Monday, January 30, 2012

Vanderbilt assembling impressive offensive line

Maybe you heard that athlete Chris Moody, who verbally committed to Vandy last week, just flipped and committed to South Carolina.

And maybe you're aware that Josh Dawson, who committed to Vandy last summer, appears poised to flip and pick his home-state Georgia Bulldogs.

And oh by the way, he's being recruited by Todd Grantham, that jackass who got in a screaming match with Franklin after last year's game in Nashville.

Hey, no sweat. Regardless of what happens in the next 18 hours before the faxes start rolling in, James Franklin has put together a stellar recruiting class.

Offensive tackle Kevin McCoy verbally committed to us today and appears unlikely to change his mind. This puts the finishing touches on a terrific class of offensive linemen:

• Andrew Jelks (6-7, 270)
• Kevin McCoy (6-6, 280)
• Will Holden (6-6, 280)
• Adam Butler (6-5, 288)
• Blake Fromang (6-8, 280)
• Barrett Gouger (6-5, 285)

Here's how Scouts ranks them:
1. Jelks: 3 stars, No. 43 tackle
2. Holden: 3 stars, No. 49 tackle
3. Butler: 3 stars, No. 62 guard
4. McCoy: 3 stars, No. 77 tackle
5. Fromang: 3 stars, No. 84 tackle
6. Gouger: 3 stars, No. 100 tackle

Here's how Rivals ranks them:
1. Jelks: 4 stars, 5.8 rating, No. 31 tackle
2. McCoy: 3 stars, 5.7 rating, No. 37 tackle
3. Butler: 3 stars, 5.7 rating, No. 41 tackle
4. Holden: 3 stars, 5.7 rating, No. 52 tackle
5. Gouger: 3 stars, 5.6 rating, No. 68 tackle
6. Fromang: 3 stars, 5.6 rating, unranked

1. McCoy: 3 stars, 79 rating, No. 51 tackle
2. Jelks: 3 stars, 78 rating, No. 59 tackle
3. Gouger: 3 stars, 78 rating, No. 61 tackle
4. Fromang: 3 stars, 78 rating, No. 71 tackle
5. Butler: 3 stars, 78 rating, No. 43 guard
6. Holden: 3 stars, 78 rating, No. 74 tackle.

I think the best way to judge a class — without beaming yourself into the future to see which players have the best college careers — is to look at who else offered these guys scholarships.

Here's how they rank according to offers:
1. Jelks: Alabama, Texas A&M, Miss State, Stanford, Tennessee, Louisville, Missouri
2. McCoy: Florida, Auburn, Louisville
3. Holden: Florida, West Virginia, Louisville
4. Fromang: Cincinnati, Virginia, West Virginia, Louisville, Virginia Tech
5. Butler: UCLA, Oklahoma State
6. Gouger: Wake Forest, Memphis

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

On signing day, prepare to be shocked and amazed by James Franklin's latest Vanderbilt recruiting class

We’re coming down the home stretch. Less than two weeks away from signing day, and a bunch of kids are visiting Vandy this weekend. Mostly verbal commitments, but a few prospects mixed in there.

If you’re one of those tortured souls monitoring recruiting web sites and trying to figure out exactly who’s visiting where when, well, bless your heart. You’ll never figure it out.

But we think these prospects are among those visiting this weekend:

• ATH Chris Moody
• WR Herb Waters
• OT Kevin McCoy
• LB Harding Harper

Really, though, we should prepare to be surprised. This time last year, Coach James Franklin had wrapped up only six recruits and was trying to close the deal on 15 more.

If you remember, he sewed up 10 verbal commitments in the two weeks before signing day and then grabbed five more commitments on signing day, stealing Lafonte Thourogood from Virginia Tech and Barron Dixon from Mississippi State.


Right now, he’s got 20 commitments and despite all the rumors appears to have most of them locked up.

Josh Dawson’s visit this weekend is huge. He’s been verbally committed since June but was visiting Georgia and Todd Grantham last weekend. Yes, the battle continues between Franklin and Grantham.

Meanwhile, big 4-star receiver Andre McDonald has decommitted, recommitted and is now visiting UCLA this weekend instead of us, though he did visit us in September.

Like I said, prepare to be surprised.

And expect some names to pop up out of the blue on signing day. It appears we’re trying to lift Dy’Shawn Mobley, a sleeper running back, from Kentucky, to whom he’s been committed since November.

Oh, and Chaz Elder, who recently committed to South Carolina, has been Tweeting lately about how cool Franklin is. I mean, an SEC head coach who listens to Tupac in his office? What, Steve Spurrier doesn’t do that?

