Wednesday, July 28, 2010

They were expendable, Part II

Well, my list of "expendable" players caused a bit of a stir.

I realize these kids work hard and are true student athletes, and I realize it's tough when you're third or fourth on the depth chart, or some clown on some blog who was barely able to play intramural football at Vanderbilt is calling you expendable.

But all of the fine student-athletes I mentioned have been on past depth charts and, because of the influx of new talent, are now in danger of either losing playing time or failing to get the playing time everybody expected they would.

And yes, being relegated to special teams.

Vandyphile is right, special teams are not insignificant, and I really appreciate feedback from him and others.

I wasn't saying that these guys suck; I was saying that no fans would talk about them if they were gone. Nobody notices the special teams guys who are doing the blocking and tackling. For example, has anybody said our team will be worse off this season because we lost fifth-year senior Chris Johnson, who was an absolute special teams demon his entire career? Nope. Nobody on this site besides me has mentioned him once in the past two years.

And if Coach Caldwell, who's already said he's going to play more true freshmen than Bobby Johnson would have, really values special teams, then some of those "expendable" guys may not even play special teams this season because we've got a boatload of talented true freshmen defensive backs and linebackers.

Take guys like LB Chase Garnham and DB Steven Clarke, sure-fire redshirts under the Bobby Johnson plan. But both of them can run like the wind and deliver a solid blow. So maybe, instead of sitting them on the bench for a year, Caldwell values special teams so much that he puts them on the kickoff coverage team or another special team. Which means they take the spots of juniors and seniors who can't crack the depth chart but had found a niche on special teams.

I admit that Ryan van Rensburg was a bit of a stretch for my list. He's a victim of the Vanderbilt system, and he's a great utility guy. He'll likely play an important special teams role in every single game of his Vandy career, and he'll also get into some big games as a blocking back and even an extra tight end.

But now that Austin Monahan is back, RVR won't even be listed on the two-deep. Nobody but a few astute fans would miss him when he's gone.

And guys like Turner Wimberly and Akeem Dunham? Those guys had better work their tails off if they expect to play this season, and even then that will be no guarantee. I'm not saying they don't work hard and that they don't deserve to be rewarded with a little playing time, especially Wimberly, who's been at Vandy for five years. But I'm not necessarily saying they are SEC-caliber players either, and they're now facing competition from guys who are SEC-caliber players.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The expendables: Vanderbilt football players who fans would never miss

Last week, Richard Cagle and Rob Ashabranner vanished from the Vanderbilt depth chart, likely gone forever from the football team.

Nobody noticed, and nobody cared, because since those guys arrived on campus, the Commodores have added about a dozen offensive linemen with more talent.

At the end of last season, Gaston Miller, Austin Newton and Justin Green were honored on senior day, though each had a full year of eligibility remaining. Nobody noticed or cared.

So who could drop off the Vanderbilt depth chart today with little repercussions? Here's a list:

• Ryan van Rensburg, R-JR, H-back: Came to Vandy as a three-star fullback but the Commodores don't really use fullbacks. A big, strong guy who lacks the mobility to compete for playing time at tailback. Was a nice fill-in last season at tight end after second-teamer Austin Monahan was injured, but Monahan and Brandon Barden are back, and redshirt freshman Mason Johnston is the tight end of the future.

• Turner Wimberly, R-SR, WR: The fact that Wimberly started last season was a sad commentary on the Commodore receiving corps. He's listed second-team on the depth chart because he's a senior, but expect him to fall fast once the hotshot freshmen start practicing.

• Tray Herndon, R-JR, WR: Played well as a freshman at Minnesota, but was a disappointment last season, losing playing time to Collin Ashley, a true freshman who wasn't offered a scholarship until well after signing day. He'll get one more look, and he'd better be ready.

• Akeem Dunham, R-SO, WR: A former basketball star with loads of athleticism, Dunham was never a factor last season. He's got two years to get something going, but if he beats out half of the true freshmen it will be a surprise.

• Jared Funk, R-SR, QB: A three-star quarterback who supposedly has the best arm on the team, except after five years he still hasn't thrown a pass in a game. Last season he was on the punt coverage team until Larry Smith was injured. Coach Caldwell isn't planning to redshirt anybody who can help, which probably means he'll scrap Bobby Johnson's plans to redshirt quarterback Jordan Rodgers.

• Al Owens, R-SO, S: A nice recruit who played a bunch of special teams last season but didn't get much playing time in a secondary that featured three true freshmen. With a redshirt freshman and three true freshmen who all look like better prospects at safety, he'd better get used to special teams.

• Micah Powell, R-SO, S: Like Owen, a safety who played a bunch of special teams but faces a serious challenge from all those freshmen safeties. He's been getting a look at linebacker, where he must crack a depth chart loaded with fellow redshirt sophomores.

• Johnell Thomas, R-SO, DE: A non-traditional end (he's only 6-foot-1), Thomas got some meaningful playing time last season and looks like a solid player but faces serious competition from redshirt freshmen Walker May and Thad McHaney and true freshmen Kyle Woestmann and Thomas Ryan.

• Josh Jelesky, R-SO, DE: Another redshirt sophomore who looks promising but will likely get lost in the sea of young talent at end. May be one of those kids who converts to tackle if he can put on some more weight.

• Colt Nichter, R-SO, DT: Played sparingly last season and has a chance to get some key snaps this year with the departure of Billinger and the injury to Smotherman. But true freshmen Vince Taylor and Jared Morse, and maybe even James Kittredge, should make a splash early.

• Taylor Loftley, R-SO, DT: Sat on the bench last season, and though he's got tons of potential, his chances to play may not improve with the arrival of the three freshmen.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Vandy coach hand says the trick to the spread is success on second-and-10

Here's a link to a Q&A with new Vandy offensive coach Herb Hand.

Don't know much about Tulsa? It's the smallest school in Division I. In 2008, while Vandy was beating Boston College in the Music City Bowl without scoring an offensive touchdown, Tulsa was setting the record for largest margin of victory in a bowl game with a 62-7 victory over Bowling Green.

In this interview, Hand talks about how he can adjust the spread to his best players. He talks about the importance of having an athletic quarterback, and that Vince Young would be his ideal college spread quarterback.

