Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald preparing to face a bowl team on Saturday

Think Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald is overconfident about facing Vandy, which had a miserable 2-10 record last season?

Um, what 2-10 record?

In yesterday's press conference, Fitzgerald actually said this: "Looking at Vanderbilt, it's a team that's coming off not only going to a bowl game but winning one. It's a team that we believe is going to come together after going through a little off-the-field adversity, losing one of their recruits, Coach Johnson retiring and Coach (Robbie) Caldwell taking over. It's a team that will be unified, on a mission and the challenge for us is to be focused and handle our business the right way on the road against a tough SEC opponent."

OK, all that other stuff about being on a mission may be true. But coming off a bowl victory? Maybe he needs to watch more game film... of Vandy stinking up the field last season.

Meanwhile, Coach Caldwell is saying in his press conference that Northwestern is a dangerous team, especially because the Wildcats beat Auburn in a New Year's bowl game.

Um, Northwestern lost to Auburn in overtime.

Which, of course, is much better than going 2-10.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nine true freshmen make Vanderbilt's opening day depth chart

We’ve compared the new depth chart to the pre-camp depth chart to see who’s on the rise and who’s fallen off the radar. On the rise: A whopping nine true freshmen, including Chase Garnham, the only newbie to crack the front seven. Here's a breakdown:

An unprecedented (for Vandy) nine true freshmen land on the opening day depth chart, which doesn’t include returners.
• Jordan Matthews, WR (co-starter with Turner Wimberly)
• Jonathan Krause, WR
• James Kittredge, C
• Logan Stewart, OG
• Chase White, OT
• Chase Garnham, OLB
• Kenny Ladler, FS
• Andre Simmons, SS
• Carey Spear, PK (starting kick-off man)

These redshirt freshmen made the list, and all but Johnston also made it on the pre-camp chart:
• Wesley Johnston, OT (starter)
• Wesley Tate, RB
• Mason Johnston, TE
• Mylon Brown, OG

These players weren’t on the pre-camp list but made the opening day roster:
• Akeem Dunham, WR (R-So)
• Josh Jelesky, DT (R-So)
• Nate Campbell, MLB (R-Sr)
• Eric Samuels, CB/KR (So)

These players were listed on the pre-camp depth chart but are absent from the latest depth chart:
• Brady Brown, WR (R-Fr)
• Tray Herndon, WR (R-Jr)
• Jordan Rodgers, QB (Jr)
• Walker May, DE (R-Fr)
• Blake Southerland, LB (R-Fr)
• Al Owens, SS (R-So)
• Tristan Strong, LB (R-So) (injured, should return)
• Jamie Graham, CB (R-Jr) (injured, should return)
• Ryan Seymour, OT (R-So) (disciplinary issues)
• Adam Smotherman, DT (R-Sr) (injured, out indefinitely)
• Austin Monahan, TE (R-Jr) (injured, out for season)
• Chris Aaron, OG (R-Sr) (injured, likely for season)

• Justin Cabbagestalk, OL (R-Fr) (injured, out for season)
• Taylor Loftley, DT (R-So)
• Javon Marshall, DB (R-Fr)
• Thad McHaney, DE (R-Fr)
• Micah Powell, DB (R-So)
• Ryan van Rensburg, HB (R-Jr)

• Chris Boyd, WR
• Andrew Bridges, OL
• Karl Butler, DB
• Steven Clarke, DB/RB
• Andrew East, LB/SN
• Blake Gowder, HB
• Andre Hal, CB/KR
• Fitz Lassing, TE
• Jared Morse, DT
• Trent Pruitt, WR
• Grant Ramsay, OL
• Thomas Ryan, DE
• Vince Taylor, DT
• Kyle Woestmann, DE

Vanderbilt releases new football depth chart

Here’s Vanderbilt’s new depth chart

OFFENSE (includes two RBs and three WRs for 12 total players)

QB: (1) Larry Smith, (2) Jared Funk
WR: (1) John Cole, Udom Umoh and either Turner Wimberly or Jordan Matthews (2) Akeem Dunham, Jonathan Krause
RB: (1) Zac Stacy and either Warren Norman or Kennard Reeves, (2) Wesley Tate
TE: (1) Brandon Barden, (2) Mason Johnston
C: (1) Joey Bailey, (2) James Kittredge
G: (1) Jabo Burrow and Kyle Fischer, (2) Mylon Brown and Logan Stewart
T: (1) Caleb Welchans and Wesley Johnston, (2) Fischer and Chase White


DT: (1) T.J. Greenstone and Rob Lohr, (2) Colt Nichter and Josh Jelesky
DE: (1) Teriall Brannon and either Theron Kadri or Tim Fugger, (2) Johnell Thomas
MLB: (1) Chris Marve (2) DeAndre Jones or Nate Campbell
OLB: (1) John Stokes and either Archibald Barnes or Dexter Daniels, (2) Chase Garnham
CB: (1) Casey Hayward and either Eddie Foster or Trey Wilson, (2) Eric Samuels
S: (1) Sean Richardson and Jay Fullam, (2) Kenny Ladler and Andre Simmons


FG: (1) Ryan Fowler, (2) Carey Spear
KO: (1) Carey Spear, (2) Ryan Fowler
P: (1) Richard Kent, (2) Ryan Fowler
SN: (1) David Giller or John Stokes
H: (1) Richard Kent (2) Charlie Goro
KR: (1) Warren Norman or Eric Samuels
PR: (1) John Cole, (2) Zac Stacy

Moral Victory! predictions for the rest of the SEC

So we're picking Vanderbilt to go 6-6. Go ahead and say we're smoking something funny.

Here's how we think the league will fare:


1. Alabama, 11-1 (7-1): Huge wins at home over Penn State, Florida and Auburn, but a late-season loss to LSU in Baton Rouge.

2. Auburn, 10-2 (6-2): Flying high at 8-0 after wins at home over Arkansas and LSU, but drop a shocker to Ole Miss in Oxford and then the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa.

3. LSU, 9-3 (5-3): Highlights include a season-opening victory over UNC in the Georgia Dome and a huge victory over Bama in Death Valley, but lowlights include road losses to Florida, Auburn and Arkansas.

4. Arkansas, 8-4 (4-4): A season-ending home win over LSU can't overshadow a drubbing by Alabama in Fayetteville and losses at Georgia, Auburn and South Carolina.

5. Ole Miss, 7-5 (3-5): An up and down year for Houston Nutt, who's gamble to take QB Jeremiah Masoli doesn't crap out but doesn't exactly come up big either. An Egg Bowl victory over Miss State and an upset over Auburn can't quite erase the sting of a home loss to Vandy, a heartbreaker in Knoxville, and demoralizing losses at Alabama, Arkansas and LSU.

6. Miss State, 5-7 (1-7): Dan Mullen still a year away but manages a road win over Top 25 Houston and an SEC victory against Kentucky.


1. Florida, 11-1 (7-1): Yet another SEC championship berth, which ends in the Gators avenging their regular season loss to Alabama.

2. South Carolina, 9-3 (5-3): Spurrier's finest season as a Gamecock, with expected losses to Alabama and at Auburn and Florida but wins over everybody else.

2. Georgia, 9-3 (5-3): The Dawgs start the season with a loss at South Carolina and a must-win over Arkansas in Athens, but losses to Florida and at Auburn gall UGA fans.

4. Vanderbilt, 6-6 (3-5): After three straight wins early in the season (at Ole Miss and UConn and at home against Eastern Michigan), the Commodores find themselves in a 3-6 hole before finishing strong with wins at Kentucky and at home against Tennessee and Wake Forest.

5. Tennessee, 5-7 (2-6): The Vols have a brutal schedule with losses to Oregon, Florida, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and of course Vanderbilt. SEC wins are over Ole Miss and Kentucky, both in Knoxville.

6. Kentucky, 4-8 (0-8): The Wildcats run of bowl bids ends with a series of bad breaks.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Vanderbilt will go 6-6 in 2010... and here's how

Just saw where Sports Illustrated is picking Vandy to finish 1-11. I say the Commodores are going to finish 6-6. Really. Here's how:

1. Northwestern: Sure, the Wildcats are an academic school with a traditionally weak football team except for that trip to the Rose Bowl late last century. But this is a talented, well-coached team with a high-powered offense. We play hard and have some young kids do some good things, but we lose. NORTHWESTERN 27, VANDERBILT 17. (VU 0-1)

2. LSU: The Tigers are loaded and our linemen struggle on both sides of the ball. We get down early, put a bunch of guys into their first SEC game and avoid having a body bag game like we did last season when we lost Ryan Hamilton and James Williams for the season. We make it respectable in the end. LSU 26, VANDERBILT 14. (VU 0-2, 0-1 SEC)

3. At Ole Miss: Something about going to Oxford that's good for the team. Masoli gets thrown in jail the night before the game or just isn't ready to play and we catch the Rebels off guard, our offense clicks, and we win. VANDERBILT 27, OLE MISS 24. (VU 1-2, 1-1 SEC)

4. At Connecticut: Vanderbilt experiences its first mid-season bye in two years and has a great two weeks preparing for UConn. The young line continues to gel and Larry Smith looks like an SEC caliber quarterback, largely because he's finally got some SEC caliber receivers. VANDERBILT 31, UCONN 21. (VU 2-2, 1-1)

5. Eastern Michigan: This is the only game that Sports Illustrated and everybody else in America thinks we can win. And we do. Except it's our third victory of the season. VANDERBILT 30, EMU 10. (VU 3-2, 1-1)

6. At Georgia: The Dawgs are breaking in a freshman quarterback, and Vandy flirts with victory before falling in Athens. UGA 24, VANDERBILT 15. (VU 3-3, 1-2)

7. South Carolina: The Gamecocks have some serious firepower, and their freshman running back and big physical receivers are the difference. SC 27, VANDERBILT 20. (VU 3-4, 1-3)

8. At Arkansas: The Razorbacks drop out of the Top 25 after losses to Georgia, Alabama and Auburn, but they have superior physical talent and beat us in a shootout. ARKANSAS 38, VANDERBILT 27. (VU 3-5, 1-4)

9. Florida: A truly brutal pair of games for the Commodores. After returning from Fayetteville, they face a Florida team headed to yet another SEC championship game. FLORIDA 31, VANDERBILT 14. (VU 3-6, 1-5)

10. At Kentucky: With four straight losses, Coach Caldwell does something Bobby Johnson could never do: He leads Vandy to a late run, and it all starts in Lexington against a Wildcat team that's struggling. VANDERBILT 20, KENTUCKY 14. (VU 4-6, 2-5)

11. Tennessee: The Vols need to finish the season with a pair of wins to become bowl eligible but Larry Smith stages a thrilling rally and the Commodores win in Little Neyland. VANDERBILT 17, TENNESSEE 16. (VU 5-6, 3-5)

