominating.
• 2008 rating: No. 5. A solid contributor to a top-notch defense.
• Room for improvement: Depends on how soon the three true freshmen — Kyle Woestmann, Jared Morse and Vince Taylor — can contribute. These guys have plenty of talent.

8. QUARTERBACK: Larry Smith has most of a season under his belt but isn't 100 percent after tearing his hamstring in the Tech game. Jordan Rodgers has the bloodlines and Charlie Goro was a Parade All-American. Does any of that mean anything? We'll find out.
• 2009 rating: No. 9
• 2008 rating: No. 11. While Chris Nickson stepped up big in several victories, he and Mackenzi Adams played a major role in several demoralizing losses.
• Room for improvement: These guys will get better, which may not be apparent if the offensive line and receivers don't.

9. PUNTER: Bobby Johnson says the starter will be walk-on Richard Kent, but he'll also be grooming true freshman Carey Spear, who's only been punting for a year.
• 2009 rating: No. 3. All hail Brett Upson.
• 2008 rating: No. 3. Music City Bowl MVP.
• Room for improvement: Kent is a complete unknown and Spear is a project. If their performance is average then everybody will be thrilled.

10. OFFENSIVE LINE: Joey Bailey appears to have won the center job in the spring, James Williams is a sure-fire starter at right tackle, Wes Johnson is going to start somewhere, and Kyle Fischer just may live up to his potential. But the sudden departure of senior Reilly Lauer and the spring shoulder injury to Ryan Seymour were huge setbacks.
• 2009 rating: No. 10. Never recovered from Williams' injury against LSU.
• 2008 rating: No. 8. Admirable performance for five brand-new starters.
• Room for improvement: If Williams has fully recovered, Seymour returns from his spring injury, Johnson develops like everybody expects, Fischer lives up to his potential, Bailey becomes a solid starter, and young guys like Mylon Brown and Caleb Welchans step up, then this could be a fine unit. That's a lot of ifs. But they all could happen.

11. WIDE RECEIVER: Before last season fell apart and everything about the Commodores except the freshman kick returner appeared to be a weakness, the receivers were the obvious weak link. That's still the case. For example, John Cole is being touted by the university as an all-star candidate. A possible solid starter yes, but an all-star candidate alongside the likes of A.J. Green and Julio Jones? You've got to be kidding.
• 2009 rating: No. 11. The same guys as this year, plus Alex Washington.
• 2008 rating: No. 10. But how we'd love to have Sean Walker and Justin Wheeler back.
• Room for improvement: No place to go but up. Sophomore Brady Brown has size and skills, and true freshmen Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews and maybe even Trent Pruitt should get a chance to crack the lineup.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Charlie Goro: The wild card in the Vandy quarterback race

Maybe you noticed this link that The Anonymous Goro Lover left in the comments of several recent MV! blog posts.

You know The Anonymous Goro Lover. He's the guy or maybe the gal who stops by frequently to praise redshirt freshman quarterback Charlie Goro.

I don't know where TAGL found this link, but whoever wrote it thought Goro was going to be the most exciting player in the SEC. Last season. Instead, Goro redshirted just like every other quarterback Bobby Johnson has ever signed.

Goro is intriguing. Since the day Goro committed to the Commodores, everybody's been talking about his leadership ability. Larry Smith has a bigger arm, but Goro's probably more accurate and has better touch on the short ball, in addition to being a better leader.

We think. Who knows? Remember that Larry and even Jared Funk were unanimous three-star prospects.

Here's what I hope: If Goro is the real deal and our quarterback of the future, I hope Bobby Johnson puts the ball in his hands and lets him run the team for four straight years. Remember two years ago when Larry was a redshirt freshman and played his first game in the regular season finale and then started the bowl game?

If Goro's not ready, well, Smith has two years of eligibility remaining and Jordan Rodgers has three to play two. It's certainly an interesting situation.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Order your SEC Football Championship Game tickets now: Vandy just signed a blue-chip ... longsnapper

Ah, the Commodores have finally found the missing piece to building a championship team:

A longsnapper. Yes, a longsnapper.

It's the second straight year the Dores have added a player to its recruiting class after the start of spring practice.

Last year, in the grand Commodore tradition of sacrificing a returning starter to the gridiron gods early in spring practice, wide receiver Justin Wheeler blew out his knee and a late scholarship was given to Collin Ashley, who played as a true freshman but has now transferred to Arkansas as a walk-on.