He says Tulsa ran and threw the ball almost exactly the same amount of plays, and that the key to having a good offense is being able to convert on 2nd and 10, which gives you the confidence to throw on first down and risk an incompletion. Has our offense ever thrown the ball on first down?

Anyway, click the above link and read more about Hand's offensive philosophy.

Robbie Caldwell tells jokes... then hires Tulsa's offensive coordinator

OK, now I really like Robbie Caldwell.

The Tulsa World is reporting that Caldwell has hired Herb Hand, the co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa, to fill the position vacated when he became interim head coach after Bobby Johnson retired.

I love it. While Caldwell's in Hoover, Ala., talking about turkey inseminators and the magical properties of barbecue ribs, he's also adding an offensive line coach who was co-offensive coordinator at Tulsa with Gus Malzahn. Really. And he kind of even looks like Malzahn.

The World reports that Tulsa players were informed at a team meeting early Thursday evening, just as America was starting to talk about Vandy's hilarious new interim coach.

A World reader was curious that Hand would leave to work for an interim coach. Hopefully many more readers in many other parts of America will soon be curious that blue-chip high school recruits are committing to play for an interim coach.

Bobby Johnson would never add an offensive mind to his staff because he was loyal to his other offensive coaches. When the offense took a nosedive last season, he just shuffled guys around, moving Ted Cain to tight end coach. Nobody outside of the coaches' family members felt like that would be good enough.

But Bobby Johnson did figure out a way to bring fresh offensive coaching talent to his staff. He still had to send somebody packing, and that person was himself.

Now in a single day, Caldwell has built serious momentum for Vandy by being really funny and by making a move to fill his own position and improve the offense. I bet our coaches are trying to wrap up some verbal commitments right now but we've got to strike while the iron is hot. I'm sure Coach Caldwell could find a more homespun colloquialism but that's the best I've got for now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vandy replaced Steve Martin (Bobby Johnson) with Jerry Clower (Robbie Caldwell)

Surely you’ve heard by now that Robbie Caldwell killed today at the SEC Media Days. I think that’s what you say when a comedian delivers a successful standup routine.

Yep, he was hilarious. Talked mostly about turkeys – inseminating them, turning them into lipstick, admiring the sheer intelligence of the wild species.

So we've traded Steve Martin for Jerry Clower.

All those reporters and bloggers loved it, and found it refreshing, and immediately wrote about how funny and wonderful Vanderbilt’s new coach is. Which is great in July when the coaches are talking in a ballroom. Bobby Johnson did well in Hoover too, drawing comparisons to Steve Martin.

But we’ll see what happens in September when Robbie Caldwell’s standing on the sideline.

Yes, he was funny, but not particularly informative if you’re a Vanderbilt fan. We’ve got a bunch of young players, including freshmen, but Caldwell only mentioned the four quarterbacks, the four running backs and John Stokes because he’s going to be a doctor.

But not once did the longtime offensive line coach mention the name of an offensive lineman.

He said Larry Smith was “unfairly judged” last season and that everybody thought he was experienced after he’d only played one and a half games in 2008. Then he mentioned Jordan Rodgers’ bloodlines, Jared Funk’s seniority and Charlie Goro’s youth. He said all four guys “had a tremendous spring.” Um, really?

He said he didn’t recognize Kennard Reeves, who’s gotten much “bigger and stronger.” That’s good.

He said Warren Norman had to Google Herschel Walker when he broke his freshman record for total yardage. Norman, a Georgia native, said that wasn't true. Clearly, Caldwell was there to get a laugh, and so he did, talking about how somebody tipped him yesterday in a restaurant, about how he grew up in a po-dunk South Carolina town, etc.

He’s going to be really popular…if he wins. But then, if he wins at Vanderbilt, he’ll be really popular regardless of whether he’s got a sense of humor.

In the meantime, the media was laughing with him and not at him.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nate Campbell's back on the team

After our careful perusal of the football roster, the athletic department slipped in something else:

Linebacker Nate Campbell has returned for his senior year after being dismissed from the team and leaving school last year.

Campbell's a rangy athlete — sort of a poor man's Matt Stewart — except he's got 16 career tackles in two seasons and was just starting to earn some real playing time before leaving the team at the start of last season.

Not that we really needed him. We've got Chris Marve, of course, as well as senior John Stokes and a whole boatload of redshirt sophomores — Archie Barnes, Dexter Daniels, Tristan Strong and DeAndre Jones, all of whom have a shot to start this season. Then there's another redshirt sophomore, Micah Powell, who'll also play some safety, and Blake Southerland, a redshirt freshman who's being groomed to eventually replace Marve at middle linebacker.

So Campbell's addition is like Chris Johnson being added to the team last season at the eleventh hour. He's an older guy who can provide some leadership — in this case, what NOT to do — as well as some depth especially on special teams.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Vanderbilt offensive line loses two more players, but remaining players keep on getting bigger

The Commodores just keep getting thinner on the offensive line. At the start of the year, the team had nine offensive linemen with game experience.

Then Reilly Lauer left school.

Then James Williams was an academic casualty.

Now two more linemen are nowhere to be seen on the Commodores’ latest roster: redshirt junior Rob Ashabranner and redshirt sophomore Richard Cagle.

That leaves Vandy with just five linemen who’ve ever played in a college football game:

• Joey Bailey (6-4, 295; R-Sr)
• Chris Aaron (6-4, 295; R-Sr)
• Kyle Fischer (6-6, 310; R-Jr)
• Ryan Seymour (6-4, 305; R-So)
• Caleb Welchans (6-5, 300; R-So)

Neither Ashabranner nor Cagle was supposed to start, but now four guys with no game experience must step up:

• Wesley Johnson (6-5, 280; R-Fr)
• Jabo Burrow (6-4, 285; R-So)
• Mylon Brown (6-5, 310; R-Fr)
• Justin Cabbagestalk (6-3, 290; R-Fr)

Collectively, these nine guys have gained 134 pounds since last season. Here’s how these clean-plate club members rank:

1. Johnson +30 pounds
1. Burrow +30 pounds
3. Cabbagestalk +25 pounds
4. Seymour +11 pounds
5. Welchans +10 pounds
5. Brown +10 pounds
5. Aaron +10 pounds
8. Bailey +6 pounds
9. Fischer +2 pounds

A couple of these true freshmen, most likely Ramsay and Stewart, could get thrown into the fire too:

• Grant Ramsay (6-5, 285; Fr)
• Logan Stewart (6-5, 290; Fr)
• Chase White (6-5, 270; Fr)
• Andrew Bridges (6-6, 240; Fr)

Brady Brown appears to have gained a year of eligibility

It appears that wide Brady Brown is being granted a medical redshirt. At least, he’s being listed on the updated roster as a redshirt freshman after playing in four games last season before sustaining a lower leg injury.