12. Wake Forest: Vandy does the unthinkable and finishes with three straight wins to become bowl eligible. VANDERBILT 31, WAKE FOREST 14. (VU 6-6, 3-5)

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Who's hot and who's not: Vanderbilt freshmen a week before opening day

With a bunch of true freshmen competing to play right away, we thought we’d look at whose stock has risen and fallen since signing day:

• James Kittredge, OL: A defensive lineman considered a lock to redshirt, Kittredge instead was moved to offensive line and has been a revelation, giving fifth-year center Joey Bailey a run for his money; look for him in the seven-man playing rotation
• Jordan Matthews, WR: While recognized as a talent, we thought he’d take a while to develop; instead, he’s been impressive in camp and is competing for a starting position
• Logan Stewart, OL: Considered a likely redshirt with an outside shot to play, Stewart has been a pleasant surprise at guard and center and could even crack the seven-man playing rotation on the O-line
• Andre Simmons, S: Considered a fine talent who might get lost in the shuffle early, Simmons instead has had a great camp and has appeared to have won the backup strong safety job over sophomore Al Owens

• Steven Clarke, CB/RB: The least regarded of the freshman DBs, Clarke has wowed coaches with his athleticism in the preseason and has been moved to offense as an emergency running back; he looks good there and just might stay
• Fitz Lassing, TE: A local boy who got Vandy’s last scholarship, Lassing was considered a sure-fire redshirt but instead is pushing redshirt freshman Mason Johnston hard to back up Brandon Barden.
• Andre Hal, CB: Expected to compete despite being a bit light at 170. With Warren Norman injured, he’ll likely return kicks Saturday and could be the first Commodore to touch the football in 2010. Will also see some time at corner.
• Karl Butler, DB: Expected to compete for playing time and possibly avoid a redshirt; he arrived at camp packing an extra 10 pounds of muscle and has established himself as a wicked hitter and likely special teams stalwart
• Chase Garnham, LB: A speedster expected to redshirt; that may still happen, but he’s been impressive in the preseason and just may find a way to get on the field.
• Kenny Ladler, FS: Expected to play right away and compete with a bunch of guys at safety, he’s emerged as the top backup to Jay Fullam

• Jonathan Krause, WR: We expected him to play right away and to compete for a starting job, and he’s doing just that.
• Chris Boyd, WR: Expected to face some growing pains but to be needed right away, and that’s the case today
• Carey Spear, K: Has apparently won the kickoff job, as expected, and has pushed Ryan Fowler throughout camp to improve his field goal kicking
• Jared Morse, DT: Expected to push the returnees at tackle, provide a talent upgrade but not necessarily avoid a redshirt, and that’s exactly where he stands right now
• Chase White, OL: Expected to redshirt, he’s gotten a ton of reps in preseason because of injuries and just may see the field
• Thomas Ryan, DE: A nice prospect expected to redshirt, and that’s exactly what seems to happening so far.
• Andrew Bridges, OL: Expected to take a year to gain weight and experience, Bridges is still on that plan as long as nobody else gets injured on the line.
• Andrew East, LB: A late signee who’s best known as a longsnapper, East has had a quiet camp and should redshirt.

• Jordan Rodgers, QB: Expected to push Larry Smith at quarterback, he’s instead struggled with injury and is a candidate to redshirt.
• Vince Taylor, DT: Appeared to have a good shot at cracking the depth chart at tackle, but is facing a challenge from a bunch of sophomores and fellow frosh Jared Morse
• Grant Ramsay, OL: With lots of injuries and plenty of opportunities, Ramsay was expected to be the top freshman lineman and play right away; while he could still get on the field and may be listed as second-team, he’s been outplayed by James Kittredge and Logan Stewart.
• Kyle Woestmann, DE: Came into camp with plenty of talent and confidence, but he’s been overshadowed so far in a crowded field at end
• Blake Gowder, TE: Was expected to redshirt unless another tight end was injured; after Austin Monahan was lost in the preseason, Gowder was overshadowed by Fitz Lassing, the last recruit to be offered a scholarship on signing day
• Trent Pruitt, WR: Not as talented as the other true frosh receivers, but considered to be more polished and game-ready; instead, he’s headed for a redshirt

Here's what Vanderbilt's opening day depth chart could look like

With the opening day depth chart to be released any day now, we decided to take a shot at what it’ll look like — and as Coach Caldwell promised, he’s considering a whole bunch of true freshmen:

1st team: Larry Smith (R-Jr) has improved his understanding of the offense and his leadership
2nd team: Jared Funk (R-Sr) “won’t go away” according to coaches
Others: Jordan Rodgers (Jr) appears headed for redshirt unless Smith is injured or struggled; Charlie Goro (R-Fr) is still learning the system but could play in special situations

1st team: Zac Stacy (So) has returned to practice after treating his injured knee with his grandmother’s remedy of vinegar and Alabama red clay
2nd team: Kennard Reeves (R-Sr) has returned from an injured hammy
Others: Wesley Tate (R-Fr) has returned from an injured foot and should be available; Steven Clarke (Fr) has moved over from cornerback and has progressed well enough to cause coaches to consider making him a permanent running back; usual starter and SEC freshman of year Warren Norman (So) just had his knee scoped and has a slim chance of playing against Northwestern; Ryan van Rensburg can block and tote the rock in short situations

1st team: John Cole (R-So) and Udom Umoh (R-Jr) are locks, at least for opening day, and will likely be joined by Jordan Matthews (Fr)
2nd team: Jonathan Krause (Fr) is pushing Matthews; Brady Brown (R-Fr) and Chris Boyd (Fr) are poised to make the 6-man rotation
Others: Coaches are talking about Turner Wimberly (R-Sr) and Tray Herndon (R-Jr) as possibilities to start, and they could make the opening day depth chart, but these upperclassmen probably won’t be counted on in crunch time; Akeem Dunham (R-So) has had a good camp and could crack the rotation; Trent Pruitt (Fr) appears headed for a redshirt

1st team: Brandon Barden (R-Jr) will still start after hyperextending his elbow
2nd team: Ryan van Rensburg (R-Jr) was a steady backup here last year but will also play some running back
Others: Mason Johnston (R-Fr) and Fitz Lassing (Fr) have been getting plenty of reps here and one of them may forge ahead of van Rensburg, who can play a variety of roles; Blake Gowder (Fr) will likely redshirt; Austin Monahan (R-Jr) is out for the year with a wrecked knee

1st team: Joey Bailey (R-Sr) at center; Kyle Fischer (R-Jr) at right guard and Caleb Welchans (R-So) at right tackle; Jabo Burrow (R-So) at left guard and Wesley Johnson (R-Fr) at left tackle
2nd team: James Kittredge (Fr) is pushing Bailey for the starting center position; Ryan Seymour (R-So) has temporarily lost his starting right tackle slot to Welchans because of discipline problems and may not play against Northwestern; Mylon Brown (R-Fr) has awesome physical gifts and narrowly lost the left guard battle to Burrow; Logan Stewart (Fr) has impressed in camp and will be ready to play; Grant Ramsay (Fr) will not be in the 7-man rotation but could be listed second-team
Others: Chase White (Fr) and Andrew Bridges (Fr) will be ready in case of injuries but could otherwise redshirt; Chris Aaron (R-Sr) has an inner-ear problem and may be done; Justin Cabbagestalk (R-Fr) is out for the year with a blown knee

1st team: T.J. Greenstone (R-Jr) and Rob Lohr (R-So)
2nd team: A bit of a mystery, with not a lot of news out of camp. Colt Nichter (R-So), Taylor Loftley (R-So) return, but Vince Taylor (Fr) and Jared Morse (Fr) are coveted recruits who’ve been getting lots of reps in practice; we’ll go with Nichter and Morse for now, but stay tuned; Loftley has reportedly been making a late run and could crack the second team — and in that case, Taylor and Morse could both be redshirted
Others: Josh Jelesky (R-So) is still bulking up after moving from end; Adam Smotherman (R-Sr) blew out his knee in the spring and his date of return is unknown

1st team: Tim Fugger (R-Jr), Theron Kadri (Sr) and Teriall Brannon (R-Sr) form a 3-man rotation, with Fugger and probably Kadri getting the start
2nd team: Brannon, plus sack specialist Walker May (R-Fr)
Others: Johnell Thomas (R-So) is a solid player who’ll get on the field in big games; Thad McHaney (R-Fr) was a coveted recruit who’s battling May for playing time; Kyle Woestmann (Fr) and Thomas Ryan (Fr) appear headed for redshirts

1st team: Chris Marve (R-Jr) is of course a fixture in the middle; John Stokes (Sr) will knock some heads before becoming a physician; the versatile athlete Archibald Barnes (R-So) could get the nod at the other OLB position
2nd team: DeAndre Jones (R-So), Tristan Strong (R-So) and Dexter Daniels (R-So) continue to battle each other for playing time; Jones could back Marve in the middle with the other two guys on the outside
Others: Micah Powell (R-So) is adjusting well to his move from safety and could unseat some of his fellow sophomores; Nate Campbell (R-Sr) has struggled with injury and hasn’t challenged for a starting position as expected after returning from a year off; Blake Southerland (R-Fr) is being groomed to man the middle in the future; Chase Garnham (Fr) has blazing speed and could play as a true freshman, especially on special teams; Andrew East (Fr) will redshirt unless he is needed as a longsnapper

1st team: Casey Hayward (Jr) and Jamie Graham (R-Jr) at cornerback; Sean Richardson (Jr) at strong safety and Jay Fullam (R-Fr) at free; Trey Wilson (So) at nickel
2nd team: Eddie Foster (So) and Andre Hal (Fr) at corner, and Eric Samuels (So) at nickel/corner; Andre Simmons (Fr) at strong safety and Kenny Ladler (Fr) at free
Others: Karl Butler (Fr) has established himself as the hardest hitter on the team and will see some time at safety and on special teams; Steven Clarke (Fr) has been impressive at corner but has moved to running back, perhaps temporarily; Al Owens (R-So) appears to have been unseated by Simmons as the backup strong safety; Javon Marshall (R-Fr) has struggled some with injuries and challenges from the true freshmen

1st team: Ryan Fowler (R-So) field goals; Carey Spear (Fr) kickoffs; David Giller (R-Jr) snapper; Richard Kent (R-So) punter and holder
2nd team: Spear, field goals; Fowler, kickoffs; John Stokes (Sr) snapper; Fowler, punter; Jared Funk (R-Sr) holder

1st team: Andre Hal (Fr), kicks; John Cole (R-So), punts
2nd team: Trey Wilson (So), kicks; Zac Stacy (So), punts
Others: Warren Norman (So) will of course return kicks when he recovers from his knee injury; Eric Samuels (So) can also return kicks

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vandy turns to Steven Clarke as an emergency running back

A couple of weeks ago — after Zac Stacy hurt his knee, Kennard Reeves hurt a hammy and Wesley Tate re-hurt his foot — we wondered who else could play running back for the Commodores.

