Thursday, February 23, 2012

Cracking the code of the signing day war room video: How Vanderbilt's 2012 depth chart is shaping up

We’re still three weeks from the start of spring practice, and sometime between now and then Vandy will release its spring depth chart and prospectus.

But why wait? The official Commodores site just posted a very interesting video from the signing day war room, with tantalizing glimpses of a giant depth chart on the wall. So with the help of modern technology and using our experience in military intelligence – yes, it’s an oxymoron – as well as some educated guesses we’ve pieced things together for your enlightenment.

Last year, as you may recall, some clever individual commented that we shouldn't treat the war room videos like they were the Zapruder films. Well, this year we took it to another level.

Keep in mind that this information was culled from little name placards on a giant board and was being updated in the heat of battle, so it will likely contain a few errors, and we welcome any corrections or insight you may have. Also, keep in mind that this is Vanderbilt's winter depth chart and is not a prediction of who will or won't start or play in the upcoming season.

For starters, why does James Franklin still have Maryland plates on his SUV?

Anyway, we've spent a bit more time on this than we intended, so we're gonna give it a rest until spring practice heats up. In the meantime, we'd love to hear your comments, insights, predictions or whatever.

And if you're wondering if we have room for a certain Danny O'Brien or Anthony Standifer, the cornerback who visited campus last weekend, the answer is yes and yes. According to the information gleaned from the war room big board, we've got 83 scholarships, which means we've got two to give. And that's not counting the inevitable attrition that results from the bruised egos of spring practice or the academic difficulty inherent in the beautiful weather and scenery of a spring semester in Nashville, Tennessee.

OK, here’s the scoop:

• Mason Johnston, a former 3-star tight end who would have been a redshirt junior, isn’t listed as a tight end, fullback or injured, which leads us to believe he won’t return from his second straight season-ending leg injury.
• Five players – DT Taylor Loftley, DE Dexter Daniels, LB Al Owens and WRs John Cole and Akeem Dunham are nowhere to be found and apparently won’t be returning for a fifth season.
• Three more potential fifth-year seniors – LB DeAndre Jones, RB Micah Powell and OL Caleb Welchans had already announced they won’t be returning. Another, OL Jabo Burrow, saw his playing career end abruptly in September with a head injury.
• And in case you missed it, the team announced at the end of the season that starting sophomore center Logan Stewart and redshirt freshman RB Mitchell Hester were dismissed from the team. Sophomore safety Andre Simmons was dismissed after being arrested in mid-season, and Blake Gowder quit the team at the start of the season, long before he fell into some trouble of his own with the law.

• Late-season starters: QB Jordan Rodgers, LB Archibald Barnes, DT Rob Lohr and OGs Ryan Seymour and Josh Jelesky, as well as punter Richard Kent and field goal kicker Ryan Fowler.
• Players with starting experience: DT Colt Nichter, TE Austin Monahan (who’s actually returning for a sixth year), DE Johnell Thomas and LB Tristan Strong.

• These players with a history of injury are currently listed as healthy and are on the depth chart: Austin Monahan (No. 1 tight end), Warren Norman (No. 2 running back) and Brady Brown (No. 2 X receiver).
• These players, all of whom were part-time starters last season, are currently listed as injured and are not on the depth chart: FS Javon Marshall, OL Chase White, LB Tristan Strong and Ryan Seymour.
• Jerron Seymour, who got some crucial carries last season as a true freshman and scored a big 40-yard TD against UConn, was reportedly not at full strength last season and is now officially listed as injured.

• Junior Chase Garnham, a stellar outside linebacker last season, has moved inside to replace Chris Marve
• Junior Karl Butler, who turned heads as a backup safety last season before becoming an emergency fill-in at linebacker, starts the spring on the depth chart as the starting strongside linebacker
• Speaking of strongside linebackers, redshirt safety Larry Franklin has bulked up and is now a linebacker, backing up Butler
• As you probably know, redshirt freshman Lafonte Thourogood, who was well regarded as a prep receiving prospect but chose Vandy for a shot at quarterback, will start his playing career as a running back
• In a big surprise, redshirt sophomore Grant Ramsay, who rode the bench last season, is on the depth chart as the backup left tackle to Wesley Johnson, but how long can he hold off true freshman Andrew Jelks?
• Sophomore Spencer Pulley, who played some at guard last season, is projected to be the starting center, and sophomore Joe Townsend, who practiced some at center last year, is currently listed as the starting left guard, ahead of two natural tackles, James Lewis and Kevin McCoy
• Redshirt freshman Darien Bryant, who’s flipped from defensive end to tight end since arriving in Nashville, will apparently stay at tight end, where he’ll battle fellow redshirt Steven Scheu for playing time
• Redshirt freshman Jacquese Kirk, who was ranked as a cornerback when he signed last year, will apparently stay at receiver, where he’s on the depth chart behind Wesley Tate as the third receiver
• Redshirt freshman Andrew Williamson, who was impressive in last year’s preseason camp, is listed as a backup free safety to Kenny Ladler (Javon Marshall is listed as injured), and fellow redshirt freshman Jahmel McIntosh may have found a home at strong safety
• Redshirt freshman Conor Hart, who was signed as a defensive end and played some offensive line on the scout team last year, is on the depth chart as a defensive tackle
• Signee Tip McKenzie, listed as a running back and athlete by recruiting services, will begin his Vandy career as a slot receiver and likely a return specialist
• Signee Stephen Weatherly, listed at both end and linebacker, is on the depth chart as a defensive end behind redshirt freshman Jimmy Stewart
• Signee Paris Head, listed as both a cornerback and safety by recruiting services, is on the depth chart as a cornerback
• Signee Brandon Banks, listed as an athlete but touted as a receiver by Josh Grady, will apparently start his Vandy career as a cornerback
• Signee Torey Agee, listed by recruiting services as a defensive end, is on the depth chart as a defensive tackle
• Signee Ladarius Banks, often listed by recruiting services as a defensive end, will apparently play defensive tackle in college, as expected
• Signee Harding Harper, ranked as both a middle and outside linebacker, is on the depth chart as a middle backer, behind fellow signee Jacob Sealand