This year, probably because the Commodores had an extra scholarship after the death of Rajaan Bennett, Vandy has signed Andrew East, 6-foot-4, 210 pounds from Indianapolis. He's listed as an inside linebacker by, which didn't rate him. gives him one star, which means they also didn't rate him, but lists him as a longsnapper.

And not just any longsnapper.'s Vandy writer quotes a nationally recognized snapping coach (yes, they apparently have such things) as saying that East is a "five-star longsnapper." If they actually gave five stars to longsnappers.

A five-star longsnapper. Wow.

If you're doubting me, just look at his photo. The kid is wearing a T-shirt with a picture of a longsnapper. Only serious longsnappers wear longsnapper T-shirts.

Hey Florida Gator fans, you can keep your five-star quarterbacks and wide receivers and linebackers. We've got a FIVE-STAR LONGSNAPPER. And apparently we're the only school in the SEC and perhaps America enlightened enough to dedicate a full scholarship to a guy whose talent lies exclusively in snapping the ball between his legs to a guy who's going to kick it.

Currently, walk-on David Giller handles the longsnapping duties with John Stokes backing him up. Bob Davies likes to talk about how slow our longsnapping is. Maybe that's why we've actually given a scholarship to one.

Hey, if nobody emerges from spring practice as a clear-cut starting quarterback, maybe "Andy East: Five Star Longsnapper" can just line up backwards in the shotgun, catch the snap from our center between his legs and then just zip the ball down the field to one of our wide receivers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Warren Norman and Zac Stacy switch to single digits

Think Bobby Johnson's going to tell us which quarterback is playing the best in spring practice?

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

But we do know who has a new number.

Star freshmen running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy have downsized their numbers, Norman from No. 27 to No. 5 and Stacy from No. 21 to No. 2.

Both are shifty little guys, relatively speaking, so this isn't quite as jarring as, say, big Brandon Barden switching to No. 6 last spring.

The City Paper is reporting that safety Sean Richardson is dumping his No. 38 and grabbing Stacy's No. 21.

Meanwhile, freshman Kenny Ladler, who's enrolled early and is participating in spring practice, will wear Norman's old No. 27.

And who knows? If Ladler wins a starting position and lays the wood to opposing players, which is not outside the realm of possibility, then he could be the second straight Commodore wearing No. 27 to win SEC Freshman of the Year.

But that's getting a little ahead of ourselves.

In other numbers news, Jordan Rodgers will wear the No. 11 vacated by Brent Trice.


It appears linebacker Austin Newton, who would have been a fifth-year senior, is no longer on the team. He played special teams last season and with the emergence of four redshirt freshmen linebackers last season — Archie Barnes, Dexter Daniels, DeAndre Jones and Tristan Strong — he was not expected to crack the depth chart this year.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Adam Smotherman tears ACL on first day of full contact

Turns out on the first day of full contact, the Commodores lose a returning starter and a projected starter. Redshirt senior Adam Smotherman tore an ACL and will return to the long road to recovery that he took two years ago when he blew out his knee. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Seymour, a projected starter at left tackle, injured his shoulder and will require surgery.

The official Vandy site has more details.

Highlights from the scrimmage include:

• Two red zone drill touchdowns, including a strike from Larry Smith to Brandon Barden and a 15-yard run by — who else? — Warren Norman.

• Sacks by three defensive ends, including redshirt junior Tim Fugger, redshirt frosh Walker May and senior Theron Kadri.

• Key drive-stopping tackles by DTs T.J. Greenstone, a redshirt junior, and Rob Lohr, a redshirt sophomore.

• All four scholarship quarterbacks — Smith, Goro, Funk and Rodgers — had first down strikes.

Vandy football goes off the air

Show me a college football team currently in spring practice that's getting less exposure right now than Vanderbilt.

I mean there's been nothing. Nothing in the Tennessean, nothing on the official VU site, nothing on chat boards.

Nothing. And the Commodores have been practicing for nearly a week, and those practices are closed to the public. Meanwhile, Jeff Lockridge, the Tennessean's VU beat writer, is apparently recovering from his trip out West covering the Hoopodores. The City Paper did run a story Sunday on Jordan Rodgers, but it contained nothing we didn't learn from his press conference on signing day.

Nothing. And Bobby Johnson wants it that way. After last year's Music Bowl championship, every spring practice was followed by an in-depth report on which players looked fast and which ones were competing hard and making plays and that sort of thing.