That was before Warren Norman had his knee scoped. Now it looks like Reeves could be our only healthy running back for the Northwestern game. Of course, Ryan van Rensburg can play some running back too, which is why Fitz Lassing will likely burn a redshirt as a backup tight end.

We’ve already suggested that cornerback Eric Samuels is our best bet to play running back in a pinch. After all, he was more highly rated as a prep running back than either Norman or Stacy.

We threw together a Top 10 list that also included quarterbacks Charlie Goro and Larry Smith, cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Jamie Graham, true freshman tight ends Fitz Lassing and Blake Gowder, wide receiver Trent Pruitt, and linebackers Archibald Barnes and Micah Powell. We based this list almost solely on high school rushing experience and statistics.

Well, Coach Caldwell has found some emergency fill-ins, and one of them is redshirt sophomore Micah Powell, who came to Vandy as an all-purpose athlete who rushed for 1,500 yards in two high school seasons. He was a special teams performer and backup safety last season and was moved to outside linebacker in the spring.

And the other guy? True freshman cornerback Steven Clarke, who’s 5-10, 180 pounds. Clarke has wowed coaches in preseason with his athletic prowess, but he only gained 153 yards and scored three touchdowns as a high school senior who played mostly at defensive back and wide receiver.

Clarke’s been flying under the radar since he was in high school. “Steve has kind of been overshadowed here,” said Clarke’s high school coach at Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., on signing day. “We've had several great defensive backs, including the player most recruiting experts think is the nation's top prospect right now. But don't take anything away from Steve because he's a player.

“Steve has plenty of skill. He's a hard worker that possesses all the bells and whistles. He's is a 4.4 guy that tackles with power. Steve is going to be a blessing for Vanderbilt, and going to be a great player for their team.”

While fellow freshmen defensive backs Andre Hal, Karl Butler, Andre Simmons and Kenny Ladler have all received more publicity, nobody’s terribly surprised that Clarke has already proven himself to be a keeper.

But at running back? Really?

With Norman, Stacy and Tate all expected to return within a couple of weeks, with the continued improvement of Reeves, and with van Rensburg capable of getting tough yardage, it appears the coaching staff is looking for a temporary fill-in, not a permanent fix.

Larry Smith, of course, is the starting quarterback, and Charlie Goro is still learning the position and needs to keep doing so. Hayward and Graham are the starting cornerbacks, with Graham warding off nagging injuries and Samuels the reason the secondary may not miss a beat if he sits out the opener.

Pruitt and Gowder are struggling to adjust to the college game and will likely redshirt, and Lassing will be needed at tight end and is not a college running back anyway. The versatile Barnes will be needed all over the field on defense, and besides he’s 6-4 and would like to keep his knees.

Which brings us back to Clarke. He’s going to play right away on special teams and as a situational defensive back. Who cares if he wasn’t a 1,000-yard rusher in high school? Warren Norman never returned a kickoff for a touchdown in high school. With the bulked-up Reeves capable of becoming a workhorse and with van Rensburg more than able to grind it out in short yardage, the team needs a temporary burst of speed on the corners and some nifty inside running until Stacy and Norman return.

In a couple of weeks, Vandy should have plenty of skilled full-timers to tote the rock. We don’t need to convert a player for good. That’s probably why the coaches decided not to waylay the development of Samuels, who has all-star potential as a cornerback and will be needed right away.

Unless… Samuels is our best running back and we don't know it.

I keep thinking about Robert Edwards, the NFL’s rookie of the year as a tailback for New England. At Georgia, Edwards was an All-SEC freshman at cornerback and that football genius Ray Goff never thought about playing him on offense. But then he moved Hines Ward to receiver (OK, not a bad move) and a bunch of guys got hurt or left school and that’s when Goff tried Edwards at tailback on a whim in the spring and he was an immediate superstar.

And to think the move would have never happened if nobody had been injured.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Commodores stockpiling young offensive linemen for next year... and in great position for the future

Commodores just got another verbal commitment from a three-star offensive lineman. Earlier this summer, it was James Lewis, an athletic, basketball-playing, 6-5, 275-pound tackle prospect from Arlington, Tenn., with offers from Kentucky and Illinois. This week, it's Jake Bernstein, a physical, hard-nosed, 6-4, 275-pound guard prospect from Illinois with offers from Cincinnati, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Memphis and others.

This is great news. We needed running backs and went out and got two good ones last year. We needed wide receivers and went out and got four this year, and three of them will likely be on the field as true freshmen against Northwestern. And we needed O-linemen and have gotten two good ones already.

You know about our woes on the offensive line this season. Some ill-informed fans are blaming a lack of planning in our recruiting efforts. Not true. A returning starter (Reilly Lauer) left school before his fifth year, our best lineman (James Williams) got drummed out academically, two past recruits left school at least two years early (Rob Ashabranner and Richard Cagle), a solid backup can't keep his balance because of an inner ear problem (Chris Aaron) and a promising redshirt freshman wrecked a knee (Justin Cabbagestalk). That's six guys gone. So we're starting over.

But wait till next year. Here's what we'll have in 2011:

• Eight of this year's top nine linemen: Senior Kyle Fischer; juniors Ryan Seymour, Caleb Welchans and Jabo Burrow; and sophomores Wesley Johnson, Mylon Brown, James Kittredge, Logan Stewart
• Three raw talents, at least one of whom will have redshirted: Grant Ramsay, Chase White and Andrew Bridges
• Two talented true freshmen with the option of redshirting: Lewis and Bernstein

That's 13 solid offensive linemen, and 14 when Cabbagestalk returns. And of those 14, all but one of them are slated to return for the 2012 season.

I'd say that's good planning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chase Garnham will be the perfect weakside linebacker... given some time

In response to a reader’s question about where Chase Garnham is playing and why he’s been under the radar:

Garnham is a natural weakside linebacker. He’s by far the fastest linebacker on the team, having been clocked at a sub-4.4 40. While reporters and sports information staffers don’t talk about the specific linebacker positions (and maybe don’t even know what they are), their reports that Garnham looks good in pursuit and chasing plays from the backside would indicate that he’s playing will backer.

Despite his speed, Garnham was not exactly a blue-chip prospect. He had no other offers from conferences with automatic BCS bowl bids, and his other major offers were from Southern Miss and UAB. Clearly, he was prepared to go to a smaller division, having garnered offers from Eastern Kentucky, Furman, Gardner-Webb, Samford and the Citadel.

That said, he’s a terrific prospect for Vanderbilt, which specializes in grabbing underappreciated kids and turning them into SEC all-stars.

By contrast, redshirt sophomores Tristan Strong (6-1, 230) and DeAndre Jones (6-1, 235) were much more highly rated recruits and three-star guys. Strong turned down an offer from Auburn, and Jones chose the Commodores over Kentucky, Michigan State and Stanford.

Strong and Jones are competing for the vacant weakside backer position and could also back up Marve in the middle. Neither of them are true weakside backers. They both have short-area quickness but aren’t sideline-to-sideline guys like Garnham.

Three other redshirt sophomores in the mix are Dexter Daniels (6-1, 230), Archibald Barnes (6-4, 220) and Micah Powell (6-0, 215). Daniels and Barnes also have a shot at starting at weakside backer. Barnes is a rangy all-purpose athlete who could easily man up on tight ends and could even challenge senior John Stokes (6-5, 235) for his strongside job. Powell, long listed as a safety, lacks the natural safety skills of the incoming freshmen and is being moved over to the strong side where he has the least chance of becoming a starter but perhaps a better chance of contributing.

Redshirt freshman Blake Southerland is perhaps being groomed to succeed middle linebacker Chris Marve (6-0, 230), an All-American candidate as a junior. Senior Nate Campbell (6-2, 220) provides depth and versatility.

Anyway, back to Garnham, who by the way is 6-2, 215. Of all the Vandy backers, he’s got the most potential at the Will position. But he’s got to learn it first. Sure, guys like Barnes, Powell and Campbell aren’t any bigger, but they do have more experience and know the system. And another 10-15 pounds sure wouldn’t hurt Garnham. That’s why it’s a tossup whether he redshirts or not. If he plays right away, it’ll be mostly on special teams where he’ll be one of the fastest guys on the field.

Monday, August 23, 2010

One true freshman replaces another at starting wide receiver for Vanderbilt

True freshmen continue to shine. On Saturday, Jordan Matthews stepped out of the starting lineup at wide receiver because of tendonitis and was replaced by Johnathan Krause. Chris Boyd is also a player. Tight end Fitz Lassing and linebacker Chase Garnham are both making late bids for playing time. In the secondary, Andre Hal and Steven Clarke are duking it out for playing time at corner, and Kenny Ladler is fending off Karl Butler and Andre Simmons at safety.

Looking over reports from preseason camp, here are some key developments at each position:

Coach Caldwell says Larry Smith has just about wrapped up the starting job. Jared Funk, who’s making a strong bid to be his backup, fired a 70-yard touchdown to John Cole in Saturday’s scrimmage. Jordan Rodgers has returned to practice, and he and Charlie Goro are still splitting reps with Smith and Funk.

Jordan Matthews, the freshman who has been practicing with the first team for more than a week, sat out Saturday’s practice with tendonitis and was replaced by another true freshman, Jonathan Krause, who made some acrobatic catches. Chris Boyd also made some tough catches in heavy traffic. John Cole and Udom Umoh continue to look like starters.

Warren Norman has a swollen knee and is getting an MRI on Wednesday, and Zac Stacy, while wearing full pads today, is still taking it easy and may or may not be ready for the season opener. Wesley Tate is running sprints but still has not practiced with the offense since reinjuring his foot. That leaves senior Kennard Reeves, who got plenty of work on Saturday, especially in the passing game. He struggled early, but showed some nice hands and open-field moves later.

Brandon Barden got some light work on Saturday and then was replaced on the first team by true freshman Fitz Lassing, who seemed like a lock to redshirt but may be working his way onto the depth chart. His main competition, redshirt frosh Mason Johnston, had numerous catches in heavy traffic during the scrimmage.

With Joey Bailey sitting out with injury, true freshmen James Kittredge and Logan Stewart got plenty of work at center. Caldwell said Kittredge, who converted from defensive tackle last month, has cracked Vandy’s seven-man rotation on the offensive line and may even take Bailey’s center job.

Not much word out of camp on these guys. I’m very interested to hear how one of my favorite Commodores, Vince Taylor, is doing. He and another true frosh, Jared Morse, are battling a bunch of redshirt sophomores — Lohr, Nichter, Loftley and Jelesky — for the opportunity to play alongside or spell junior T.J. Greenstone. Vandy doesn’t traditionally play more than four DTs. At end, three upperclassmen — junior Tim Fugger and seniors Theron Kadri and Teriall Brannon — appear the most game-ready, but there’s a bunch of talent fighting for the second backup slot.