• The only player listed as second team is Darreon Herring, at weakside linebacker behind Archibald Barnes.
• Members of the recent signing class listed at third team are Corey Batey (X receiver), Tip McKenzie (F-11 receiver), Adam Butler (right guard), Blake Fromang (right tackle), Barrett Gouger (center), Andrew Jelks (left tackle), Torren McGaster (cornerback), Jacob Sealand (middle linebacker) and Ja’Karri Thomas (strongside linebacker). Of course, these guys are listed so high because of lack of depth at their positions.
• Three of our four-star recruits, RB Brian Kimbrow and DEs Caleb Azubike and Stephen Weatherly, are listed at fourth team. That’s because the depth chart is at this point largely based on seniority.

• R-SO Chris Boyd is listed ahead of R-JR Brady Brown at X receiver.
• R-FR Jacquese Kirk and FR Tip McKenzie are listed ahead of R-SO Trent Pruitt at F-11 (or third) receiver.
• R-SO Andrew Bridges is listed ahead of R-JR Mylon Brown at right tackle. Brown started at right guard last season before being losing the job to Josh Jelesky.

• R-FR Kellen Williams, son of former NFL star Reggie Williams, turned heads last season and is currently listed as the backup middle linebacker; expect to see this guy knock some heads on special teams
• R-SR Jameson Sackey was on the depth chart last season at receiver and could find a supporting role this year
• R-JR Marc Panu will see his usual action on special teams and may get some snaps as Fitz Lassing’s backup at fullback
• R-SO Robby Barbieri saw special teams action in three games last season

(As best we could tell)

• Quarterback: R-SR Jordan Rodgers, followed by R-JR Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-FR Josh Grady, R-FR Kris Kentera, FR Patton Robinette and walk-on John Townsley
• Running back: SR Zac Stacy, followed by R-JR Warren Norman, R-FR Lafonte Thourogood and FR Brian Kimbrow
• Z receiver/flanker: JR Jordan Matthews, followed by JR Jonathan Krause and walk-on Daniel Hagaman
• X receiver/split end: R-SO Chris Boyd, followed by R-JR Brady Brown, FR Cory Batey, walk-on Jameson Sackey and walk-on Steve Monk
• F-11 receiver/third WR in one-back set: R-JR Wesley Tate, followed by R-FR Jacquese Kirk, FR Tip McKenzie and R-SO Trent Pruitt
• H-back: JR Fitz Lassing, followed by walk-on Marc Panu
• Tight end: R-SR Austin Monahan, followed by SO Dillon van der Wal, R-FR Steven Scheu and R-FR Darien Bryant
• Center: SO Spencer Pulley, followed by R-FR Jose Valedon and FR Barrett Gouger
• Left guard: SO Joe Townsend, followed by R-FR James Lewis and FR Kevin McCoy
• Right guard: R-SR Josh Jelesky, followed by R-FR Jake Bernstein and FR Adam Butler
• Left tackle: R-JR Wesley Johnson, followed by R-SO Grant Ramsay, FR Andrew Jelks and FR Will Holden
• Right tackle: R-SO Andrew Bridges, followed by R-JR Mylon Brown and FR Blake Fromang