We learned that Jared Funk was a strong candidate for playing time and that Taylor Loftley was one of the most improved defensive linemen on the team.

A year later, we realize that Jared Funk's playing time came in the form of the punt coverage team and that Loftley, while dramatically improved, had not dramatically improved enough to actually play in a real game.

In other words, we spent all last spring getting excited about this team and in the fall we were bitterly disappointed. Maybe this year we'll be bitterly disappointed in the team's performance in the spring and then elated in the fall.

Oh, here's another thing: Every team in the SEC except Ole Miss, South Carolina and Vanderbilt have already received commitments for the 2011 recruiting class.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Stallings: "That's why this is a great tournament"

After losing at the buzzer to Murray State, Kevin Stallings talked about how badly he felt for his players, especially Jermaine Beal, and then he said this:

"That's why this is a great tournament because things like that happen, and it is what it is."

It is what it is. An overused expression for sure, but it certainly applies here. This hurts, and many Vandy fans will do what's natural, and that's to question Stallings, question our players, offer simplistic solutions, etc.

I'm not going to do that. I'm going to enjoy some more great games tonight and Friday and then I'm pulling for the Racers on Saturday against Butler or UTEP and then I'm enjoying the Sweet 16 and then the Elite 8 and then the Final Four and then the national championship game.

And all the time, I'll be pulling for the little guys to knock off the big fellas, because that's what people do this time of year.

Well, unless your team IS the big fella. And for a few wonderful months this winter, the Commodores actually were among the big fellas.

It is what it is.

Well, that was quick

Wow, the season's over. Glad I was working and missed the game. Sounds like AJ got in early foul trouble and our shooters got denied on the perimeter and we missed a boatload of free throws.

Not gonna start disparaging Stallings or any players. I enjoyed watching this team this season. They were better than the Racers but got caught in the Madness.

Why Vanderbilt's being picked for the upset

Not worried about today's game against Murray State and don't care if everybody, including the President of the United States, is picking Vandy to lose.

Doesn't matter.

If this was a regular season game, Vandy would be a heavy favorite and everybody would be shocked if the game was even close.

But it's March Madness, when people make 64 predictions at once, with the goal being to nail the one or two big first-round upsets that everybody knows is going to happen, thereby dazzling everybody in the office pool.

So Barack Obama and Jay Bilas and all those other experts really think Vandy has the best chance of any of the other four seeds to lose, not that they think Murray State is a better basketball team. It's just that the poster guy for our team is a big white guy who can't catch the ball in traffic.

Vanderbilt is a better basketball team, with more size and firepower. The Racers don't have anybody in the same league with Beal, Taylor or even Mr. Ogilvy. Let's get it done today so everybody can start talking about how we'll lose to lower-seeded Butler or UNLV.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

President Obama turns to important business and picks Murray State to upset Vanderbilt in NCAA tourney

Apparently Doug Gottlieb and Jay Bilas are on Barack Obama's basketball cabinet because the president picked the Racers to pull the upset.

Here's how Kevin Stallings responded when asked about it: "Well, I don't know. We actually kinda feel like the underdog, because you have all of the experts saying that we're going to lose, so out of respect for the position of the president of the United States, I won't comment on his predictions."

Here's how Billy Kennedy, the Racers' coach, responded: "I told our assistant coaches we probably had more guys vote for him, I don't know, I'll leave that alone. He's a basketball fan, he knows what's going on, you know, we're thankful, but I've watched a lot of tape and I see Vanderbilt in a different perspective and they're difficult and they're good but it's always nice when somebody like that in a great position like he is and being a true basketball fan, it's a nice thing and I'll leave it at that, that's about all."

In other words, $1 and getting your team's name penciled in on the president's bracket will get you your choice of items from McDonald's dollar menu. Actually, you'll need some change to pay the tax.

It was a fairly interesting press conference today with Stallings and Kennedy and some of their players.

Stallings made these points:

• Vandy's been getting to the free throw line less often lately because "I think as we near tournament time I think the game is called differently, I think more things are allowed to happen and I think that's consistent with other years as we get near tournament time."

• Murray State's strengths: "They shoot the ball well. They drive it well. They use ball screens well. They offensive rebound well."

• On the two weeks since Murray's last game: When you have that amount of time, you can mess around and do some things, and I know when I was in the Missouri Valley, I found that to be one of the advantages of having that have gone that length of time before you play in the NCAA Tournament, and whether Billy (Kennedy, head coach) has done that remains to be seen, and I guess we'll find out tomorrow.

