Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Walker May makes a move on Vanderbilt's depth chart

Only one noticeable change to the latest Vandy depth chart: After catching everybody's eye since spring practice for his nose for the ball and motor, Walker May has cracked into the depth chart and has made second team, supplanting Teriall Brannon, a redshirt senior who started the season opener.

This is perhaps a small, unimportant change, but I believe it says volumes about (1) the young talent we have, and (2) the mindset of this coaching staff.

For the longest time, we've rewarded hard-working student-athletes by putting their names in ink on the depth chart, even when the team continues to struggle.

Early on, Jonathan Krause booted Turner Wimberly out of the starting lineup and Jordan Matthews bumped out the likes of Akeem Dunham and Brady Brown. Now Matthews needs to get more touches. He's got one this season, for 35 yards. Oh, and he needs to replace John Cole or Udom Umoh in the starting lineup.

Did you know John Cole has touched the ball more than any other Commodore except for our quarterback and two running backs. Why?

Krause needs to get the majority of Cole's touches, which come mostly on punt returns and against weaker competition because the guy can't get open deeper than three yards downfield against an SEC defense. And Umoh's caught nine passes in seven games.

It will be interesting to see who gets the ball this week as Des Kitchings takes over as offensive coordinator.

On the offensive line, freshman Logan Stewart may have been on track to replace senior center Joey Bailey by season's end but Bailey missed Saturday's game with injury, precipitating Stewart's baptism by fire. Caldwell, who's never been terribly impressed with Bailey, said Stewart struggled but did some things better than Bailey does. Expect Stewart to improve dramatically this week.

Lots of "or"s in our starting lineup:
• Norman or Stacy at running back: Those guys are co-starters anyway.
• Bailey or Stewart at center: Bailey not expected to return this week from injury.
• Greenstone or Nichter, Smotherman or Lohr at defensive tackle: Also depends on upperclassmen's ability to return from injury.

In addition to May, lots of young guys are making a move on defense:
• Chase Garnham began the season stuck behind five redshirt sophomores at linebacker, but now he's the fourth- or fifth-best linebacker on the team behind upperclassmen Marve, Stokes and Campbell, and even with sophomore Archibald Barnes.
• In the secondary, true freshmen Steven Clarke and Andre Simmons are on the move and getting more playing time on defense. Kenny Ladler has replaced Jay Fullam as the starting free safety.


Anonymous said...

Calling for the next man on the depth chart isn't going to change much. Our staff is giving the young kids an opportunity, and I feel like they're putting their best product out on the field every week as far as the depth chart is concerned.

They see what goes on in practice, and Caldwell has nothing to lose--he has to win and win now--so he's playing the players who are performing best in practice and thereby will perform the best in a game.

It would be nice to see what Goro could do, but seeing as he's behind three others (counting Rodgers) on the depth chart, it's pretty clear he's done nothing to earn playing time in practice. Players that deserve to be on the field will be on the field: Norman and Stacy last year with senior Hawkins at RB, Larry last year with senior Mackenzi Adams at QB.

Coaches will play the best player, and any "tie" you might have in ability will go to a younger player seeing as they have more to offer in the long run.

Cole earned his way onto the field as a true freshman before his injury, and caught 36 balls last year as a redshirt(>20% of our total passing offense, while missing 2 games--including the one against Western Carolina). He didn't do those things because he couldn't get open--he obviously consistently got open against DJ Moore & Myron Lewis & Casey Hayward in practice. He had 2 catches against LSU & UGA, 3 against UF & MSU, 4 against Tennessee & USC, 5 against UK. All of these while typically matched against their #1 corner. If anything, he's proven he's perhaps our only receiver who can consistently get open and catch balls against an SEC opponent.

However, I love Krause and agree completely that he should be on the field. Should he be returning punts? That's not for me to say. The most important aspect of returning punts is catching the ball and not losing yards--Cole does this well (significantly better than Alex Washington who kept his job all year last year, I have no idea how). As far as catches are concerned, Krause has 3 less than Cole and they're seeing similar action and targets now. I think they've both established themselves as potential playmakers and should be targeted more (Norman & Stacy as well, of course).

Matthews clearly hasn't earned his way onto the field or he'd be there. Trust me in that the coaches would love to have a 6'4" target on the outside. We can't call for players based on shear size, size doesn't make a football player. Danny Woodhead and Wes Welker of the Patriots evidence that.