This is great news: Vandy has five talented receivers (Brown and true freshmen Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews and Trent Pruitt) who’ll be together for the next four seasons.

A bunch of football Commodores switch their numbers

Does changing your uniform number improve your performance?

We’ll soon find out. At least nine Commodores have traded digits, according to the newly updated football roster. You may remember that Brandon Barden shocked the world last year by trading the bulky No. 87 for the slimming No. 6, the number he wore as a high school quarterback. This season, single digits remain a fashionable choice:

• Zac Stacy, RB, No. 2 (from 21)
• Udom Umoh, WR, No. 4 (from 23)
• Warren Norman, RB, No. 5 (from 27)
• Charlie Goro, QB, No. 7 (from 17)
• Eddie Foster, DB, No. 16 (from 43)
• Sean Richardson, SS, No. 21 (from 38)
• Tristan Strong, LB, No. 29 (from 32)
• Javon Marshall, DB, No. 31 (from 41)
• Walker May, DE, No. 90 (from 92)

Some of the old numbers went to true freshmen. Here are the numbers for the new guys:

• WR Trent Pruitt: 9
• WR Jonathan Krause: 17
• DB Andre Hal: 23
• HB Blake Gowder: 26
• S Kenny Ladler: 27
• DB Steven Clarke: 30
• DB Andre Simmons: 32
• LB Chase Garnham: 36
• LB Fitz Lassing: 38
• K Carey Spear: 39
• DB Karl Butler: 40
• LB/SN Andrew East: 51
• OL Andrew Bridges: 52
• DL Vince Taylor: 53
• DL James Kittredge: 56
• OL Logan Stewart: 60
• DL Ryan Thomas: 68
• OL Chase White: 73
• OL Grant Ramsay: 75
• WR Chris Boyd: 80
• WR Jordan Matthews: 87
• DL Kyle Woestmann: 92
• DL Jared Morse: 97

Sunday, July 18, 2010

How Robbie Caldwell might change Bobby Johnson's redshirting trends at Vanderbilt

So interim head coach Robbie Caldwell says he's philosophically similar to Bobby Johnson except that he'll be more apt to play newcomers instead of redshirting them.

Here's a look at redshirting trends in the last six freshmen classes under Bobby Johnson, in order of positions most likely to play right away:

1. Kickers and punters (2-3) 67%
• Played as true freshmen: Bryant Hahnfeldt (2005) and Brett Upson (2006)
• Redshirted: Ryan Fowler (2008)
• 2010 freshman: Carey Spear
• Trend under Johnson: Johnson liked to offer a scholarship to a kicker and punter and then play them for four years, and then get a new duo. If there was an overlap, as there was with true freshman Fowler and senior Hahnfeldt in 2008, he'd use a redshirt. Spear was brought in to compete against walk-on punter Kent, who's never played, and against Fowler for kick-off and long field goal duties.
• Under Caldwell: Expect Spear to play, starting as the kick-off man and eventually winning the punting job.

2. Cornerbacks (6-13) 46%
• Played as true freshmen: Myron Lewis (2006), D.J. Moore (2006), Casey Hayward (2008), Eddie Foster (2009), Eric Samuels (2009), Trey Wilson (2009)
• Redshirted: Josh Allen (2004), Jared Fagan (2004), Joel Caldwell (2005), Darlron Spead (2005), Alan Strong (2006), Jamie Graham (2007), Javon Marshall (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: Karl Butler, Steven Clarke, Andre Hal
• Trend under Johnson: Regardless of who was on the roster, Johnson never hesitated to play athletic cornerbacks right away in reserve roles and on special teams. Playing three in 2009 was unusual but necessary with Moore's defection to the NFL, Strong's transfer, Spead leaving with a year of eligibility remaining, and Caldwell needed at safety. With the cupboard full at corner this year, Johnson likely would have played at least one of the true freshmen. Butler's big and most versatile, Clarke's the fastest, and Hal's a top-notch cover man and punt returner.
• Under Caldwell: With one year to shine and all three candidates having unique skills, Caldwell may throw them all out there and see who rises to the top.

3. (tie) Running backs (3-9) 33%
• Played as true freshmen: Cassen Jackson-Garrison (2004), Warren Norman (2009), Zac Stacy (2009)
• Redshirted: Jeff Jennings (2004), Jared Hawkins (2005), Gaston Miller (2005), Kennard Reeves (2006), Jermaine Doster (2007), Wesley Tate (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: None
• Trend under Johnson: With the mid-level talent he got at running back, Johnson would only play true freshmen out of necessity. Rajaan Bennett might have broken that trend.
• Under Caldwell: With Bennett's death, Tate's redshirt last year will boost the Commodore ground game for the next four years.

3. (tie) Wide receivers (4-12) 33%
• Played as true freshmen: Earl Bennett (2005), John Cole (2008) (played in season opener but injured and got medical redshirt), Collin Ashley (2009), Brady Brown (2009)
• Redshirted: Bryant Anderson (2004), Sean Walker (2004), Larry Simmons (2005), Alex Washington (2005), Justin Wheeler (2005), Turner Wimberly (2006), Udom Umoh (2007), Akeem Dunham (2008)
• 2010 freshmen: Chris Boyd, Jonathan Krause, Jordan Matthews, Trent Pruitt
• Trend under Johnson: Frequently forced to recruit raw talent at receiver, Johnson tended to play only the rare recruiting steal (Bennett) or polished route-runners (Cole). Last season's losses of Justin Wheeler and Terance Jeffers-Harris forced him to burn the redshirts off Ashley and Brown. This season, he likely would have played at least two. Boyd's the most physical, Krause the fastest and best at separation, Matthews the best downfield target and Pruitt the most polished route-runner and slot guy.
• Under Caldwell: The interim coach doesn't have the luxury of slowly developing his receivers, and this is as game-ready a group of frosh wideouts as the Dores have ever head. Again, expect Caldwell to throw them all out on the field and see what happens.