• He doesn't think Festus, who didn't play high school basketball, will reach his basketball potential until he's 26 or 27 years old.

Vanderbilt starts spring practice today ... but who are these guys in the starting lineup?

Here's the starting lineup going into spring practice:

QB: Larry Smith (R-JR)
RB: Warren Norman (SO)
WR: John Cole (R-SO)
WR: Udom Umoh (R-JR)
WR: Brady Brown (SO) or Turner Wimberly (R-SR)
TE: Brandon Barden (R-JR) or Austin Monahan (R-JR)
C: Joey Bailey (R-SR)
RG: Jabo Burrow (R-SO) (pictured above)
RT: James Williams (R-JR)
LG: Wesley Johnson (R-FR)
LT: Ryan Seymour (R-SO)

DT: Adam Smotherman (R-SR)
DT: T.J. Greenstone (R-JR)
DE: Tim Fugger (R-JR)
DE: Teriall Brannon (R-JR) or Theron Kadri (SR)
LB: Chris Marve (R-JR)
LB: John Stokes (SR)
LB: Dexter Daniels (R-SO) or DeAndre Jones (R-SO)
CB: Casey Hayward (JR)
CB: Jamie Graham (R-JR)
S: Sean Richardson (JR)
S: Jay Fullam (R-FR)

The official Vandy site has the complete roster.

Here are some observations going into today's practice:

• Key guys who'll miss spring drills with injury: Tight end Austin Monahan, tackle James Williams, linebacker Tristan Strong and running back Wesley Tate. All should be good to go for the start of the season.

• Larry Smith is the only quarterback on the roster who's thrown a pass in a college game.
• Jared Funk is listed as the second-teamer, followed by junior college transfer Jordan "Have you heard his brother is Aaron Rodgers" Rodgers and redshirt freshman Charlie Goro. Bobby Johnson's talking about how all four quarterbacks will get their chance, which is the exact same thing he said this time last year. It's Larry's job to lose, and Rodgers will get every chance to replace him if he stumbles. Meanwhile, Funk's had his shot and Goro will be treated with the same kid gloves that Larry got his redshirt freshman year.

• Two of the projected starting linemen have never played in a college game: Redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson and redshirt sophomore Jabo Burrow, who didn't play last season as a backup defensive lineman but has added 30 pounds since coming to Nashville.
• Johnson has added 15 pounds during his redshirt season, which means he weighs 265 pounds and would be by far the lightest starting offensive lineman in the SEC.
• Why is redshirt junior Kyle Fischer not a starter? He's SEC big and he's been starting off and on since he was a redshirt freshman and made the league's all-freshman team. The staff has got to be sending him a signal by listing Jabo Burrow, who's 30 pounds lighter and has never played in a college game, as the starter at right guard.

• John Cole is being touted as an all-star candidate. That's a real stretch.
• The third wide receiver is listed as senior Turner Wimberly, whose two starts last season were a sign of how terrible we were at receiver, or Brady Brown, who was highly touted and played as a true freshman but has yet to catch a pass in black and gold.

• Austin Monahan and Brandon Barden are listed as co-starters at tight end for the third straight season. Monahan will sit out the spring with an injury, which will give redshirt freshman Mason Johnston the chance to show what he can do.

• With Tate injured, and with rumors of a possible switch or at least experiment at receiver, redshirt senior Kennard Reeves will get plenty of changes in the spring to stay on the coaches' radar. He's a tough runner who gained 5.5 yards a carry, and with Warren Norman and Zac Stacy likely to be shifted all over the field like chess pieces, expect Reeves to find a home as a durable short yardage back.

• Ryan van Rensburg's name occasionally pops up in discussions about short-yardage situations, but he got a chance to tote the rock last spring and didn't exactly wow anyone, and he's been serviceable as backup tight end and H-back and effective as a special teams guy. He's not listed as a running back on the depth chart.

• Redshirt junior Teriall Brannon and senior Theron Kadri are listed as co-starters opposite junior Tim Fugger.
• Defensive tackle T.J. Greenstone, a redshirt junior, is listed as an all-star candidate over Adam Smotherman, a senior DT and returning starter.