I truly think we have the "Jimmies & Joes" to have a successful offense (the offense line is where we are the farthest away, followed by a quarterback--I really hate that we always sign "dual threat" guys), we just need some better "X's & O's." Hopefully Kitchings can remedy that somewhat but I find it unlikely. We have to get away from tendencies--paying attention to our self-scouting would do us wonders, inside zone & draw are huge tendencies. It would also be nice to see more I-formation with Tate at the fullback, and use play action pass to help create separation. I think our scheme is flawed as I feel we have SEC-caliber talent on the field at nearly every position now.


Excellent comments. You're right that we shouldn't blindly go to the next guy on the depth chart, and you're right that guys like Matthews would be playing more if they were adjusting to the college game more quickly.

You mention Norman and Stacy, but I wonder if they would have played as much and as quickly if Jared Hawkins hadn't been hurt, and I wonder if Norman would have gotten the chance to return all those kicks for touchdowns if Jamie Graham hadn't gotten hurt.

Clearly they were better players and should have been on the field, but sometimes the tie — or what's perceived to be a tie — seems to go to the established veteran...

Caldwell seems to be changing that mindset a bit, especially on special teams, where he burned redshirts off a bunch of guys in the season opener.

Again, great comments. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

If there is a silver lining in this, it is that we have alot of offensive lineman who are currently redshirting and several big lineman coming next year. Vandy should really be competitive (physical) in the trenches next season. I think Coach Kitchens should change the entire offense in the off-season(with Coach Hand influence) to match our skill players. It seems like we are trying to run a (no-huddle) system that LS and all wr's are not comfortable with. Other teams have easily scouted our offense and can stop the running game; problem is our passing game / wr's are no threat at all. I agree that next season, Mathews, Boyd, and Brown should be given every opportunity to compete to start along side Krause. Cole is valuable but should likely be on punt / ko return and backup wr. The other Wr's have had 2 years to get it done and are just not SEC wr's. Typical SEC wr's are bigger, more physical, run good routes, and reasonably fast. Look arould the conference at other offenses; SCarolina had 3 wr's all over 6'3" and easily dominated with size and physicality. Its time to look toward next season's re-built offense.

Anonymous said...

I agree it would've been more up in the air had Hawkins not been injured, but both of those guys were slated to not be redshirted before his injury so I have a feeling they would've seen quite a few carries. I also think Norman would've eventually ousted Graham at kick returner because Jamie, as much as I love his effort, really isn't a burner. We really don't know seeing as they did get hurt (thankfully, in a way, as we discovered 2 great backs).

I felt, as you do, that Johnson often gave too much clout to being an older, more experienced player. I felt like his allegiance to Nickson was too strong, and his allegiance to the senior back in '08 (Jennings I think?) was much too strong--we always gave him short yardage carries and he never converted.

But I really feel like Caldwell has changed that (whether that's because he feels the pressure to win or be fired, or because it's his philosophy--I don't know). I'm all for the best player being on the field. I feel like we're seeing that this year, where--in agreement with you--we haven't seen it before with CBJ. I like Caldwell's increased enthusiasm (listening to CBJ on the Monday talk shows always made me feel like he didn't really care about winning).

I think that's a big problem with this staff, they've always been a little complacent. Caldwell is hopefully changing that, and if he does, maybe he should get an extended look. We're content with losing close games and everyone being like "Well at least we're competing in the SEC." That's bullshit. All we have are Moral Victories (as your blog implies, haha).

I want to see some desire to win from the coaches. I want us to keep our foot on the gas when we have a lead, and I want us to take risks like going for it on fourth down in the opponents territory. Because although our athletes are improving, in most games played close to the vest, we're going to lose still in the SEC. We have to take risks. Fowler's defense has been a success because he takes risk, he blitzed early and often when he was D-coordinator. Every phase of the game needs to take that turn. CBJ was one of the most conservative coaches I've ever watched, and when I heard Caldwell took over--I, like many others, didn't know what to think, but I did know I wanted him to get away from the philosophy of playing close and considering that success.


Yes, Johnson was the most conservative coach in the history of the world, which most days is fine if you're coaching, say, Alabama. I agree with you that we need to take risks on offense like we do on defense. Not reckless risks, but calculated risks. And I also like the fire that I see from Caldwell.