5. Safeties (2-7) 29%
• Played as true freshmen: Brent Trice (2006) (later moved to linebacker), Sean Richardson (2008)
• Redshirted: Reshard Langford (2004), Ryan Hamilton (2005), Al Owens (2008), Micah Powell (2008) (moving to linebacker), Jay Fullam (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: Kenny Ladler and Andre Simmons
• Trend under Johnson: Johnson liked to redshirt safeties — even ones as good as Langford and Hamilton — but didn't mind occasionally playing a true freshman as in the case of Richardson. Fullam would have played last season because of injury but he got injured himself. Johnson was preparing Ladler, who enrolled early and looked good in the spring, to play right away.
• Under Caldwell: Ladler will play, and Simmons could too if he looks like an improvement over sophomore Al Owens, especially if any cornerbacks get injured and corners like Samuels, Graham and Wilson who could double as safeties must stay put.

6. Defensive tackles (3-11) 27%
• Played as true freshmen: Gabe Hall (2004), Theo Horrocks (2004), Greg Billinger (2005)
• Redshirted: Brandon Holmes (2004), David Whittington (2004), Derrius Dowell (2005), Adam Smotherman (2006), T.J. Greenstone (2007), Taylor Loftley (2008), Rob Lohr (2008), Colt Nichter (2008)
• 2010 freshmen: James Kittredge, Jared Morse, Vince Taylor
• Trend under Johnson: Johnson rarely recruited big, SEC-caliber tackles. Billinger was an exception. Also, in 2004, Johnson was forced to play two of his four true freshmen at that position. He called this year's recruits the most game-ready group of D-linemen he's ever assembled, and would likely have played one of them, especially after Smotherman blew out his knee in the spring.
• Under Caldwell: All three of these guys had offers from other SEC schools and came to Vandy to play right away. Anybody who can out-perform Lohr, Nichter and Loftley in pre-season camp will likely play as a true freshman. Expect Morse and Taylor, both natural down linemen, to do just that, and for Kittredge, who can also play end, to post a strong challenge as well.

7. Linebackers (2-12) 17%
• Played as true freshmen: Patrick Benoist (2006) and John Stokes (2007)
• Redshirted: Brandon Bryant (2005), Chris Johnson (2005), Nate Campbell (2006), Austin Newton (2006), Chris Marve (2007), Archie Barnes (2008), Dexter Daniels (2008), DeAndre Jones (2008), Tristan Strong (2008), Blake Southerland (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: Andrew East (also a longsnapper), Chase Garnham and Fitz Lassing
• Trend under Johnson: Rarely did Johnson ever play true freshmen linebackers. Stokes, his highest rated defensive recruit, wants to get to medical school as soon as possible, and Benoist was a game-ready Texas recruit who couldn't be kept off the field. But Johnson was happy to take his time developing talents like Chris Marve and Tristan Strong.
• Under Caldwell: The speedy Garnham and the scholarly Lassing are projects who'll redshirt regardless of their head coach. East could play right away if he's a vast improvement over Stokes and walk-on David Giller at longsnapper.

8. Tight ends (1-7) 14%
• Played as freshman: Austin Monahan (2007) (injured and redshirted sophomore season)
• Redshirted: Brad Allen (2004), Jake Bradford (2005), Justin Green (2006), Brandon Barden (2007), Ryan van Rensburg (2007) Mason Johnston (2009)
• 2010 freshman: Blake Gowder
• Trend under Johnson: Johnson didn't recruit SEC-caliber tight ends until late in his tenure. Then he got two in 2007 and decided to play Monahan over Barden. Even after Monahan was injured last season, Johnson kept the redshirt on the highly regarded Johnston and used fullback Ryan van Rensburg as an emergency fill-in.
• Under Caldwell: With Barden the team's best target last season, Caldwell would have likely played Johnston after Monahan's injury instead of redshirting him. But now Caldwell's got Barden, Monahan and Johnston, which means he'll almost surely redshirt Gowder, an undersized utility guy.

9. Defensive ends (1-10) 10%
• Played as freshman: Theron Kadri (2007)
• Redshirted: Broderick Stewart (2005), Steven Stone (2005), Teriall Brannon (2005), Kikko Logan (2006), Tim Fugger (2007), Josh Jelesky (2008), Johnell Thomas (2008), Walker May (2009), Thad McHaney (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: Thomas Ryan and Kyle Woestmann
• Trend under Johnson: Johnson recruited lanky, speedy ends who needed a redshirt, with the exception being the stocky Kadri, who was needed right away in 2007. Last season, he didn't hesitate to redshirt lanky, speedy May and the highly regarded McHaney, who had an offer to Oklahoma. When Kadri flirted with leaving school in the preseason, coaches lobbied to give May a shot, but he was clearly too light.
• Under Caldwell: Woestmann and maybe even Ryan will get a shot to crack a deep roster at end. Woestmann committed before last season's debacle and considered jumping to Georgia or South Carolina; he'll get the longest look and will likely be on the field somewhere.

10. Offensive linemen (1-20) 5%
• Played as freshman: Hamilton Holliday (2004)
• Redshirted: Ryan Custer (2005), Drew Gardner (2005), Eric Hensley (2005), Ryan Vance (2005), Brad Vierling (2005), Thomas Welch (2005), Joey Bailey (2006), Reilly Lauer (2006), Rob Ashabranner (2007), Kyle Fischer (2007), James Williams (2007), Michael Bryant (2007), John Burrow (2007), Richard Cagle (2007), Ryan Seymour (2008), Caleb Welchans (2008), Mylon Brown (2009), Justin Cabbagestalk (2009), Wesley Johnson (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: Andrew Bridges, Grant Ramsay, Logan Stewart, Chase White
• Trend under Johnson: Very few Vandy O-line recruits have been big or skilled enough for SEC play. The one exception, Holliday, was big enough and got a chance because of injury and because he could play either guard or center.
• Under Caldwell: Remember that Caldwell is the long-time offensive line coach and had a hand in past decisions to redshirt linemen. Ramsay and maybe Stewart are big enough and skilled enough to at least get a look at guard. But Caldwell needs at least a year to develop his tackles, and projects Bridges and White will get at least that.