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to say the least.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Vandy hosts bunch of commitments and prospects on Jan. 20

Some Vandy fans are freaking out over news that big-shot schools are trying to steal our verbal commitments. This is a good thing, people. It means that we’ve recruited really good players who could play anywhere.

One fan on a Vandy chat board actually wondered why things have turned so bad over the past few weeks. Hello! Things are great!

This time last year, we had zero commitments from four-star players, and then we stole two of them on signing day.

This year, we have commitments from six players with a four-star rating from either Rivals, Scout or ESPN. Not sure who we’re going to steal from other schools this year, but we know Franklin’s capable of it.

It’ll still be a nerve-wracking two weeks. Three of our most prized recruits – OT Andrew Jelks, DE Josh Dawson and WR Andre McDonald – were reportedly visiting campuses in their home states this past weekend, with Jelks to Tennessee, Dawson to Georgia and McDonald to Minnesota. Jelks is scheduled to visit Ole Miss on Jan. 27.

But all three are scheduled to visit Vandy next weekend, according to Scout and Rivals. Here’s at least a partial guest list:

Current Verbal Commitments:
• 4-star ATH Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn.)
• 4-star DE Caleb Azubike (Nashville, Tenn.)
• 4-star DE Stephen Weatherly (Atlanta, Ga.)
• 4-star LB Jacob Sealand (Tucker, Ga.)
• 4-star DE Josh Dawson (Tucker, Ga.)
• 4-star WR Andre McDonald (Minnetonka, Minn.)
• 3-star OT Andrew Jelks (Paris, Tenn.)
• 3-star CB Torren McGaster (Daphne, Ala.)
• 3-star OT Will Holden (Green Cove Springs, Fla.)
• 3-star OG Adam Butler (Duncanville, Texas)
• 3-star DE Torey Agee (Opelika, Ala.)
• 3-star ATH Brandon Banks (Brandywine, Md.)
• 3-star ATH Jaborian McKenzie (Natchez, Miss.)
• 3-star WR Cory Batey (Nashville, Tenn.)
• 3-star DT Ladarius Banks (Dallas, Ga.)
• 3-star OT Barrett Gouger (Chattanooga, Tenn.)

Players who’ve already enrolled in school and are locked in:
• 4-star LB Darreon Herring (Stone Mountain, Ga.)
• 3-star QB Patton Robinette (Maryville, Tenn.)

• 4-star ATH Will Redmond (Memphis, Tenn.); teammate of Brian Kimbrow, verbal commitment to Mississippi State
• 3-star OT Kevin McCoy (Seffner, Fla.)
• 3-star ATH Chris Moody (McDonough, Ga.)
• 3-star ATH Herbert Waters (Homestead, Fla.); soft commitment to Miami
• 3-star LB Harding Harper (Montgomery, Ala.)

Note: The following VU commitments have already visited campus and may not be present this upcoming weekend:
• 3-star OT Blake Fromang (Orlando, Fla.)
• 3-star K Colby Cooke (Goochland, Va.)
• 3-star DB Paris Head (Buford, Ga.)

The following prospects are scheduled to visit campus on Jan. 27:
• 4-star WR Gabriel Marks (Los Angeles, Calif.); recently committed to Washington State and may not visit
• 3-star WR Jeremy Glinton (Oakland Park, Fla.); visits Jan. 27

Saturday, January 14, 2012

'Same Old Vandy' doesn't apply to recruiting; Commodores in good shape two weeks from signing day

Right now, 4-star defensive end Josh Dawson, who's been committed to Vanderbilt since June, is visiting his home state Georgia Bulldogs and loving it, according to Twitter.

Meanwhile, new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is making a run at Brian Kimbrow, who by all accounts would fit perfectly into his spread offense.

Which has some Vanderbilt fans exclaiming "Same Old Vandy."

Don't do it. Here's when it's OK to say "Same Old Vandy": When some bizarre cosmic phenomenon occurs to the Commodores that (1) snatches defeat from the jaws of victory and (2) wouldn't happen to any other school.

For example, when your most reliable player is on the one yard line and about to give you a 15-point lead over the nation's No. 3 team late in the game but fumbles into the hands of an opposing linebacker, who runs 99 yards and, with the help of a 2-point conversion, suddenly ties the game.

Or, on the road, you take your most hated rival into overtime, get the ball first, and then lose the game on a pick-six.

Hard not to think Same Old Vanderbilt, huh?