The battle among all those redshirt sophomores continues. DeAndre Jones, whose stock seems to have slipped the last year or so, looked strong on Saturday with several key stops in short-yardage situations. Redshirt freshman Blake Southerland made a diving interception, and true frosh Chase Garnham continues to show excellent speed in pursuit and a nose for the football. He hasn’t gotten much ink this preseason but by all accounts is having a strong camp. While he may play this season, he’s still a bit light and could follow Walker May, who turned heads in camp last season as a true frosh but still redshirted to put on some weight.

With starting cornerbacks Jamie Graham and Casey Hayward sitting out Saturday’s practice, true freshmen Steven Clarke and Andre Hal continued to wage their battle for playing time. Clarke had three pass deflections on Saturday, including a dramatic leaping end zone break-up on the day’s last play. Hal displayed solid cover skills, strong run support and returned a kick 89 yards for a touchdown.

All-star candidate Sean Richardson and projected starter Jay Fullam got light work on Saturday, giving three true freshmen time to shine. The front runner for playing time, Kenny Ladler, returned a pick 60 yards for a touchdown. Karl Butler continued to make a name for himself as the hardest hitter on the team, and Andre Simmons looked solid too.

While everybody’s been talking about freshman kicker Carey Spear’s strong leg, sophomore Ryan Fowler continues to nail all his field goals, including a 47-yarder on Saturday.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Larry Smith is mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore

Last season, when his line broke down and his receivers couldn't catch a cold, Larry Smith withdrew within himself and looked tentative and even confused. So in addition to opposing defenses, Vandy fans smelled blood in the water and started moving in for the kill: Larry's not accurate... Larry's not as mobile as we thought... oh, yeah, and Larry's a bad leader.

Well, in addition to his accuracy, Larry's been reportedly working on his leadership, which has been evident by the fact that he's been vocal with his teammates and he's stayed late to mesh with his receivers.

And he's throwing the ball onto Natchez Trace.

That's right, the Tennessean is reporting that in yesterday's practice, when Larry's coverage broke down and he was forced to run for his life and no place to go but out of bounds, he got mad and threw the ball over the practice field fence and onto Natchez Trace.

No mention of him breaking the windshield of a fuel tanker causing the driver to swerve into an oak grove and launch a fiery explosion like what used to happen in nearly every episode of "CHIPS."

Coach Caldwell then made Larry take a hike and retrieve the football. "That's the only right thing to do," Caldwell told Jeff Lockridge. "Why ask a manager to go get something for something a player did? It's family here."

So was Larry showing leadership to the rest of the family? Maybe not, but I like it. He wasn't drooping his head and slinking back to the huddle. No, he was getting really pissed off. And then he threw the ball onto Natchez Trace, like Superman would have done if he was playing football and got pissed off at his offense except that Superman would have probably disabled a satellite.

And then Larry's teammates said, "Hey, Larry's pissed off." And then his freshman receivers said, "Hey, Larry's got a cannon, and I'm fast and have good hands so I could be a real star here. Hey, freshmen linemen, could you start blocking a little?" And then the freshmen linemen said, "I'm going to start holding and I hope I don't get caught."

So Larry was sending a message. He wants to win and he's sick of Vandy's crappy offense and he wants to do something to change that.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

True freshmen likely to crack the Vandy depth chart

Yesterday we told you who'll probably be in the game-day playing rotation for the Commodores. Today we'll take a stab at the two-deep for every position.

A whopping 10 true freshmen — three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, a defensive tackle, two defensive backs and a kicker — have a great shot at being on the game-day depth chart. We went ahead and picked a two-deep for 12 offensive positions (adding an extra running back) and 12 defensive positions (adding a nickel back).

Here's how many players we think each class will contribute, in order of most to least:

• John Cole, starting receiver
• Ryan Seymour, starting right tackle
• Jabo Burrow, starting left guard
• Rob Lohr, starting defensive tackle
• Tristan Strong, starting linebacker
• Richard Kent, starting punter
• Ryan Fowler, starting kicker/backup punter
• Caleb Welchans, backup tackle
• Colt Nichter, backup defensive tackle
• Archibald Barnes, backup linebacker
• Dexter Daniels, backup linebacker
• Al Owens, backup strong safety

• Jordan Matthews, starting receiver
• Jonathan Krause, backup receiver
• Chris Boyd, backup receiver
• Logan Stewart, backup center
• James Kittredge, backup guard
• Grant Ramsey, backup guard
• Vince Taylor, backup defensive tackle
• Kenny Ladler, backup free safety
• Stephen Clarke, backup cornerback
• Carey Spear, backup kicker

• Larry Smith, starting quarterback
• Udom Umoh, starting receiver
• Brandon Barden, starting tight end
• Kyle Fischer, backup right guard
• T.J. Greenstone, starting defensive tackle
• Tim Fugger, starting defensive end
• Chris Marve, starting linebacker
• Jamie Graham, starting cornerback
• Ryan van Rensburg, backup tight end

• Wesley Johnson, starting left tackle
• Jay Fullam, starting free safety
• Wesley Tate, backup running back
• Brady Brown, backup receiver
• Mylon Brown, backup guard/tackle
• Walker May, backup defensive end

• Warren Norman, starting running back
• Zac Stacy, starting running back
• Eddie Foster, starting nickel back
• Trey Wilson, backup corner/nickel back
• Eric Samuels, backup cornerback

• Joey Bailey, starting center
• Jared Funk, backup quarterback
• Kennard Reeves, backup running back
• Teriall Brannon, backup defensive end
• Nate Campbell, backup linebacker

7. JUNIORS (2)
• Casey Hayward, starting cornerback
• Sean Richardson, starting strong safety

7. SENIORS (2)
• John Stokes, starting linebacker
• Theron Kadri, backup defensive end

Guys we left off who may still make the two-deep include:
• True freshmen: OT Chase White, DT Jared Morse, CB Andre Hal and S Karl Butler
• Redshirt freshmen: TE Mason Johnston, LB Blake Southerland, CB Javon Marshall, OL Justin Cabbagestalk (injured)
• Sophomores: None
• Redshirt sophomores: WR Akeem Dunham, DT Taylor Loftley, LB DeAndre Jones, LB Micah Powell
• Juniors: QB Jordan Rodgers
• Redshirt juniors: WR Tray Herndon
• Seniors: None
• Redshirt seniors: WR Turner Wimberly, DT Adam Smotherman (injured)

Here's our entire list, in case you're still reading:

1. Larry Smith, R-JR
2. Jared Funk, R-SR

1. Warren Norman, SO
2. Wesley Tate, R-FR

1. Zac Stacy, SO
2. Kennard Reeves, R-SR

1. John Cole, R-SO
2. Brady Brown, R-FR

1. Udom Umoh, R-JR
2. Jonathan Krause, FR

1. Jordan Matthews, FR
2. Chris Boyd, FR

1. Brandon Barden, R-JR
2. Ryan van Rensburg, R-JR

1. Joey Bailey, R-SR
2. Logan Stewart, FR

1. Jabo Burrow, R-SO
2. James Kittredge, FR

1. Wesley Johnson, R-FR
2. Mylon Brown, R-FR

1. Kyle Fischer, R-JR
2. Grant Ramsay, FR

1. Richard Seymour, R-SO
2. Caleb Welchans, R-SO

1. T.J. Greenstone, R-JR
2. Colt Nichter, R-SO

1. Rob Lohr, R-SO
2. Vince Taylor, FR

1. Tim Fugger, R-JR
2. Walker May, R-FR

1. Teriall Brannon, R-SR
2. Theron Kadri, SR

1. Chris Marve, R-JR
2. Nate Campbell, R-SR

1. John Stokes, SR
2. Archibald Barnes, R-SO

1. Tristan Strong, R-SO
2. Dexter Daniels, R-SO

1. Casey Hayward, JR
2. Eric Samuels, SO

1. Jamie Graham, R-JR
2. Steven Clarke, FR

1. Eddie Foster, SO
2. Trey Wilson, SO

1. Sean Richardson, JR
2. Al Owens, R-SO

1. Jay Fullam, R-FR
2. Kenny Ladler, FR

1. Ryan Fowler, R-SO
2. Carey Spear, FR

1. Richard Kent, R-SO
2. Ryan Fowler, R-SO

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

These Commodores will get meaningful playing time in 2010... if they can stay healthy

Now that Coach Caldwell has installed the offense and defense — and spent time getting to know all his players and seeing what they can do — he's ready to decide who's going to get the most reps in practice and therefore play in big games.

Before we start seeing who's on the scout team and who's on the revised depth chart, let's take a stab at who'll be playing for the Commodores. When I say playing, I mean guys who'll be getting meaningful snaps on offense or defense in close games. (And no, we won't try to predict future injuries; everybody could get meaningful snaps if enough players get injured.)

• Who'll play: Larry Smith, R-JR (starter)
• Still has a shot to play: Jordan Rodgers, JR, injured and appears headed for a redshirt
• Spot duty only: Jared Funk, R-SR (backup); Charlie Goro, R-FR
• Redshirts: Rodgers

• Who'll play: Warren Norman, SO (starter); Zac Stacy, SO (starter in two-back sets); Kennard Reeves, R-SR (starter in two-back sets until Stacy returns from injury)
• Still has a shot to play: Wesley Tate, R-FR, who's struggling with a foot injury; Ryan van Rensburg, R-JR, if Stacy and Tate stay injured
• Spot duty only: Reece Lovell, R-SO (walk-on)
• Redshirts: No freshmen running backs

• Who'll play: John Cole, R-SO (starter); Udom Umoh, R-JR (starter); Jordan Matthews (starter in three-receiver sets); Brady Brown, R-FR; Chris Boyd, FR; Jonathan Krause, FR
• Still has a shot to play: Akeem Dunham, R-SO
• Spot duty only: Turner Wimberly, R-SR; Tray Herndon, R-JR
• Redshirts: Trent Pruitt, FR

• Who'll play: Brandon Barden, R-JR (starter); Ryan van Rensburg, R-JR
• Still has a shot to play: Mason Johnston, R-FR
• Spot duty only:
• Redshirts: Fitz Lassing, FR, will travel with team and be ready in case of injury; Blake Gowder, FR

• Who'll play: Joey Bailey, R-SR (starting senior); Kyle Fischer, R-JR (starting right guard); Wesley Johnson, R-FR (starting left tackle); Ryan Seymour, R-SO (starting right tackle); Jabo Burrow, R-SO (starting left guard, returning from concussion in practice); Caleb Welchans, R-SO (7-man rotation, backup tackle, possible starter); Mylon Brown, R-FR (7-man rotation)
• Still has a shot to play: Logan Stewart, FR (backup center/guard); James Kittredge, FR (backup guard/tackle); Grant Ramsay, FR (backup guard/tackle)
• Spot duty only: Justin Cabbagestalk, R-FR (serious knee injury); Chris Aaron, R-SR (out with vertigo)
• Redshirts: Andrew Bridges, FR; Chase White, FR, will likely travel and be ready in case of injury