11. Quarterbacks (0-5) 0%
• Played as true freshmen: None
• Redshirted: Chris Nickson (2004), Mackenzi Adams (2005), Jared Funk (2006), Larry Smith (2007), Charlie Goro (2009)
• 2010 freshmen: None, but JUCO transfer Jordan Rodgers is eligible to redshirt
• Trend under Johnson: No quarterbacks played right away, ever, and Johnson reminded people repeatedly that Rodgers had three years to play two.
• Under Caldwell: While Johnson appeared ready to redshirt Rodgers, remain loyal to Smith, and give Funk yet another shot at contributing, expect Caldwell to pull the trigger on a quarterback change if anybody struggles, and to have no qualms about burning the redshirt off Rodgers early.

Friday, July 16, 2010

What Vandy recruits are saying on Facebook about Bobby Johnson's departure

It's been interesting to see the reaction to Bobby Johnson's retirement. Usually people begin with "He's a great man" and then they go in one of two directions:

• He's a great man AND I'm glad he's doing what's best for him.
• He's a great man BUT now I'm not so sure because he's betrayed his recruits.

What do those recruits think? Here's some of their comments on Facebook:

• Jared Morse (DT, Oxford, AL): "So we lost our head coach... big deal. Were guna miss him but we got a good coach in caldwell and logo (defensive line coach Rick Logo) is still the man. watch out SEC...GO DORES!!!!

• Grant Ramsay (OL, Atlanta), to a buddy asking if he was OK with Johnson leaving: "Thanks bro! and yeah im good.. he didnt really call the plays or anything... im gonna miss him though.. we'll be just fine man"

• Kyle Woestmann (DE, Atlanta): Were gonna be just fine! gonna be missin BJ but we just gotta work a little harder and get ready for a good season. Lets get it"

These kids seem (1) glad that their assistant coaches are still there, which likely wouldn't have happened if Johnson had made his decision earlier, and (2) focused on their own adjustment to college life and football.

While the always quotable and confident Woestmann was posting things like "I can't be stopped," Ramsay posted on Monday that he'd been outfitted with a 24-hour heart monitor and was having an ultrasound, but yesterday he joyfully announced he's been cleared to play.

And what about last year's recruits who redshirted and will be playing for the first time this season? Here are their Facebook reactions:

• Jay Fullam from Chattanooga, who'll likely start at free safety: "Tough times don't last but tough people do."

• Mylon Brown, a huge offensive lineman from Florida: “I can’t wait for my mama to watch me on TV and say 'That’s my baby right there.' That’s what I’m working for.”

• Javon Marshall, a defensive back from Ohio: "Life is like a curve ball, that mug drop you just gotta drop ya bat with it...we still gonna knock it out tha boys know what Im talking bout..."

• Justin Cabbagestalk, another O-lineman from Florida, actually quotes Aristotle: "To say of what is that is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true."

Fans from other schools naturally assume that there's a scandal here. But Bobby Johnson always said of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not. He always spoke the truth.

I think time will prove that he spoke the truth here, and that he tried to do the best thing for all involved.

Here's a parent's comment on MV!: "As a parent, I have great respect for BJ. He (and Coach Cain) recruited my son and the reason we are at vandy now is because of the high character coaching staff and the high academics. My son had several offers from 'football schools' but largely because of BJ, high graduation rates, and quality assistant coaches and administration, Vandy was and still is a great choice. Call me crazy but I believe that the team will respond with a good season. Good luck to BJ and Go Dores !!"

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Why did Bobby Johnson retire when he did?

Just got back from some boondock mountains with no internet access and was of course surprised to learn that Bobby Johnson is retiring from college football.

You know I think Coach Johnson was the right man to lead Vanderbilt, and you know I feared he'd be fired if he had another two-win season, and you know I thought that would have been a travesty.

Johnson has slowly built the Commodores into a team that opposing SEC teams respect. We've always had a couple of All-SEC caliber defenders in our lineups, especially in the Woodyball days, but now the guys on our bench are real SEC players. In the past, we'd sneak up on teams because they'd underestimate us. A sign of Johnson's success was his record against South Carolina over the past three seasons.

In 2007, the Dores stunned the Gamecocks in Columbia, and afterward their players expressed disbelief that they'd lost to lowly Vanderbilt. But I remember two things from that game:

First, the look on Chris Williams' face when he walked onto the field with the other captains. He was looking into the stands at the crazed Gamecock fans and he was smiling and nodding his head as if to say, "We can do this." And so they did.

Second, I remember looking at our guys on the bench. In the past, we'd have some athletes on the field but a bunch of scholarly looking guys on the bench. That year, we had big, strong, fast athletes on the sidelines.

In 2008, the Gamecocks came to Nashville angry and expecting revenge. They had a freakishly fast, nasty defense and they came out and punched us in the mouth and took a lead. But we never gave up and by the end, Captain Munnerlyn, the Gamecock defender who'd been so dismissive of the Commodores the year before after losing to them, had a meltdown, drew a couple of stupid personal fouls and had to be taken out of the game. It's not often that a coach takes Steve Spurrier to school, but Bobby did just that.

In 2009, we scared the crap out of the Gamecocks, who barely won at home.

Now we've got even better athletes, with our best recruiting class in history having reported to campus earlier this summer.

So why is Bobby leaving, and now?