• Jamie Graham is listed on the defensive side of the ball, as a starting cornerback, leaving a bunch of 2009 recruits battling for playing time at nickel or backup corner: sophomores Eddie Foster, Trey Wilson and Eric Samuels and redshirt freshman Javon Marshall.
• Redshirt freshman Jay Fullam is listed as a starter at safety alongside Sean Richardson. His backup? True freshman Kenny Ladler, an early enrollee. But don't be surprised to see some of the corners, including Graham, Wilson and Samuels, step in at safety.

• Speaking of safeties, Micah Powell has added 15 pounds and has moved from the secondary to linebacker.
• Four redshirt sophomores continue to compete for playing time at linebacker. Archie Barnes is listed as a backup to John Stokes at strongside backer, Tristan Strong backs up Chris Marve in the middle, and DeAndre Jones and Dexter Daniels are duking it out at weakside backer. Expect at least one of them to emerge as a force when the season starts.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A.J. Ogilvy's apology for performance against Mississippi State was noble but not necessary

You should check out A.J. Ogilvy's Twitter page. In between posts about getting spray tans and watching Harry Potter movies and eating at McDonald's, he writes stuff like this, which showed up Saturday evening:

"Dear Vanderbilt players and fans, i apologize for my performance, or lack thereof today. I let you all down, i won't let you down again."

No apology needed, A.J. To your fellow players, maybe, but to me, no. Especially not after I saw Varnardo shut down DeMarcus Cousins for most of the SEC championship game.

I've always liked A.J. Sure, it's maddening how he can't catch the ball in traffic. But Vandy fans have expected him to get exponentially better each year when it's apparent that he came to school a mature, polished international player who was ready to compete on the college level, and not a raw talent like Festus.

He's not an exceptional athlete and he can't create shots against guys his own size. But he's a solid college player and Vanderbilt needs him on the floor. I'm glad he's on our team, and I don't mistake his trouble against more athletic players as a lack of interest or motivation. Sure, he eats fast food and watches movies and highlights his hair and occasionally grows a cheesy mustache. That doesn't mean he's a slacker. He can't practice catching the ball 24 hours a day.

In fact, I'm more troubled when Jeff Taylor comes up missing in the box score.

I expect A.J. to come up big on Thursday against Murray State, which has only two players taller than 6-foot-7 — Tony Easley, who's 6-9 and averages 10 points and 6 boards, and Georges Fotso, who's 6-8 but averages less than a point and a rebound per game.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Offensive linemen and quarterbacks among top battles in Vanderbilt spring practice, which starts March 17

The gridiron Commodores are on spring break right now, and are set to begin spring practice on March 17, the Wednesday after they return. And for some reason, the annual Black & Gold Scrimmage on April 10 has still not been picked up by ESPN.

Here are some key battles you'll see in spring practice on the offensive side of the ball:

1. OFFENSIVE LINE: Joey Bailey vs. Wesley Johnson vs. Caleb Welchans vs. Mylon Brown
Looks like we've got our starting tackles — James Williams on the right and Ryan Seymour on the left — as well as Kyle Fischer at one of the guards. The remaining two starters will probably come from fifth-year senior Joey Bailey, last year's backup center; redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson, a talented guy who can play anywhere on the line but still needs to add bulk; redshirt sophomore Caleb Welchans, who saw meaningful action last year; and hulking redshirt freshman Mylon Brown. Other contenders include junior Chris Aaron, converted defensive end Jabo Burrow, redshirt freshman Justin Cabbagestalk, sophomore Richard Cagle and junior Rob Ashabranner.

2. QUARTERBACK: Larry Smith vs. Jordan Rodgers
Most people think Rodgers will either push Larry to get better or take his job altogether. If he's an accurate passer and can run the spread, we could have another full-fledged battle that isn't decided until the last minute. Meanwhile, expect Charlie Goro, the redshirt freshman with nothing to lose, to increase his stock.

3. THIRD WIDE RECEIVER: Brady Brown vs. Akeem Dunham
John Cole and Udom Umoh were far and away our best receivers last year, which wasn't saying much, but both should remain starters next season. While most people think the third receiver position will be filled by one of the true freshmen (Jonathan Krause, Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews), don't count out Brady Brown, who played as a highly touted true freshman but still hasn't caught a pass, and Akeem Dunham, a tall, athletic guy who's still learning the position. Both will get competition from fifth-year senior Turner Wimberly, who started one game last year, and Tray Herndon, a junior who appears to have peaked as a freshman at Minnesota. This is certain: If any of these guys want to get meaningful playing time, they'd better make a splash before the young guys graduate from high school and arrive on campus.