• Who'll play: T.J. Greenstone, R-JR (starter); Rob Lohr, R-SO (starter replacing injured Smotherman); Colt Nichter, R-SO
• Still has a shot to play: Vince Taylor, FR (possible hand injury); Taylor Loftley, R-SO; Jared Morse, FR; Adam Smotherman, R-SR (team captain out with knee injury)
• Spot duty only: Josh Jelesky, R-SO
• Redshirts: Taylor if he really is injured; Morse if Taylor cracks the depth chart and Loftley develops into a rotation player

• Who'll play: Tim Fugger, R-JR (starter); Teriall Brannon, R-SR (starter); Theron Kadri, SR (third end or possible starter); Walker May, R-FR
• Still has a shot to play: Johnell Thomas, R-SO
• Spot duty only: Thad McHaney, R-FR
• Redshirts: Kyle Woestmann, FR, will likely travel with team and be ready to play; Thomas Ryan, FR

• Who'll play: Chris Marve, R-JR (starter and all-star candidate); John Stokes (starter); Tristan Strong, R-SO (possible starter or top backup); Archibald Barnes, R-SO (possible starter or top backup); Dexter Daniels (key backup and still competing to start)
• Still has a shot to play: DeAndre Jones, R-SO; Nate Campbell, R-SR
• Spot duty only: Micah Powell, R-SO; Blake Southerland, R-FR
• Redshirts: Chase Garnham, FR; Andrew East, FR, will likely travel with team as emergency longsnapper

• Who'll play: Casey Hayward, JR (starter and all-star candidate); Jamie Graham, R-JR (starter at corner or nickel); Eddie Foster, SO (competing to start); Trey Wilson, SO (competing to start); Eric Samuels, SO (competing to start)
• Still has a shot to play: Javon Marshall, R-FR; Steven Clarke, FR; Andre Hal, FR
• Spot duty only:
• Redshirts:

• Who'll play: Sean Richardson, JR (starter at strong and all-star candidate); Jay Fullam, R-FR (starter at free); Kenny Ladler, FR (backup free)
• Still has a shot to play: Al Owens, R-SO (backup strong); Karl Butler, FR
• Spot duty only:
• Redshirts: Andre Simmons, FR

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Vanderbilt remains the SEC's No. 1 academic school

Not exactly a shocker, but always fun to point out: Vanderbilt remains heads and shoulders above the other universities in the SEC.

U.S. News & World Report ranks Vanderbilt the No. 17 university in the nation, tied with Rice. That would rank Vandy No. 4 in the nation among universities with major college football teams — behind Stanford (5), Duke (9) and Northwestern (12), but ahead of Notre Dame (19), Cal-Berkeley (22), USC (23) and UCLA, Virginia and Wake Forest (tied for 25th).

Here's how the SEC teams rank:

1. Vanderbilt (17)
2. Florida (53)
3. Georgia (56)
4. Alabama (79)
5. Auburn (85)
6. Tennessee (104)
7. South Carolina (111)
8. LSU (124)
9. Kentucky (129)
10. Arkansas (132)
11. Ole Miss (143)
12. Miss State (151)

Sure, we don't recruit the blue chippers that lower rated universities like Alabama and Tennessee do. Part of that is because our football program lacks the tradition, national exposure, fan base and gigantic stadium that those programs do. But we also start with a smaller base of athletes to choose from because our standards are higher.

Remember how Bobby Johnson talked about getting players who wanted both a world-class education and a spot on an SEC football roster?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Battles highlight who's hot in Vandyland and who's not

We told you yesterday about which freshmen were exceeding expectations so far and which ones aren't. Now let's take a look at players in other classes:


• Offensive linemen: With so many spots up for grabs, sophomore Jabo Burrow and redshirt freshman Wesley Johnson are making a strong bid to man the left side of the line at guard and tackle respectively, and senior Joey Bailey has claimed the center position and the title of team captain. (Burrow suffered a concussion the other day in practice and will hopefull return.)

• The unlikely captain: Another captain, T.J. Greenstone, has started only one game in his entire Commodore career, but the unselfish kid is a force inside.

• Young linebackers: DeAndre Jones has always wowed people with his potential, but fellow sophomores Tristan Strong, Dexter Daniels and Archibald Barnes are overshadowing the Memphis native in a fierce battle to claim one open position.

• Free safety: Jay Fullam hopes to follow in Ryan Hamilton's footsteps as a redshirt who started four straight years at free safety, and so far he's successfully defending his job against a bunch of talented freshmen.


• More linebackers: In addition to Jones, senior Nate Campbell and converted safety Micah Powell, yet another sophomore, are trying to grab coaches' attention at linebacker.

• Wide receivers who aren't freshmen: Senior Turner Wimberly and junior Tray Herndon are losing their bid for playing time to three talented freshmen, and sophomore Akeem Dunham is in a fight for his life, too.

• Sophomore defensive tackles: While Rob Lohr is contending to start and Colt Nichter can be a steady backup, two more sophomores — Josh Jelesky and Taylor Loftley — are slipping on the depth chart and trying to stave off true freshmen Vince Taylor and Jared Morse.

Jordan Matthews leads the pack of Vanderbilt freshmen

Coach Caldwell says he's about to decide who wants to play this season and who doesn't — or in the case of the freshmen, who's ready to play and who's not.

With camp heating up, it's a good time to rate the true freshmen and to see whether they're meeting expectations.

1. JORDAN MATTHEWS (FAR EXCEEDS): Initially ranked 2-3 among the freshmen receivers, Matthews has exploded on the scene and has a serious shot at starting.

2. KENNY LADLER (FAR EXCEEDS): One of only two true freshmen listed on the pre-season depth chart, Ladler's making the most of his early enrollment and is giving redshirt freshman Jay Fullam a run for his money at free safety.

3. CHRIS BOYD (FAR EXCEEDS): Though highly rated, many figured the gangly receiver would struggle early, but he looks bigger than advertised and may be better than highly touted redshirt freshman Brady Brown.

4. JONATHAN KRAUSE (FAR EXCEEDS): Though not as physical as Matthews and Boyd, the speedster has dazzled with his leaping catches and will surely play right away.

5. LOGAN STEWART (FAR EXCEEDS): Initially rated behind Grant Ramsay, Stewart has grabbed the backup center position and is getting a ton of reps in preseason camp.

6. VINCE TAYLOR (FAR EXCEEDS): Coaches noted Taylor was leaning on the wrong hand in his stance during camp. Turns out he had broken his hand and didn't want anybody to notice. The kid is tough and has a motor that doesn't quit.

7. STEVEN CLARKE (FAR EXCEEDS): A big-time sleeper out of Miami, Clarke was overshadowed by secondary recruits like Andre Hal and Karl Butler, but he's awed spectators in camp with his athleticism and looks too good to redshirt.

8. CAREY SPEAR (EXCEEDS): While passed off as a punter, Spear is a natural kicker and is listed as Ryan Fowler's backup on the preseason depth chart. Whether he actually plays this year remains to be seen, but he'll seriously contend for kickoff duties.

9. JAMES KITTREDGE (FAR EXCEEDS): Expected to get lost in crowd at defensive tackle, Kittredge has moved to fill the staggering losses on the offensive line and has been a pleasant surprise, outplaying highly rated guard Grant Ramsay.

9. KARL BUTLER (EXCEEDS): A big and strong kid who can play corner but is likely headed to safety, Butler hasn't disappointed and will be ready to play if called upon.

10. ANDRE HAL (STEADY): A little guy with shut-down potential at cornerback, Hal has lacked the preseason flash of Clarke but remains a contender for playing time.

11. JARED MORSE (EXCEEDS): Looks the part at defensive tackle, with a good motor and a nasty streak, as evidenced by his recent clash with hulking offensive tackle Mylon Brown.

12. KYLE WOESTMANN (STEADY): In great shape and brimming with confidence, Woestmann has a great future but may not be able to crack into the two-deep this season.

13. GRANT RAMSAY (STEADY): A big guy and a great prospect, Ramsay is a step behind Stewart and Kittredge for playing time but still has time to catch up, and with all the injuries, all of them may play this season.

14. FITZ LASSING (EXCEEDS): Moved from tight end to linebacker and back again, Lassing's getting plenty of reps since the injury to Austin Monahan and just may play as a true freshman, something that wasn't expected.

15. ANDRE SIMMONS (STEADY): Appears to be a bit behind Ladler and Butler at safety, but remains a fine prospect and has time to close the gap.

16. CHASE WHITE (EXCEEDS): A lanky tackle prospect, White seemed a sure-fire redshirt but has been in the two-deep rotation since day one.

17. ANDREW BRIDGES (STEADY): At 240 pounds, he should be the last true freshman lineman in line to burn his redshirt, but has a huge frame and is an exciting prospect for the future.

18. TRENT PRUITT (BELOW): Expected to challenge for playing time and to possibly be more game-ready than any of the other true freshman receivers, Pruitt hasn't made much of a splash in camp so far and could be ready for a redshirt.

19. CHASE GARNHAM (STEADY): While everybody remains wowed by his sub-4.4 40 times, Garnham will likely need a year to mature and hasn't grabbed any headlines in camp.

20. ANDREW EAST (STEADY): The longsnapping prospect continues to fly below the radar and may redshirt.

21. BLAKE GOWDER (BELOW): Like Pruitt, Gowder has great offensive skills and posted huge numbers in Georgia high school, but is a ’tweener who hasn't settled into a clear role and will likely redshirt.

22. THOMAS RYAN (BELOW): With all the talent at defensive end and overshadowed by roommate Kyle Woestmann, Ryan hasn't made much noise in camp and is likely headed for a redshirt.

Friday, August 13, 2010

So who else can play running back for Vanderbilt?

You've probably heard by now that Zac Stacy hurt his knee in practice yesterday — and exactly one play after tight end Austin Monahan went down screaming with a knee injury of his own.

Monahan is out for the season and Stacy is questionable for the season opener vs. Northwestern.

It's the third straight season that Monahan, a redshirt junior, has been felled early by injury. We know Brandon Barden, also a redshirt junior, is a good tight end and that Ryan van Rensburg, also a redshirt junior, can block and even catch a TD pass in a pinch and that redshirt frosh Mason Johnston is a decent prospect and that true freshmen Fitz Lassing and Blake Gowder have been getting reps at tight end and/or H-back.

While Monahan is certainly a painful loss, Barden would have likely started anyway and there's some decent depth there.