Let's throw out some theories:

1. He really does want to spend more time with his family. Sure, that's usually a red flag that somebody's done something wrong or is about to get fired, but have you ever known Johnson to tell a lie? I mean, look at his recruiting class so far. Two commitments, one from the kind of skinny, basketball-playing project offensive lineman he's always had success with, and the other from a two-star quarterback from Florida with no other SEC offers. Sure, last season didn't help him any, but he wasn't going to look a kid in the eye and tell him to come to Vandy when he wasn't going to be here.

2. He's absolutely loyal to his assistants, part I. In the case of Ted Cain, maybe loyal to a fault. But if Johnson had retired at the end of last season, Vandy would have hired an external candidate who would have brought in his own staff. But Johnson retires a week before SEC media days, Robbie Caldwell is given his first and perhaps only chance to lead a college football team, and everybody on the staff keeps his job. And considering all the horrible predictions for this season, if these guys can win four or five games, they'll be heroes.

3. He's absolutely loyal to his assistants, part II. Fans, alumni and probably administrators wanted to see a better offense and a fresh new offensive mind or two on the staff. It's not unthinkable that he was given the ultimatum to improve the offense or give some of his guys their walking papers. But Johnson wasn't going to get rid of any of his coaches. The closest thing he could muster was demoting Ted Cain from offensive coordinator to tight ends coach and giving all the planning and play calling duties to Jimmy Kiser.

4. He wanted to keep his recruiting class intact. His final masterpiece, the school's best recruiting class ever, would have likely jumped ship if he'd retired at the end of the season. But now they're already in school, and as Kyle Woestmann pointed out, at least their position coaches are still here.

5. This is going to be a rough season. Would Johnson really be leaving if he thought this group had a chance to do something special? As we've said before, we should be poised to compete in 2011, but right now we've got too many questions at offensive line and on offense in general to even consider a bowl trip in 2010.

6. Then again, maybe Rajaan Bennett's murder was a wake-up call. Johnson talked about getting the most out of life. He wasn't the kind of guy to get torn up after a loss — angry, yes, but not blubbering or self-pitying — but he was devastated after Bennett's death.

7. He's going to be the athletic director at the University of Georgia. Just starting a rumor. But think about it: Georgia's players are wild and the school just lost its young athletic director, who got a DUI in downtown Atlanta and, as a police officer noted, had a young lady's panties (Bulldog red of course) in his lap and we know this because the young lady was sitting in the seat next to him and got arrested herself. Who's cleaner and more respected than Bobby Johnson?

Anyway, Robbie Caldwell's got his shot, and he'll be the head coach all season. He talked about how "happy" he was to have this chance, which makes you think he already knew Johnson was leaving and had processed the information.

Of course, that doesn't mean Vandy won't officially launch a search if we get off to a slow start, which is a strong possibility — nine of our first 10 opponents played in bowl games last season.

Caldwell's a great coach who could be an assistant anywhere in the nation. Now he gets rewarded for sticking with Bobby Johnson. He doesn't look like the kind of guy who'd get a shot to coach an SEC team, but then again you'd never expect Steve Martin to be a head football coach in the nation's best conference.

Best case scenario: The team has the kind of surprising season that wasn't predicted to happen under Johnson, the nation falls in love with underdog Vandy once again, Caldwell becomes a hero, and Vandy salvages a pretty good recruiting class and then starts working on a truly great one for the following year.

Worst case scenario: The team has the kind of terrible season that's being predicted, the administration drags its feet on finding and replacement, some of our bright young signees decide to transfer, and Vandy takes a huge step backwards.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Which Vandy football newcomers will play this season... and which won't

Here’s a look at guys who’ll be on the Vandy roster this season but have never played in a game, as well as their chances for playing time in 2010:

Newcomers: R-FR Charlie Goro and JR Jordan Rodgers
Wanted: Somebody to push starter Larry Smith to get better, and to replace him if he gets injured or falters.
Other competition: R-SR Jared Funk, who has played but never thrown a pass in a game. Best bet: Vandy will try to redshirt Rodgers, who will travel with the team. Goro starts the season at No. 3 but gets some big-game experience in running situations and will leap-frog Funk if a replacement is needed for Smith.

Newcomer: R-FR Wesley Tate
Wanted: A big back to get some tough yards and to wear down opposing defenses, and to free up the multi-talented Norman and Stacy.
Other competition: R-SR Kennard Reeves
Best bet: Reeves is a battering ram who’ll get the nod early, but Tate is also a breakaway threat who’ll see more and more big-game action as the season progresses.

Newcomers: FR Chris Boyd, FR Jonathan Krause, FR Jordan Matthews, FR Trent Pruitt
Wanted: A third starter alongside John Cole and Udom Umoh, and ideally somebody to unseat Udom Umoh, who is limited as a deep threat. Also, some slot and possession guys who can separate from DBs and make the tough catch.
Other competition: SO Brady Brown, R-SO Akeem Dunham, R-JR Tray Herndon, R-SR Turner Wimberly
Best bet: All four freshmen will play. Krause will dazzle in training camp and eventually take Umoh’s starting job, while Boyd will share time with Brown as the team’s third receiver. Matthews will be an immediate improvement over Akeem Dunham and will be in the game day rotation by midseason, and Pruitt will occasionally spell Cole in the slot, filling the backup role of the departed Colin Ashley.

Newcomers: FR Blake Gowder, R-FR Mason Johnston, FR Fitz Lassing
Wanted: A third tight end behind Brandon Barden and Austin Monahan, especially if the oft-injured Monahan gets hurt again.
Other competition: R-JR Ryan van Rensburg
Best bet: Johnston is a highly regarded prospect who’ll get some big-game snaps even if Monahan stays healthy. While van Rensburg filled in admirably last season, he’s really a fullback who’ll get most of his action on special teams. Gowder and Lassing will redshirt, with Lassing concentrating on linebacker.

Newcomers: FR Andrew Bridges, R-FR Mylon Brown, R-SO Jabo Burrow, R-FR Justin Cabbagestalk, R-FR Wesley Johnson, FR Grant Ramsay, FR Logan Stewart, FR Chase White
Wanted: At least one starter at guard, somebody to push Caleb Welchans at starting right tackle, and at least three more guys to play during big games.
Other competition: R-SR Chris Aaron, R-JR Rob Ashabranner
Best bet: Expect Johnson to start at guard, Brown to eventually contend for a starting job at tackle, and valuable depth to come from Burrow, Cabbagestalk and true freshman Ramsay. Bridges, White and Stewart will redshirt, with Stewart traveling with the team and ready to play in a pinch.