But we often have such moments because we have weaker talent. Arkansas linebacker Jerry Franklin pulled a similar stunt against LSU, grabbing a fumble and racing for a touchdown to dramatically swing the momentum in the Razorback's favor. However, it happened in the first quarter, and minutes later LSU scored a quick three touchdowns and blew Arkansas away.

A couple of weeks from his second signing day as a Commodore, James Franklin is undoubtedly improving our talent base, which should lead to a Brand New Vandy on the playing field. And it's just plain wrong to be uttering "Same Old Vandy" right now in regards to recruiting.

In recruiting, "Same Old Vandy" means right after signing day your 4-star defensive end commitment just went to jail because his white girlfriend's dad just got him arrested (Marcus Dixon in 2003) or your 4-star running back was shot and killed by his mother's ex-boyfriend (Rajaan Bennett in 2010).

And fortunately, that sort of thing doesn't happen often but hurts awfully bad — especially in the case of Bennett — when it does.

Anyway, let's look at what's happened in the past few weeks:

• Gunner Kiel chooses LSU over Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Did we really expect the nation's No. 1 quarterback (according to Scout) to choose us?

Look at history: Three of the last 10 Scout No. 1 quarterbacks have chosen USC, with a fourth (Mitch Mustain) transferring to USC after initially choosing Arkansas. Five of the remaining six chose football factories — Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Florida — with the sixth choosing pass-happy BYU.

Look at the stats: LSU's offensive line averages about 315 pounds, it recruits some of the nation's best skill athletes and it has one of college football's best defensive units and special teams so you can start with good field position. Oh yeah, and it plays in front of more than 92,000 crazed fans.

If I want to be an English professor, I take the scholarship to Vanderbilt. If I want to be an NFL quarterback, I go to another school. Sure, we had Jay Cutler, but he came here because the few schools interested wanted him to play safety. He had four years to develop toughness, a quick release and lots of character. If he'd gone to Oklahoma, USC or LSU, he wouldn't be in the NFL today.

The fact that Kiel chose LSU over Vanderbilt is something we should be excited about, not whining over.

• Patton Robinette commits to Vandy. The nation's No. 36 quarterback, Robinette is 6-5, 200 pounds and looks great on film, with a live arm and quick feet.

While some Vandy fans were mourning the loss of Kiel, Robinette was in Chapel Hill about to enroll at UNC and realized he wanted to be a Commodore and drove to Nashville and enrolled in school the next day.

Sure, No. 36 may seem like a far cry from No. 1, but Robinette is the highest rated quarterback who's ever signed with Vandy, according to Scout. Austyn Carta-Samuels, the junior transfer expected to compete with Jordan Rodgers for playing time, was ranked No. 37 when he signed with Wyoming in 2009.

Our highest ranked quarterbacks after that were Josh Grady in 2011 (No. 50), Mackenzi Admas in 2005 (No. 55), Jared Funk in 2006 (No. 56) and Larry Smith in 2007 (No. 60). Charlie Goro, who somehow made Parade All-American, was ranked No. 139 and is now playing defensive back for South Dakota.

• Assistant coaches Chris Beatty and Wesley McGriff jump ship. So two of our position coaches are leaving to go to arguably bigger programs (Illinois and Ole Miss, respectively) to become coordinators. Isn't that a good thing? Does anybody doubt that James Franklin can replace those guys?

• Andre McDonald threatens to follow Beatty to Illinois. Oh yeah, Beatty and McGriff were our recruiting coordinators. That hurts. But Franklin's known for his recruiting ability and set up his staff so that everybody's involved in recruiting. It was nerve-wracking when McDonald, a big receiver and 4-star recruit by ESPN and Rivals, decommitted and arranged visits to Illinois and Minnesota. He now appears to be back in the fold.

• I'tavius Mathers sticks with Ole Miss. Mathers, a skilled athlete from Murfreesboro, initially committed to Ole Miss, then showed great interest in Vandy. But on the eve of a recently scheduled visit with Franklin, Mathers committed to Ole Miss.

The next day, Mathers' father told the Tennessean that Vanderbilt was not honest with Mathers because they were recruiting other people and didn't promise him playing time. Franklin made his media rounds and blasted the Tennessean for not calling him to verify the story. If anything, he said, he's been too honest by not promising anybody playing time. In the end, Franklin came out looking pretty good.

• Wes Brown and Albert Reid commit to Maryland. Vandy was high on the lists of 4-star running backs Brown and Reid, but by the end of this week both of them, who are from the DC area, committed to the Terrapins. Again, the fact that two highly ranked players barely choose their hometown team over the Commodores shows that we're making strides.

