Thursday, November 11, 2010

Derek King commits to Vanderbilt: Commodores keep losing games and gaining athletes

I was just about to post my weekly don't-kill-yourself-if-we-get-blown-out-on-Saturday piece. Though we're not facing a team with the talent of Florida or Georgia, we could get ours handed to us this week by Kentucky. After all, we'll be without our top two playmakers, running backs Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, and maybe even their backup, Wesley Tate.

Of course, our strength was our running game, and now that's gone too. If we had Kentucky's team and they had ours, we'd be jumping up and down right now.

So don't kill yourself if we get blown out on Saturday.

But you can jump up and down because Vandy just got a verbal commitment from Derek King of Brentwood, Tenn.

King, a 5-10, 185-pound athlete with a 36-inch vertical leap and a 4.4 40 time, has offers from Arkansas, Auburn, Ole Miss and Tennessee. How often does Vandy get a player with four other SEC offers? Not often, my friends.

This was a huge get. King is a playmaker who could line up at running back or maybe even receiver but is probably best suited as a cornerback who can be a difference maker returning punts and covering on special teams. Oh, and Ted Cain got him.

King's our best recruit in this class, and frankly, it's a miracle that he's committing to us on the heels of another blowout and as fans are howling for Robbie Caldwell's firing. The big job will be to keep him in the fold until February's signing day.

Don't underestimate the job that Caldwell and his staff have done on the recruiting trail in the middle of a miserable season in which their jobs are in jeopardy.

The day Bobby Johnson quit, Vanderbilt had TWO commitments, compared to 14 on the same day a year earlier. They were Damien Fleming, a two-star dual-threat quarterback, and James Lewis, a three-star left tackle.

That's it.

Enter Robbie Caldwell and more uncertainty than you can shake a stick at. Here's what's happened since then:

1. Right after he knocked ’em dead at SEC media days, Caldwell wrapped up defensive end Conor Hart, who runs a 4.5 40 and whose grandfather won a Heisman at Notre Dame.
2. At the end of August, with Vandy predicted to win one or two games this season, Caldwell got commitments from consensus three-star players Jake Bernstein, a hulking offensive lineman, and Keith Heitzman, who can play defensive end or tight end.
3. The week after narrowly dropping the season opener against Northwestern, Caldwell landed Spencer Pulley, an offensive lineman who got three stars from Rivals.
4. The week after falling apart in the fourth quarter to LSU, he picked up a pair of promising running backs, Mitchell Hester and J.J. Keels, each of whom got three stars from ESPN.
5. The week after shellacking Eastern Michigan, Caldwell landed huge offensive lineman Alex Barr, who's got three stars from Rivals and ESPN.
6. The day Vandy played hard but lost to South Carolina, he got a commitment from Jose Valedon, another offensive lineman with three stars from Rivals.
7. Following miserable blowouts at the hands of Arkansas and Florida, Caldwell somehow manages to land Derek King.

Meanwhile, Lewis, the tackle who committed to Johnson in the spring, has gained more than 20 pounds and is pushing 300 pounds. Word is, his family's making him stick to his word. Good for them, and good for us.

Fleming appears to be having a good season in his first full year as a starting quarterback. He's an athletic, dual threat project, who's supposedly an extremely accurate passer who doesn't mind pressure in the pocket.

Last year's class, built on the strength of the Music City Bowl and then stripped down a bit after we crashed back to earth, had nine consensus three-star players. This year's has four so far, more than any in recent history.

Here are the consensus three star players (Rivals, Scout, ESPN) in the past six classes:

2011: OL Jake Bernstein, TE Keith Heitzman, CB Derek King, OT James Lewis
2010: S Karl Butler, HB Blake Gowder, CB Andre Hal, OL James Kittredge, WR Jonathan Krause, DT Jared Morse, OL Grant Ramsay, DT Vince Taylor, DE Kyle Woestmann
2009: WR Brady Brown, OT Wesley Johnson, TE Mason Johnston
2008: LB De'Andre Jones
2007: OG Kyle Fischer, FB Ryan van Rensburg, QB Larry Smith
2006: QB Jared Funk

Why do you want a bunch of these guys? Because not all of them pan out. The so-called gem of the 2006 class, Jared Funk, has zero starts in five seasons. Ryan van Rensburg (2007) is in the wrong offensive system, De'Andre Jones (2008) looks great in the airport but hasn't come close to starting a game yet, and Brady Brown (2009) plays receiver, one of our worst positions, but hasn't seen a down this season.