Except that van Rensburg may be needed at tailback if sophomore Stacy can't return and if redshirt frosh Wesley Tate (foot) and redshirt senior Kennard Reeves (hamstring) continue to be halted by their injuries.

If all that happens, then Warren Norman would be Vanderbilt's only scholarship running back, right as the Commodores are unveiling a two-running back depth chart and two-running back offensive sets. (Reese Lovell is a walk-on who played fullback in high school.)

So who would be our best bets besides van Rensburg to fill in at running back? When asked this question last night, Caldwell replied, “We might have a freshman out here somewhere who can do it and has done it.”

Looking at the entire roster, here's a quick top 10:

1. Eric Samuels, SO (6-0, 190) (pictured above): Showed flashes of brilliance as a fluid true freshmen who chalked up a fumble recovery and an interception return in his first game as a Commodore. More highly rated as a prep running back than both Warren Norman and Zac Stacy. In two seasons, gained 1,600 yards and scored 21 touchdowns for his Florida high school. Coaches might be more likely to leave Graham, who’s earned a starting job at cornerback, on defense, and take a flyer on Samuels at running back.

2. Charlie Goro, R-FR (6-2, 205): One of four quarterbacks competing for the starting job, Goro has bulked up and earned the reputation as a bruising runner. As a high school senior quarterback, rushed for a record 164 yards in the state championship game. Seems to have the weakest arm of the quarterbacks. With rumors that he’ll leave if he doesn’t play early in his career, coaches may give him a shot to play as a running back.

3. Jamie Graham, R-JR (6-0, 195): An impressive prospect at cornerback who's spent much of his Vandy career trying to bail out the offense as a receiver and sometimes even tailback. Has rushed for about 130 yards and a touchdown as a Commodore, plus 640 yards and 12 touchdowns as a high school senior. More likely to play in the secondary, where he has NFL potential, and occasionally move over to offense to add some firepower.

4. Casey Hayward, JR (6-0, 185): The latest lock-down cornerback for the Commodores and an All-SEC candidate. As a three-year starter at quarterback in high school, he rushed for 1,284 yards and 18 touchdowns his senior year. With the caliber of receivers in the SEC, Hayward is too valuable as a defender to use regularly on offense.

5. Blake Gowder, FR (6-2, 215): An offensive machine who’s being projected as a tight end or H-back. Rushed for 1,200 yards and 21 touchdowns and had 1,237 yards catching and 14 touchdowns as a high school senior in Georgia. A tough guy with nifty moves who could take the pounding, but lacks the burst and athleticism of an SEC tailback.

6. Trent Pruitt, FR (5-10,175): A quick scat-back who’s being projected as a slot receiver. Had 922 yards and 17 touchdowns rushing and 835 yards and eight touchdowns receiving as a senior for his Georgia high school. Awfully slight to play running back in the SEC, Pruitt could still add a burst of excitement every now and then.

7. Archibald Barnes, R-SO (6-4, 228): Rangy athlete played in every game as a redshirt freshmen last season on special teams and at outside linebacker and safety. Rushed for more than 1,000 yards for his Florida high school as a senior quarterback.

8. Larry Smith, R-JR (6-2, 220): Rushed for 670 yards as a quarterback on the Alabama 6A state championship team. Gained 213 yards rushing last season as Vanderbilt's starting quarterback. As the most experienced quarterback, Smith will likely stay at quarterback as either the starter or the top backup.

9. Micah Powell, R-SO (6-0, 215): A safety being converted to outside linebacker who played every game last season, mostly on special teams. Rushed for about 1,500 yards in two high school seasons.

10. Fitz Lassing, FR (6-3, 220): Listed initially as a linebacker, but getting preseason reps at tight end. Rushed for 1,417 yards, had more than 200 yards' worth of receptions and 21 total touchdowns as a grind-it-out fullback in his senior year of high school. He could take the beating but would lack the speed and burst.

Just to add salt in the wound, Rajaan Bennett rushed for 1,857 yards and 28 touchdowns as a high school senior. If he was still alive, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

New Vanderbilt football media guide unveils latest depth chart

The new media guide is out, and we thought we’d compare the new preseason depth chart to the one published at the beginning of spring. The most noticeable change: the latest depth chart mostly stops at two-deep, while the spring chart sometimes went four- or five-deep. The only guys listed third-team are Rodgers at QB, Herndon at WR, Thomas/May as co-second-team DE and Southerland at MLB.

Here we go:

• Zac Stacy at running back
• Kyle Fischer at right tackle
• Caleb Welchans (co-starter) at left tackle
• Rob Lohr (co-starter) at defensive tackle
• Tristan Strong (co-starter) at weakside backer
• Richard Kent at holder
• Zac Stacy at punt returner

• Only three quarterbacks listed instead of four; Charlie Goro no longer mentioned
• Order remains Smith-Funk-Rodgers

• Two starting running backs instead of one
• Warren Norman and Zac Stacy starters, backed by Kennard Reeves and Wesley Tate
• Reece Lovell no longer mentioned

• Two starting receivers instead of three
• Udom Umoh and John Cole remain starters, backed by Brady Brown and Turner Wimberly, who are no longer listed as co-starters at third receiver
• Tray Herndon listed as fifth receiver in rotation
• Akeem Dunham no longer mentioned

• Brandon Barden now listed as sole starter instead of a co-starter with Austin Monahan
• Only Barden and Monahan mentioned; Van Rensburg and Johnston dropped

• Joey Bailey remains starting center, backed by Chris Aaron (likely career-ending injury)
• Rob Ashabranner and Richard Cagle (left team) and Justin Cabbagestalk (knee injury) no longer mentioned
• Ryan Seymour listed as starting right tackle instead of starting left tackle
• Jabo Burrow listed as starting right guard instead of starting left guard
• Wesley Johnson listed as co-starter at left tackle, instead of starter at left guard; other co-starter is Caleb Welchans, formerly listed as backup at both tackle slots
• Kyle Fischer listed at starter at right guard instead of backup at right tackle
• Mylon Brown listed as backup at right tackle instead of backup at right guard

• Adam Smotherman (knee injury) and Rob Lohr listed as co-starters instead of Smotherman as sole starter
• Taylor Loftley no longer mentioned as backup at tackle to T.J. Greenstone and Colt Nichter

• Teriall Brannon listed as sole starter at defensive end; Theron Kadri now listed as backup to Tim Fugger instead of co-starter with Brannon
• Walker May listed as co-backup with Johnell Thomas instead of fourth team
• Thad McHaney and Josh Jelesky (moved to defensive tackle) no longer mentioned as third-teamers

• John Stokes and Archibald Barnes remain 1-2 at strongside backer
• DeAndre Jones backing up Chris Marve at middle backer instead of Tristan Strong; Blake Southerland still No. 3
• Dexter Daniels listed as co-starter at weakside backer with Strong instead of Jones
• Micah Powell no longer mentioned as third-teamer

• Eddie Foster listed as backup to cornerback Jamie Graham instead of co-backup to Casey Hayward
• Eric Samuels and Javon Marshall no longer mentioned as co-backups to Graham
• Wilson still listed as backup to Hayward
• Jay Fullam and Kenny Ladler still 1-2 at free safety
• Sean Richardson and Al Owens still 1-2 at strong safety

• Carey Spear now listed as backup to Ryan Fowler at placekicker and kickoff
• Richard Kent now listed as starting holder in front of Jared Funk
• David Giller and Stokes still 1-2 as snapper; Giller now listed as backup longsnapper to Stokes
• Fowler listed as backup punter to Kent
• Norman and Wilson remain 1-2 at kick returner
• Stacy replaces Graham as starting punt returner, backed by Cole

Vandy O-linemen dropping like flies, others stepping up

The true freshmen offensive linemen are getting quite a workout so far this preseason. After starting center Joey Bailey, a senior, left practice with a stomach virus, Logan Stewart took over at center for both the first and second units, playing the entire practice.

Bet the big fellow is sore and tired.

Also, tackle Caleb Welchans is recovering from an appendectomy this summer and is being held back from full contact now. Also, true frosh Andrew Bridges has mononucleosis.

Redshirt freshman tackle Mylon Brown and true freshman defensive tackle Jared Morse got into a fight that left them both tussling on the ground. Unlike Bobby Johnson, who banned all cussin' and fightin', Robbie Caldwell doesn't have much of a problem with it.

“I don’t mind it," he told reporters after practice, "as long as it doesn’t leave the field.”

Another true freshman DT, Vince Taylor, looked good in drills, according to the official VU site.

In a scary moment, redshirt frosh tailback Wesley Tate said he felt a pop in his foot, which he broke in the spring and which still has pins in it. He's getting it x-rayed but neither he nor Caldwell seemed too worried about it.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Offensive line under serious construction

Saw that Chris Aaron is now working as a student assistant, meaning that he's likely not going to be suiting up this season.

Robbie Caldwell really has his work cut out for him: He's got to win at least four or five games to keep his job even though experts had predicted us to win one or two games WITH Bobby Johnson; he's got only four offensive linemen who've ever played in a college football game (Bailey, Fischer, Seymour, Welchans; Burrow did not play last season); and he's turning the offensive line coach duties over to a new guy, albeit a guy who looks like a great hire.

Here's our offensive line at Christmastime, and what's happened since then:

G: Reilly Lauer, R-SR: Left school
T: James Williams, R-JR: Left school

• Chris Aaron, R-SO: Season-ending injury
• Justin Cabbagestalk, R-FR: Knee injury, status uncertain
• Rob Ashabranner, R-JR: Left school
• Richard Cagle, R-SO: Left school

But think about it: If Caldwell can somehow win enough games to avoid the grim reaper this season, then his talented young linemen will be experienced and ready to go in 2011 and 2012, when the rest of the team should be peaking as well.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Even the sports information department's calling Vandy's quarterback battle a three-horse race

Now even our official Vanderbilt athletics site is talking about "the three quarterbacks competing to become the starter," meaning Smith, Rodgers and Funk.

No mention in the official sports information department story of Charlie Goro. But watch the video highlights of the quarterbacks and you see a lot of Larry Smith and a lot of Charlie Goro. Granted, Matt Casas is out there too and they're all taking turns in drills, but I'm not so sure that Goro is out of the running.

And if he is, I find it hard to believe that a competitor like him would stay at Vanderbilt for another two years behind Smith and Rodgers.

I think this is about Jared Funk. He's a fifth year senior, he's paid his dues and — wink, wink — he's really competing for the starting position. Honest.

Anyway, go to the site and check out the videos and the photo gallery. You can learn a lot from just a photo gallery, such as:

• OK, so Goro is holding on field goals. So maybe he's being considered as the backup quarterback. Yeah, if Smith beats out Rodgers then Rodgers might redshirt and Goro might be the backup who would play if Smith goes down. Who knows?

• True freshman Logan Stewart is snapping the ball. So he's being groomed to play center, at least for now in an emergency role.