• Brandon Barden comments on Twitter that Vandy is pulling scholarships from players. Franklin said earlier this week that any player who works hard and does what he's asked will keep his scholarship regardless of talent.

He also said that no current redshirt junior is guaranteed a fifth year on scholarship and that some of those players may not be invited to return to the team. Toward the end of last season, Zac Stacy was urging Micah Powell to reconsider his decision to pass up his fifth year of eligibility. I understand that guys don't want to lose their teammates, but we don't need to burn another scholarship year on Powell, a special teams contributor.

We also know that redshirt juniors Caleb Welchans and DeAndre Jones won't be returning either. Welchans' prospects of playing diminished as we added new O-line talent, and Jones, who could possibly have started next season at middle linebacker, is going to go ahead and start his career as an engineer.

Franklin won't give the entire list of redshirt juniors who won't be returning, but the list has to include DE Dexter Daniels and DT Taylor Loftley, who weren't on the depth chart. While we lack linebackers, Al Owens was a stop-gap for us this past season and may well be moving on. Wouldn't be surprised if WRs John Cole and Akeem Dunham are gone too. Two more guys, Austin Monahan and Tristan Strong, have started for us when they've not been injured and whether they return another year (it would be a sixth year for Monahan) may be up in the air. The team has tons of young talent at tight end, but could really use Strong at outside or even middle linebacker.

Then there are the underclassmen who aren't returning. Franklin has said that freshman Mitchell Hester and sophomore Logan Stewart are gone for undisclosed reasons. Hester was a burner who had great potential and Stewart was a two-year starter at center. Also, sophomore Andre Simmons is gone after facing criminal charges. It would be speculation to figure out who falls victim next to academics or team rules.

Franklin said some guys may transfer to get playing time. I don't have any insight, but natural candidates would be sophomore receiver Brady Brown and redshirt freshmen Grant Ramsay (OL), Trent Pruitt (WR) and Thomas Ryan (DE). But you never know, and injuries played a factor with some of these guys. Last season, Javon Marshall wasn't on the depth chart and this year he was a starter.

• Defensive end Dawson visits Georgia. This happens all the time. Lots of powerhouse football programs lose recruits at the last minute. The trick is to have other guys who can take their place. If Dawson doesn't sign with us, we've already got 4-star defensive ends Caleb Azubike and Stephen Weatherly, as well as darkhouse Tory Agee, a big agile kid who's son of former Auburn and Dallas Cowboy fullback Tommy Agee. Meanwhile, Georgia just got a commitment from John Jenkins, a 5-star defensive end, in addition to two other fine defensive end prospects. We'll see.

• Kimbrow gets an offer from Urban Meyer. I don't understand why this scares Vandy fans so much. Sure, if a kid picks Vandy over Alabama-Birmingham or Marshall and then suddenly gets an offer from Ohio State, I'm concerned. We saw this happen two years ago with Bradley Roby, who verbally committed to Vandy and then jumped ship as soon as the Buckeyes offered. (The fact that Vandy just finished a two-win season didn't help any.) But Brian Kimbrow has already chosen Vandy over legitimate offers from USC, LSU, Auburn, Notre Dame, Miami, and the list goes on.

And if Kimbrow does jump ship, then it'll sting a whole lot worse than it did with Gunner Kiel, but we'll recover. Vandy fans desperately want to pin their hopes on one player. (Last year, we wanted to pin our hopes on a coach named Gus.) But the future of our program doesn't depend on a 5-9, 165-pound athlete. Don't get me wrong, he'll help a great deal, but it won't be a death blow to our program.

• Right now, we're in strong running for OT Kevin McCoy, who has offers from Auburn and Florida, and LB Harding Harper, who apparently has an offer from Arkansas. We've already got verbals from five offensive lineman, but McCoy appears to be special and he'd be a nice get. As far as Harper goes, we badly need linebackers but we may have our eye on some sleeper candidates out there.

And for all this talk about losing kids to other schools, and for all this talk about the lack of superstars remaining on our recruiting boards, don't forget that this time last year Lafonte Thourogood had committed to Virginia Tech, Dillon van der Wal had committed to Arizona State, and Barron Dixon was heading to Mississippi State. Reports are coming out of Atlanta that Georgia Tech's top commitment, athlete Marcus Allen, who'd be great at linebacker, is considering a recruiting visit to Vandy.

Sure, some bad things can happen in the next two weeks, but this is the Brand New Vandy, where good things can happen too, especially on the recruiting trail.