Newcomers: FR James Kittredge, R-SO Taylor Loftley, FR Jared Morse, FR Vince Taylor
Wanted: A starter alongside T.J. Greenstone, to replace the injured Adam Smotherman, who’s recovering from a torn ACL, as well as another tackle or two to round out the game-day rotation
Other competition: R-SO Rob Lohr, R-SO Colt Nichter
Best bet: Lohr will likely be the opening day starter, but expect Taylor to grab his spot early in the season and then be a force in the rotation when Smotherman returns. Kittredge and Morse are also talent upgrades, and they’ll travel with the team, but expect the coaches to try to make do with Lohr, Nichter and Loftley, who hasn’t played yet but could be a surprise this season.

Newcomers: R-FR Thad McHaney, R-FR Walker May, FR Thomas Ryan, FR Kyle Woestmann
Wanted: Talent upgrades to challenge the three upperclassmen – Tim Fugger, Teriall Brannon and Theron Kadri.
Contenders: R-SO Josh Jelesky, R-SO Johnell Thomas
Best bet: May looked sensational in the spring and will be starting by midseason, and Woestmann will make a big impression in preseason and will force coaches to think about moving the highly regarded McHaney to another position. Ryan will redshirt and put on some more weight.

Newcomers: FR Andrew East, FR Chase Garnham, FR Fitz Lassing, R-FR Blake Southerland
Wanted: Somebody to play special teams, learn the ropes, and be ready for big-game duty in a couple of seasons. Meanwhile, an All-American candidate, a senior, and five redshirt sophomores will grab all the playing time.
Best bet: Southerland will turn some heads on special teams and see a few snaps in big games, while East, Garnham and Lassing will surely redshirt, unless the special-teams coaches decide to go ahead and use East as their longsnapper.

Newcomers: FR Karl Butler, FR Steven Clarke, FR Andre Hal, R-FR Javon Marshall
Wanted: Somebody to play nickel and spell starters Jamie Graham and Casey Hayward
Contenders: SO Eddie Foster, SO Eric Samuels, SO Trey Wilson
Best bet: Nobody will get the upper hand early against the three talented sophomores, but Marshall will become a serious option at nickel, while Butler and Hal will become special teams stars and solid backups, Butler because of his size and versatility and Hal because of his punt return and man-to-man cover skills. Expect Clarke to redshirt.

Newcomers: R-FR Jay Fullam, FR Kenny Ladler, FR Andre Simmons
Wanted: A starter at free safety, as well as a solid backup.
Contenders: R-SO Al Owens, R-SO Micah Powell
Best bet: Fullam had a great spring and will start at free safety alongside Sean Richardson, while Ladler will capitalize on his early enrollment and spring experience with the team to avoid a redshirt and see some serious action. With corner Karl Butler able to fill in at safety, expect Simmons to redshirt.

Newcomer: FR Carey Spear
Wanted: Somebody to back up starter Ryan Fowler and possibly even take his place on kickoffs and long field goals.
Best bet: Spear, who’s got a big leg, will quickly grab kickoff duties from Fowler, who’ll continue to boot PATs and routine field goals

Newcomers: R-SO Richard Kent, FR Carey Spear
Wanted: A starting punter
Best bet: Walk-on Kent is penciled in as the starter, but expect Spear to grab the job this season.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vanderbilt running out of options for future quarterbacks

We've been spending quite a bit of time and energy here debating the merits of Smith, Rodgers, Goro and Funk.

Plenty to worry about there. Who's ready? Is Bobby capable of choosing the right guy? Do you go with talent or experience? Do you try to win now or win later? Etc., etc.

But we should also be worried about our quarterback of the future. Nash Nance screwed us last year by committing to Vandy early, which forced Bobby to tell all the other quarterbacks he'd offered that they'd have to look elsewhere, and then Nash rode his adopted five-star brother's coattails to UT.

We won't dwell on that anymore, except to say that we must sign a quarterback in 2011, and we're coming off a 2-win season instead of a 7-win one. If we don't sign a QB, here's what we'll have at quarterback in the next three seasons:

2011: R-SR Smith, R-JR Rodgers, R-SO Goro
2012: R-SR Rodgers, R-JR Goro, true freshman TBA
2013: R-SR Goro, redshirt freshman TBA

It gets worse if we don't redshirt Rodgers:
2011: R-SR Smith, SR Rodgers, R-SO Goro
2012: R-JR Goro, true freshman TBA
2013: R-SR Goro, redshirt freshman TBA

That's assuming we can ever sign a quarterback that meets our standards. Some guys on chat boards right now are singing the praises of Will Indianos, who's coming to Vanderbilt. Indianos broke Tim Tebow's Florida high school TD record. Oh, and he's transferring... from Wartburg State... where he played on the JV team. Oh, and he's 5-foot-9. All of which means he'll be challenging Matt Casas for the title of top walk-on quarterback.

Give it a rest, people!

Here's a really quick breakdown of quarterbacks with Vandy offers, in order of their rankings:

• Jamal Turner (4 stars, No. 10 QB): Committed to Nebraska
• Kevin Hogan (3 stars, No. 21 QB): Committed to Stanford
• Gary Nova (3 stars, No. 30 QB): Committed to Pittsburgh
• Kevin Sousa (3 stars, No. 31 QB): Committed to Michigan
• Phillip Ely (3 stars, No. 44): Uncommitted. Also has offers from LSU, Ole Miss, UT, Clemson and many more
• Damien Fleming (2 stars, not rated): Uncommitted. Offer from Southern.

There was also Nick Marshall, a 4-star kid who was a top 10 QB but recently changed his position to safety and committed to Georgia.

And there's C.J. Uzomah from the Atlanta area, also a 4-star quarterback whose position recently changed to tight end. He's still uncommitted, but don't be surprised if he also chooses the Bulldogs.