• Senior guard Chris Aaron is standing in at quarterback — sans helmet — which means he really does have an inner ear problem and is out of the lineup forever.

• True frosh Andre Hal appears to be returning punts along with Zac Stacy, who looked good in that role toward the end of the season.

That's all for now. Going to the Braves game to sit in a pool of sweat.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

First day of Vandy football practice and all eyes on the offensive line

A day ago, fans were lamenting that Herb Hand wasn't coming to Vanderbilt because of something they didn't see on his Twitter — or something. But there he was yesterday, coaching up the offensive line.

And he's going to need to do some serious coaching. With no full-time starters returning, the unit is now facing the loss of senior Chris Aaron, whom the official VU site says is NOT going to return from injury (he suffered a concussion in the spring), and redshirt freshman Justin Cabbagestalk, who's struggling with a knee injury.

Some people, including Chris Low of ESPN, had projected Cabbagestalk to be a starter. The shaky status of both C'Stalk and Aaron has prompted the coaches to move James Kittredge (pictured above) from D-Line to O-Line, where he is reported to have looked impressive in yesterday's shorts-and-helmet practice.

Hand doesn't seem too concerned about the lack of experience. "It won't be my first go-around with that," he told the Tennessean. "My first year (2007) at Tulsa we had to replace four starters from the previous year … we did that and we led the nation in total offense that year. I like the challenge of it."

That's exactly the MacGyver-like quality we need in our coaches — here's some bailing wire and duct tape, now win some ballgames.

Take Aaron (6-4, 295) and Cabbagestalk (6-3, 290) out of the mix, and here's what you've got:

• Joey Bailey, R-SR (6-4, 295)
• Kyle Fischer, R-JR (6-6, 310)
• Ryan Seymour, R-SO (6-4, 305)
• Caleb Welchans, R-SO (6-5, 300)
• Jabo Burrow, R-SO (6-4, 285)
• Wesley Johnson, R-FR (6-5, 280)
• Mylon Brown, R-FR (6-5, 310)
• Grant Ramsay, FR (6-5, 285)
• Logan Stewart, FR (6-5, 290)
• James Kittredge, FR (6-4, 270)
• Chase White, FR (6-5, 270)
• Andrew Bridges, FR (6-6, 240)

Only four of these guys — Bailey, Fischer, Seymour and Welchans — have ever played a college football game. (Burrow sat out last season while gaining weight and making the transition to the offensive line.)

Caldwell told a radio station last week that he plans to rotate seven linemen this season. If you take out true freshmen, you're left with seven guys — the four guys with game experience, Burrow, and the two redshirt freshmen, Johnson and Brown.

In other words, some true freshmen will need to step up, especially when the injuries start popping up. Ramsay, who's the most highly touted of the frosh linemen, has told his Facebook friends he believes he may play this season, and Stewart is also big and strong enough to get a shot. White is considered a project at tackle, and Bridges will almost certainly take off a year to get bigger and stronger.

That leaves Kittredge, a tough, confident kid who seems to have a nasty streak and despite being a little light could be a pleasant surprise for us this season.

Meanwhile, let's hope Cabbagestalk's knee allows him to get into games and be productive.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Eight Vanderbilt opponents get votes in preseason USA Today football poll

The USA Today preseason football poll was released today, with six SEC teams making the Top 25.

Here's how our opponents fared in the poll:

Sept. 4: Northwestern, No. 47
Sept. 11: LSU, No. 16
Sept. 18: at Ole Miss, No. 30
Oct. 2: at Connecticut, No. 33
Oct. 9: Eastern Michigan, not receiving votes
Oct. 16: at Georgia, No. 21
Oct. 23: South Carolina, No. 35
Oct. 30: at Arkansas, No. 19
Nov. 6: Florida, No. 3
Nov. 13: at Kentucky, not receiving votes
Nov. 20: Tennessee, not receiving votes
Nov. 27: Wake Forest, not receiving votes

Alabama (No. 1), Auburn (No. 23) and Miss State (No. 44) are not on Vandy's schedule this year.

Let's presume for a moment that the voters know what they're talking about and that the teams are really ranked accurately. If so, here's one way Vandy could win six games and become bowl eligible:

1. Beat Northwestern at home to go 1-0.
2. Win one of the next three games — LSU at home or Ole Miss or UConn on the road — to go 2-2.
3. Beat Eastern Michigan at home to go 3-2.
4. Pull one upset in the next four games — on the road at Georgia and Arkansas or at home against South Carolina and Florida — to go 4-5.
5. Win two of the next three games — at Kentucky and at home against Tennessee and Wake Forest — to go 6-6.

Those last three games could be winnable, but Vandy has never finished strong with a bowl berth on the line.

What do you think?

Herb Hand officially named Vanderbilt offensive line coach

After a couple of weeks' silence, it's official: Herb Hand is the new offensive line coach at Vanderbilt.

Check out the announcement on the official VU site.

While Vandy fans are eager to christen him the new offensive coordinator, a role he shared at Tulsa with Gus Malzahn, don't discount the importance of an offensive line coach who understands the spread.

Remember the nightmarish offensive woes Auburn experienced after Tuberville installed the spread offense in 2008? They happened in large part because Tuberville's offensive line coach clashed with Tony Franklin, the mad scientist coordinator. Franklin got canned after the GameDay loss to Vanderbilt, and all the Auburn coaches were gone too by the end of the season.

But last season the Tiger offense experienced a resurgence under Malzahn and a coaching staff, including a line coach, hired to support the new offense.

So anyway, don't underestimate the importance of an offensive line coach who's mastered the spread offense.

In other coaching news, Caldwell has named Bruce Fowler the assistant head coach.

Why is nobody talking about Charlie Goro?

Look at our poll to the right of this page. Since the spring, we've been asking which Vandy quarterback will starting by the end of the season.

And which quarterback has a commanding lead?

Charlie Goro.

Now look at the Tennessean's story today about the Vandy quarterback battle. Three guys are mentioned:

• Larry Smith, the returning starter who says he was really getting comfortable back there when he was injured against Georgia Tech.

• Jordan Rodgers, the junior college transfer and of course brother of Aaron who says it's Larry's "job to lose" but that he believes he's got an advantage because he's already played two full seasons of JUCO ball.

• Jared Funk, who coaches say has an NFL arm but for some reason hasn't thrown a pass for the Commodores in four years, and who is optimistic that with Robbie Caldwell at the helm "a little bit of change might occur."

So who's missing from the story?

That's right, Charlie Goro. And for the record, Caldwell has mentioned Goro in interviews before, usually as a helpful side note BECAUSE NOBODY IN THE MEDIA IS EVEN MENTIONING GORO.

Everybody is dazzled by the fact that Rodgers' brother plays for the Packer, obsessed with talking about how much Larry struggled, and falling for all the coaching staff's mentions of Funk, who's being rewarded for five years at Vandy by getting his name in the newspaper instead of getting playing time.

Meanwhile, Goro continues to fly under the radar. And, really, if nobody's asking Caldwell and the other coaches about Goro, then why should they volunteer his name?

If Goro is the real deal, then Caldwell would love nothing more than to catch opponents off-guard early in the season. Maybe let Jordan Rodgers get lots of work in the open practices, get all the fans excited about Aaron's little brother, and then redshirt him and unveil Goro.

Just a thought. There are other theories, of course, both for and against each quarterback:

For: He's a terrific athlete, perfect for our offense and has worked out all the kinks last season after being unfairly blamed for our weak receivers and shabby offensive line play.
Against: Sure, he's got some skills, but he's not a leader, he doesn't respond well to pressure, and we need to go in another direction.

For: He's got the bloodlines, and while that doesn't always translate, he's got the arm, the mobility and the intangibles of his brother and he needs to start from Day 1.
Against: There's a reason he wasn't highly recruited out of junior college and had to settle for Vandy. He's got some skills, but they won't stand out against SEC defenses.

For: Bobby Johnson brought quarterbacks along too slowly and simply overlooked Funk, and Caldwell recognizes the mistake and will rectify it. Sure, it's a shame Funk hasn't played yet, which is why he should start now.
Against: Sheez, he hasn't thrown a pass in four years on campus and he was playing on the punt coverage team last year just so he could get on the field. Let's move on already.

For: He's Vandy's first-ever Parade All-American and he's got the leadership qualities and intangibles needed to get this team over the hump. Let's give him four years to do it.
Against: He was only a two-star quarterback by Scout and ESPN, and he's not being mentioned right now because he's not better than the other three guys.

One factor here is time: Robbie Caldwell doesn't have a lot of it. He's got to win now. So what does he do?

Does he go with the most experienced guy, Larry Smith, because the most experienced guy ought to do the best job right now?

Does he go with the big-name guy, Jordan Rodgers, because it will energize the fans, who seem to have already written off Larry, and maybe even excite the team? If he can excite fans and make them hopeful for the future, then maybe they'll forgive losses, which we're supposed to produce plenty of this season.

Is he loyal to Funk, the fifth-year senior who supposedly has an NFL-caliber arm but hasn't played yet?

Does he go with Goro, the least experienced quarterback, but possibly the wisest long-term move because he'll be on campus for another four years and because he's restless to play and might jump ship if he carries a clipboard another season? But then again, if Goro's not ready now but plays anyway, then Caldwell won't be around to watch him shine later.

Decisions, decisions.

What do you think? And why the heck is nobody besides us even mentioning Goro?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Freshmen move into dorms... and don't drop any beds on their toes

The freshmen football players have moved into their dorm, and so far nobody’s dropped a bed on his toe.

You may remember that last year defensive back Trey Wilson actually dropped a bed and broke his toe, which kept him out of pre-season camp. It didn’t keep him from contributing as a true freshmen, but it was still a bummer.

You can go to the official Commodores site to see the class of 2014 (or 2015 with a redshirt) move their stuff into their new digs.

Perhaps learning from the plight of the elder Mr. Wilson, the kids were keeping it light. Safety Kenny Ladler’s pictured toting a coat, dress shirt and tie on a hanger, and cornerback Andre Hal’s got some bottled water and a 19” television.

The difference from past classes is the veritable cornucopia of defensive linemen. Vince Taylor and Jared Morse are big boys, and James Kittredge looks big too even standing next to hulking offensive lineman Logan Stewart, who by the way is wearing a heavy chain and padlock around his neck. Roommates Kyle Woestmann and Thomas Ryan look lean and mean and destined to stay on the outside of the line.

Karl Butler, a Louisiana native, was proudly sporting a Saints Super Bowl champs T-shirt, while Chase Garnham and Fitz Lassing wore buzz cuts.

Jonathan Krause had toned down his Kid N Play haircut just a bit, and Steven Clarke had a Larry Smith do.

Some other observations and thoughts:

• Did we mention the D-linemen look massive and ready to play?

• Stewart was the only O-lineman pictured.