4. BACKUP RUNNING BACK: Wesley Tate vs. Kennard Reeves
Warren Norman and Zac Stacy have established themselves as legitimate SEC running backs, and Wesley Tate has the skills to join them. But don't count out Reeves, a tough grinder and special teams veteran who's starting his fifth season with the Dores.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Don't hold Bobby Johnson and the Vanderbilt football team to the same standards as Kevin Stallings' squad

Another gutsy win for the Hoopodores Tuesday night. Some people wonder why we don't post more about basketball and that's because we're a blog about Vandy football/angst and we're more than happy to leave coverage and analysis of the Hoopodores in the capable hands of people like VSL and Anchor of Gold and even "Loblaw" at Anything But Gatorade when he's in the doghouse and needs to write something nice about Vandy (you know, because his wife was a cheerleader there).

Believe me, I'm watching and enjoying this basketball season as much as any other Vandy fan. Just don't say that we should study the basketball team's success and apply the same lessons to the football team. It doesn't work. Here are some obvious reasons:

• A winning basketball program is much easier to build at an academic school than a winning football program. Sure, Northwestern and Stanford occasionally have good seasons on the gridiron, but they never challenge for the national championship. Duke's football team stinks. Its basketball team does not.

• Vanderbilt's Memorial Gymnasium isn't Rupp Arena, but it's not noticeably smaller than other NCAA facilities, and it's unique, and it's a tough place for opposing teams to play, even when we're having an off year. I still remember my freshman year when we had an NIT team but beat eventual national champion Indiana in Memorial. I can't even fathom beating football national champion Florida in Nashville and neither could the Gators fathom losing there. Commodore Stadium at Dudley Field or whatever it's called seats a good 15-20,000 fewer fans than the next smaller stadiums, at Ole Miss and Miss State.

• Our basketball team fills the gym... with our own fans.

• The basketball team can actually attract a five-star local recruit (John Jenkins) and plenty of four-star local talent nationally (Jermaine Beal, A.J. Ogilvy, Jeff Taylor, Brad Tinsley, Steve Tchiengang, Lance Goulbourne). We've had one four-star recruit (part-time starter John Stokes) on the football roster in the past four years. Meanwhile, four-star local guys like James Stone automatically pack their bags for Knoxville, where the stadium seats more people than the fifth-largest city in Tennessee — unless the head coach there is a jerk and then they wait for him to leave before packing their orange suitcases.

• Oh yeah, and it takes a heck of a lot more football players to play a game. So not only does Bobby Johnson have six fewer highly regarded recruits than Kevin Stallings does, he needs about five times as many players just to field a team.

I cringe when I hear people talk about giving Bobby Johnson one more year before we fire him. If Kevin Stallings goes winless in the conference and wins less than 20 percent of his games then, yes, he's on the hot seat if he's still around at all. His job's not easy, and I don't want to take away from the great job he's doing, but Stallings is more or less competing on an even playing field with the other basketball programs in the SEC. He doesn't have an advantage, but he's not handicapped. And if the other programs in the SEC have a disadvantage, it's because their administration puts way more time, energy and resources into its football program.

Johnson has put together a collection of increasingly solid recruiting classes, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that many of those kids chose Vanderbilt after visiting Nashville and sitting among 35,000 fans — many of whom were wearing opposing colors — and also visiting places like Athens and Knoxville and sitting among 100,000 fans, nearly every single one of them wearing the home colors and screaming their heads off.

Everybody has been praising this latest Vandy football recruiting class, for which Johnson and his staff had to scratch and claw and hold their collective breath at the last minute. But even with Rajaan Bennett, where did that class rank in the SEC? Last place. Or maybe if you're generous, in eleventh place ahead of Kentucky.

So why exactly should Johnson be fired if he doesn't return to a bowl?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Myron Lewis boosts his stock at NFL draft combine

Chris Low points out this morning that Myron Lewis ran a 4.45 40 in the combine. How important was that? Very. Remember what happened to D.J. Moore's stock last year when he clocked in at just under 4.6.

Up to that point, D.J.'s weakness was that he was just under 5-foot-9, and he was being projected as a late first-rounder. But then his speed became another weakness, and he fell to the middle of the fourth round.

Up to this point, Myron's strength was his size, at 6-foot-2 and over 200 pounds, and he was projected as a third or fourth rounder. Now his speed has become another strength, and you could start seeing him cracking into some first round projections.