But the class of 2010 has already burned the redshirts off five of the nine consensus three-stars, as well as another eight guys — CB Steven Clarke, LB Chase Garnham, S Kenny Ladler, TE Fitz Lassing, WR Jordan Matthews, S Andre Simmons, PK Carey Spear and C Logan Stewart — who weren't as highly touted.

The guys who aren't playing right now — WR/TE Blake Gowder, OL Grant Ramsay, DT Vince Taylor, DE Kyle Woestmann — could easily crack the depth chart next season. Expect Taylor and Woestmann to make the biggest splash, on the defensive line.

Anyway, just wanted to give you some good news. And if we can steal a couple of victories in the next three weeks, we may get even more pleasant surprises on the recruiting trail.


Anonymous said...

How about some chatter on possible head coaching candidates? I don't mean to throw good ole Robbie under the bus but it seems to be stopping at season's end. And in fairness, Robbie is a terrific person and a good coach. He just got dealt a bad hand at the wrong time.

My take is that we need to hire an assistant coach. Many argue that an up an coming coach would scoff at VU, but well known assistants jump ship to lesser schools every year.

More specifically, we should hire an up and coming black coach.

This is not a social, moral, or racial stance (though I'd love to see a black coach). Instead, I believe we will have a better chance of attracting a top flight black assistant to VU.

Why? Because precedent supports it. Black hiring at the head coach level is disproportionately low. I'm sure Outside the Lines has delved into this issue a few times.

But, in this issue lies an opportunity for VU. Take Mike Haywood for example. Haywood, a top tier assistant, quickly moved up the charts to OC at Notre Dame. Then, he jumped ship to be the head coach at Miami, OH. I'd like to think we're at par or better than a gig at Miami, OH?

Race doesn't make a good coach. But, it does create an opportunity for Vandy to get a good coach.

Anonymous said...

Robbie was dealt a bad hand and I’d like to see him be given one more year. I do think things would look different and better in CRC system. He was given this year to really figure things out and analyze the system he would instill. What we’ve seen this year isn’t a CRC system, and I believe he’s tried to tweak it as much as he can but can’t do it justice until he gives it a complete overall. He’s done well on the recruiting trail, and at the beginning of the season we thought he was doing a good job: a close loss to NW, held LSU to 10 till the 4th quarter and beat Ole Miss handedly on the road. Since then, yes it’s been ugly but I really think we could be making a mistake by getting rid of him without letting him do things his way for a full season. Anyone really think it would have been better with CBJ? Anyone think it could have been worse? I do.

Ex Player said...

We have gone from averaging around #100 in total offense over the last 4 years to #118 out of 120. That means there is a good chance that if I were calling thr plays we would have a better rating. If we don't clean house we have no business playing SEC football.

Anonymous said...

the only argument for the current staff to stay is their ability to recruit. While they've recruited well, I think their results are due mote to Bobby "cracking the code" than their actual ability. Now that VU is selling academics and the SEC (along with investment from the school) recruits are listening. Yes some recruits say they chose VU because of the coach...but more pick VU because coaches are selling the fact that its a top school in a top conference. New coaches can use the same roadmap and likely get similar results.

We need new blood. If Robbie was the best option at head coach, I'd imagine another school would've offered him a HC job at some point over his long career.

Anonymous said...

First things first; I really like Coach Caldwell. However he was given the chance this season and did not get it done. The administration should replace the entire staff and also bring in a formal athletic director. This move would also show the conference that we are serious about SEC football. A new staff will bring new life and hope to the program; our players deserve this. I prefer an offensive minded coach. I do feel that Coach Hand ,with his credentials, should be interviewed for the vacant head coach position or at minimum be retained as OL coach. I also agree that there are many very capable and qualified Black head coaching candidates around the country that should be given consideration. I'm not for the good-ole-boy network of names that always surface this time of year. A short list of 2-4 young aggressive offensive minded coaches (likely current assistant coaches) would be my preference.