• Speaking of frosh O-lineman, Grant Ramsay wrote on his Facebook page that he thinks he may play this season. We’ve long thought he’s our most game-ready OL.

• Kicker Carey Spear will not be moving to the offensive line.

• The receiver Chris Boyd is massive.

• Fellow wideout Jordan Matthews makes safety Andre Simmons look like a shrimp.

• Don’t forget Jonathan Krause. The little speedster is getting no mention from preseason prognisticators and even Vandy fans, who are focusing mainly on Boyd and Matthews and even Trent Pruitt. But he can separate from DBs and catch the ball in traffic, and that’s something the Commodores have sorely lacked.

• People are starting to speculate that Garnham, who reportedly runs a sub-4.4 40, might play as a true freshman. Don’t know about that. He’s still kind of light. Even Chris Marve redshirted as a freshman.

Vandy gets a commitment from a Heisman Trophy winner's grandson

Robbie Caldwell has landed his first recruit, Conor Hart of Michigan. He’s a good-looking prospect at 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 and 245-250 pounds and a 40 time of somewhere between 4.5 and 4.6.

The kid’s grandfather actually won the Heisman Trophy in 1949 at Notre Dame and was the first pick of the NFL draft. His father played on the Irish national championship team of 1977 and his brother also played for the Irish. Which leads Douglas James at VSL to worry that he’ll ditch us for the Irish if they should offer.

That’s a big if. The Irish are taking their pick of blue chippers right now and Hart is a two-star guy across the board. Right now, he’s got offers from mid-level teams like Ball State, Buffalo, Central Michigan, Colorado State, Miami-Ohio, Toledo, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, Kent State and Southern Illinois. The only BCS conference bid other than Vandy is from Syracuse.

Hart went to camp at Michigan State a couple of months ago which led the Detroit papers to speculate that he’d soon get an offer from the Spartans; he hasn’t.

That doesn’t mean he won’t get some big-time offers and that we won’t be sweating it out for him in the end.

I know beggers can’t be choosers, but we’re end-rich right now and really need more commitments from offensive linemen. James Lewis is a nice prospect and was recently upgraded to three stars by Rivals. With no quarterback in last year’s class (thanks again, Nash Nance), we could use another one in addition to dual-threat Damien Fleming, but only if we could get a late shot at a blue-chipper. We should continue to upgrade at receiver, and we need to start planning for the future at linebacker, running back and tight end.

We never seem to have a problem getting nice prospects at defensive back and defensive end. Right now, we’ve got nine ends with a shot at cracking the two-deep — seniors Teriall Brannon and Theron Kadri, junior Tim Fugger, sophomores Josh Jelesky and Johnell Thomas, redshirt freshmen Walker May and Thad McHaney, and true freshmen Thomas Ryan and Kyle Woestmann. That’s nine guys competing for four slots, and 10 if you throw in frosh James Kittredge, who’ll also get a look at tackle.

Whereas many of our defensive ends used to be skinny linemen like Reilly Lauer, Ryan Seymour and Jabo Burrow — all whom we beefed up and moved over to Robbie Caldwell — we’ve now got real defensive ends who are fast and who aren’t easily convertible to O-line. May could double as a linebacker and McHaney could slide to tight end, but for now it looks like all those guys will just duke it out.

And soon, hopefully, we can throw Conor Hart into the mix.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hottest Vandy football ticket this season is road game at Georgia

Entertaining thoughts of going to a football game in Nashville this season. Believe it or not, the last game I saw at Dudley was the loss to Kentucky in 2005. Since then, I've gone on the road to see Vandy lose to Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Georgia and Army. Of course, I did make a special effort to attend the Music City Bowl.

Anyway, I just went to Stub Hub to see if I could score a deal on any tickets. Here are the cheapest ticket you can get right now for each game, starting with the most expensive:

1. Vanderbilt at Georgia, $85
2. Florida at Vanderbilt, $38
3. LSU at Vanderbilt, $37
4. Vanderbilt at Connecticut, $32
5. Vanderbilt at Kentucky, $30
6. Tennessee at Vanderbilt, $24
7. Vanderbilt at Arkansas, $14
8. Vanderbilt at Ole Miss, $12
9. South Carolina at Vanderbilt, $10
10. Wake Forest at Vanderbilt, $5
11. Northwestern at Vanderbilt, $3
12. Eastern Michigan at Vanderbilt, $2

Joe Fisher should do all the talking when he's on 97.1

I always enjoy listening to daily updates with Joe Fisher, the voice of the Commodores.

Before Vandy switched over to 97.1, Joe was making his morning calls to Mark, Frank and Kevin at 104.5, and those guys were funny and knowledgeable about football and asked some good questions.

I'm not going to dwell on it this season, but I'll go ahead and say once that Mac (Michael McIntyre) at 97.1 may be a great rock n' roll DJ, but as a sports interviewer he is terrible. The guy likes to hear himself talk and apparently knows nothing about football. After Joe says something, he proclaims, "All right my friend!" or simply "Wow!"

On yesterday's call, Joe was going to tell Mac how many strikeouts Sonny Gray threw in 5 innings for Team USA. He set up the story by saying, "There are 15 outs in 5 innings." To which Mac exclaimed, "Wow!"

Actually, there are always 15 outs for a team in 5 innings of baseball, so there was nothing exciting or unusual about it, so when Joe finally told Mac that Sonny had thrown 14 strikeouts in those 15 outs, Mac had to muster up an even more enthusiastic "Wow!"

Here's some advice to you, Mac: Let Joe do all the talking.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Caldwell needs to win fast to keep job... and win recruiting battles

Bobby Johnson told the guys at 104.5 The Zone last week that Robbie Caldwell needs more than this season to prove himself, and that his success in 2010 shouldn't be measured by victories. Johnson also said — and this was a week before David Williams lifted the interim label from Caldwell — that he believed Caldwell WAS the head coach and that he deserved and would get at least another season.

Caldwell's best players, Johnson said, are his youngest players, and those players will be peaking in 2011 and 2012. That's what we were saying a couple of months ago about Johnson as articles were surfacing saying he was on the hot seat. Johnson laid a solid foundation for 2011-2012 and he should have gotten the chance to see it through. Now Johnson's argument is that his hand-picked successor, Caldwell, should get the chance to see it through.

While Caldwell may or may not have to win now to keep his job, he absolutely needs to win in order to boost recruiting. If you're a recruit leaning toward Vandy, why on earth wouldn't you wait at least a month to see how the team fares in its opener against Northwestern, a team that you probably have also considered because it's a private academic institution playing in a major athletic conference?

Meanwhile, Vandy is losing some important recruiting battles. A month ago, we identified recruits that Rivals, Scout and ESPN all said were considering Vandy. That list included three offensive linemen, by far Vandy's most critical recruiting need. Since Bobby Johnson's retirement, all three have committed to other schools — tackle Watts Dantzler of Georgia to UGA, tackle David Simon of Alabama to South Florida, and center Mack Crowder of Bristol, Tenn., to UT (ouch). Jared Boyd, a cornerback from Kenny Ladler's high school in Stone Mountain, chose Duke, and Cameron Dickerson, a raw wide receiver from New Jersey, chose Northwestern.

These guys, with the exception of Datzler, weren't blue-chip prospects. All were the type of three-star guys we signed last year and that we had a legitimate shot at signing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Caldwell named Vanderbilt non-interim head coach, sort of

The Tennessean is reporting that Vanderbilt has lifted the interim label off Coach Robbie Caldwell. So all those chat room blogger guys can now type "CRC" instead of "ICRC."

Vice Chancellor (But Don't Call Me Athletic Director Because We Don't Need One) David Williams made the announcement today at the Wild Horse Saloon, presumably after knocking back a few beverages of his choice.

He said this: "I think what it says is we see Robbie as our head football coach,” Williams said. “I don’t want to start any speculation one way or the other, but we see him as our head football coach."

In other words, if you're a fan or a recruit that really likes Robbie Caldwell, then he's going to be our head coach forever. And if you're a fan or a recruit who doesn't really like Robbie Caldwell, then maybe we won't keep him.

Williams went on to say that he evaluates all his head coaches at the end of the season.

Making Caldwell the head coach is a good move for several reasons:

1. We absolutely need commitments from some more recruits. We've got only two commitments so far, but don't forget that Kentucky had about that many this time last year and finished with a pretty strong class. Caldwell generated some priceless momentum and excitement at SEC Media Days and making him the real head coach (whatever that means and for however long that is) certainly doesn't hurt. And if Vandy wins a couple of big games early, it will just solidify the fact that Caldwell's a good coach that kids will want to play for, instead of raising questions about how long he'll remain the interim coach.

2. Mike Leach would have been a mistake. He's the kind of coach hired by desperate schools that want to win at all costs, and by schools that have previously hired bitter coaching legends that get into fights with their bosses at salad bars.

3. No coach who's already a proven winner at the D-1 level is going to take the Vandy job. No assistant coach who's a star at the D-1 level and being groomed to be a head coach is going to take the job either. Sorry, but that's the truth. If we ever turn this ship around, it's going to take an underdog, a surprise, somebody who's been standing in the shadows. Like our offensive line coach.

4. Or maybe not. But why not? Making Caldwell the head coach gives him a complete vote of confidence and the complete authority to make changes and lead the program. In the past two weeks, he's hired an offensive mastermind from Tulsa (I think; how's that going?) and he's said he plans to play more true freshmen and use Wesley Tate some as a slot receiver. The guy's full of surprises.

5. And if he does better this season than people thought Johnson would (nobody's predicted more than three victories), then he'll keep the job. The last time I checked, everybody's on the hot seat in college football. If he goes winless or beats only Eastern Michigan, then he'll get fired and nobody will be complaining.

6. In other words, he's been given every incentive to win. If he wins, he keeps his job. The Bobby Johnson method was to hang tough and wait for the ball to bounce your way. That worked beautifully in 2008, it was a disaster last season. Caldwell doesn't have the time to hang tough and wait. But he's being given the opportunity to take action and make Vandy a winner. Take the bull by the horns, as they probably say in his neck of the woods.

Of course, making Vandy a winner is relative. I hope Caldwell wins at least five games, which will buy him at least another year as head coach. As it would have been with Coach Johnson, he'll have a better team next year and an even better unit in 2012. Winning three or four might be considered a moral victory, but also might not be enough.

To keep the job, Caldwell will have to do better than people thought Johnson was going to do this year. It's not necessarily fair, but it's the truth. Johnson still had a bit of capital remaining from the Music City Bowl victory.

And making Caldwell the head coach gives him the assurance that if he surpasses four games, his moment in the sun will surely last another year, and could lead to even greater glory. He knows what he's got to do, and I think he's going to do everything he can, including opening up the offense and taking some risks.

If anything, it'll be interesting. And if he pulls it off, he deserves the job.