Other kids who've shown an interest in Vandy but don't have offers include Zach Oliver, a 3-star, No. 35-rated prospect who recently committed to Northwestern, and Connor Bednarski, a 2-star California kid with no offers from anybody.

Oh, and Will Indianos.

In other words, the talented high school quarterbacks we'd have a shot at signing are getting snatched up fast, and the only ones left will soon be the mid-level kids who don't have any major conference offers and the five-star kids deciding between Texas and Ohio State.

Maybe we should go ahead and lock up a quarterback for 2012. This year's prospects are fading fast.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Eight battles to watch in Vandy's preseason camp

Here are some key battles to watch as Vandy players fight to crack the opening day depth chart:

(Starting quarterback is R-JR Larry Smith)
Contenders: R-SR Jared Funk, JR Jordan Rodgers, R-FR Charlie Goro
Best bet for preseason: Funk
Opening day: Funk
Middle of season: Goro
End of season: Goro

(Other starting receivers are R-JR Udom Umoh and R-SO John Cole)
Contenders: R-SR Turner Wimberly, SO Brady Brown, FR Jonathan Krause, FR Chris Boyd
Best bet for preseason: Wimberly
Opening day: Brown
Middle of season: Krause
End of season: Boyd

(Starting center is R-SR Joey Bailey)
Contenders: R-FR Wesley Johnson, R-JR Kyle Fischer, R-SO Jabo Burrow
Best bet for preseason: Johnson and Burrow
Opening day: Johnson and Fischer
Middle of season: Johnson and Burrow (Fischer to tackle)
End of season: Johnson and Burrow

(Starting left tackle is R-SO Ryan Seymour)
Contenders: R-JR Kyle Fischer, R-SO Caleb Welchans, R-FR Mylon Brown
Best bet for preseason: Welchans
Opening day: Welchans
Middle of season: Fischer
End of season: Fischer

(First tackle is R-JR T.J. Greenstone)
Contenders: R-SR Adam Smotherman (injured), R-SO Rob Lohr, R-SO Colt Nichter, FR Vince Taylor
Best bet for preseason: Lohr
Opening day: Lohr
Middle of season: Taylor
End of season: Smotherman

(First defensive end is R-JR Tim Fugger)
Contenders: R-SR Teriall Brannon, SR Theron Kadri, R-FR Walker May
Best bet for preseason: Brannon
Opening day: Brannon
Middle of season: May
End of season: May

(First two linebackers are SR John Stokes and R-JR Chris Marve)
Contenders: R-SO Dexter Daniels, R-SO Tristan Strong, R-SO DeAndre Jones, R-SO Archie Barnes
Best bet for preseason: Strong
Opening day: Strong
Middle of season: Strong
End of season: Barnes

(First two cornerbacks are JR Casey Hayward and R-JR Jamie Graham)
Contenders: SO Eddie Foster, SO Trey Wilson, SO Eric Samuels, FR Andre Hal
Best bet for preseason: Wilson or Foster
Opening day: Foster
Middle of season: Wilson
End of season: Samuels

Contenders: R-SO Richard Kent, FR Carey Spear
Best bet for preseason: Kent
Opening day: Kent
Middle of season: Kent
End of season: Spear

Smotherman shooting for miracle recovery

I wasn't expecting Adam Smotherman, the redshirt senior defesnive tackle who tore an ACL in the spring, to play this season.

But now Jeff Lockridge of the Tennessean reports today that Smo is actually running and expects to start planting his feet and cutting in a couple of weeks, and that he's set a goal of playing the season opener against Northwestern, which is two months away.

He's got a streak of 23 consecutive starts to protect, as Lockridge points out — junior linebacker Chris Marve leads the team with 25 straight starts.

I don't really expect Smo to be in the starting lineup on Sept. 4, but I wouldn't be terribly surprised either.

I do expect one or two true freshmen to be ready to play right away at defensive tackle, probably Vince Taylor and maybe Jared Morse. On signing day, Bobby Johnson declared his new group of defensive linemen — Taylor, Morse, Kyle Woestmann, James Kittredge and Thomas Ryan — to be “probably the most ready-to-go defensive line we’ve ever recruited,” saying he expected them to “push some people and be a force.”

Taylor and Morse are in the 270-280 range and have always been listed as tackles. They're athletic guys with good motors who enjoy being in the trenches.

Woestmann, a workout freak who says he expects to play end, is concentrating more on speed and strength right now instead of bulk and along with redshirt freshman Walker May will likely push upperclassmen Tim Fugger, Theron Kadri and Terrial Brannon.

Kittredge is a swing guy who could play right away in the trenches if absolutely necessary, while Ryan was recruited as an end and is a whole bunch of steak dinners away from lining up against SEC O-linemen.

Right now, redshirt sophomore Rob Lohr is penciled in as the starter opposite T.J. Greenstone, with depth coming from redshirt sophomores Colt Nichter, who saw a few snaps last year, and Taylor Loftley, a pretty good prospect who hasn't played yet.

It's incredible to think that we played only three defensive tackles (Billinger, Smotherman, Greenstone) during the entire Music City Bowl season of 2008. Lohr and Nichter were on the sidelines as true freshmen but were considered to be only emergency players and fortunately were never needed.

If Smo returns, we'll be four deep without the true freshmen, but these guys are far more ready for SEC play than Lohr and Nichter were two years ago. Between the offensive and defensive lines, there will be some hard-fought battles in the trenches during pre-season camp.

Lockridge reports that left tackle Ryan Seymour is strengthening his shoulder in the weight room and should be ready to go for the opener. Also, TE Austin Monahan says he's bigger, faster and stronger after recovering from an ACL tear nearly eight months ago. Wesley Tate (broken foot) should be ready to line up at running back and Tristan Strong (ACL) should be competing for a starting linebacker position.

I think the opening day lineups for linemen will be:

Offensive: R-SR Joey Bailey at center, R-JR Kyle Fischer and R-FR Wesley Johnson at guards, and Ryan Seymour and Caleb Welchans at tackles

Defensive: R-JR T.J. Greenstone and R-SO Rob Lohr at tackles with FR Vince Taylor first off the bench, and R-JR Tim Fugger and R-SR Teriall Brannon at ends with R-FR Walker May first off the bench.