• Left defensive tackle: R-SR Rob Lohr, followed by JR Jared Morse, R-SO Vince Taylor and FR Torey Agee
• Right defensive tackle: R-SR Colt Nichter, followed by SO Barron Dixon, R-FR Conor Hart and FR Ladarius Banks
• Middle linebacker: JR Chase Garnham, followed by R-FR walk-on Kellen Williams, FR Jacob Sealand, FR Harding Harper and walk-on Patrick Sutton
• Weakside defensive end: R-SR Johnell Thomas, followed by R-SO Kyle Woestmann, R-SO Thomas Ryan and FR Caleb Azubike
• Strongside defensive end: R-JR Walker May, followed by R-JR Thad McHaney, R-FR Jimmy Stewart and FR Stephen Weatherly
• Weakside linebacker: R-SR Archibald Barnes, followed by FR Darreon Herring and walk-on Robby Barbieri
• Strongside linebacker: JR Karl Butler, followed by R-FR Larry Franklin and FR Ja’Karri Thomas
• Cornerback 1: SR Trey Wilson, followed by SR Eddie Foster, FR Torren McGaster, FR Brandon Banks and walk-on Josh Gregory
• Cornerback 2: JR Andre Hal, followed by JR Steven Clarke, R-FR Derek King and FR Paris Head.
• Free safety: JR Kenny Ladler, followed by R-FR Andrew Williamson and a walk-on whose name was too blurry to read (we could tell he was a walk-on because he didn’t have a photo next to his name)
• Strong safety: SR Eric Samuels, followed by R-FR Jahmel McIntosh and walk-on Scot Aiello

• Punter: R-SR Richard Kent followed by walk-on Taylor Hudson
• Kicker: R-SR Ryan Fowler and JR Carey Spear
• Snapper: R-SO Andrew East, followed by walk-on Connor Morrison as well as position players including C Jose Valedon and DT Rob Lohr

Friday, February 17, 2012

Vandy's James Franklin lands bluechip QB Johnathon McCrary - and what Danny O'Brien has to do with it

James Franklin is the freaking man.

While everybody’s peppering him with questions about Danny O’Brien and Randy Edsall, Franklin’s landing a verbal commitment from Johnathon McCrary, who has a scholarship offer from Alabama and just returned from a visit to Junior Day at Tuscaloosa.

Oh, and McCrary, from Cedar Grove High in Ellentown, Ga., also has offers from Georgia, Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, UCLA, Texas and Tennessee.

He’s 6-3, 190 and considered to be a dual-threat quarterback. Still unrated by Scout, but has four stars from Rivals, as well as the same 5.9 rating that Brian Kimbrow got, and is a member of ESPN’s top 150 players.

This is huge. In his first season, Franklin took the Commodores to a bowl by dramatically improving the offense despite a patched together offensive line that during the season started four players who were recruited or projected as defensive ends coming out of high school.

Franklin just signed six SEC-caliber offensive linemen. One had an offer from Alabama and two others had offers from Florida. He said last year that he’s looking for athletic tackles with long arms and quick feet, and that’s exactly what he got. All these guys have long frames and can add another 30 pounds or more and should be ready to go in a year or two. Add that to the five lineman — mostly interior guys — in last year’s class and we’ve got a nice foundation.

So, first Franklin keeps the interior guys – Pulley, Townsend, Bernstein and Valedon plus tackle Lewis – who had committed to Hand and Caldwell during the two-win 2010 season, then this year he adds his tackles – Jelks, McCoy, Holden and Fromang plus solid interior guys Butler and Gouger.

Meanwhile, he’s signing his first pure quarterback, Patton Robinette. He’s also picking up one of the nation’s fastest high school seniors (Kimbrow), a solid wide receiver (Batey), and a little all-purpose guy (McKenzie) who can play slot.

Now he’s got his blue-chip quarterback in McCrary. Which means we’re now in the market for some blue-chip wide receivers and maybe even a big every-down running back.

Of course, we’ve got to hang onto this kid for nearly an entire year. I’m less worried after watching how Franklin and staff reeled in Brian Kimbrow over the past 12 months.

Really, winning will take care of everything. Expect us to be in the running for some big names throughout the spring and summer. Then, if we can beat the teams we’re supposed to and if Franklin can pull a signature upset and establish the Commodores as a threat on the road in the SEC, then we should have the kind of recruiting haul we’ve only dreamed of.

When we start signing 300-pound defensive tackles, we’ll know we’ve arrived. That day is coming.

So what does Danny O’Brien have to do with all this? A lot.

For one thing, Franklin is getting a ton of positive publicity out of this. And if we get O’Brien, it will only make our team – including the quarterbacks at the top of our current depth chart – better. O’Brien would help us bridge the gap to the future. He and Carta-Samuels would leave at the end of the 2013 season (Rodgers is done at the end of 2012), and redshirt sophomore Robinette, redshirt freshman McCrary and maybe a true freshman better than both of them would be waiting in the wings.

Exciting times, eh?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Danny O'Brien or not, Vanderbilt needs more competition at QB - and every other position

Surely you’ve heard that quarterback Danny O’Brien is leaving Maryland, where he was recruited, coached and mentored by a certain James Franklin. And because O’Brien is graduating this spring, he won’t have to sit out a year when he transfers to another school.

Naturally, everybody assumes that O’Brien is headed to Vandy to reunite with Franklin. Except that Maryland coach Randy Edsall has prohibited O’Brien and Max Garcia, a talented offensive tackle we pursued heavily for our 2010 signing class, from transferring to Vanderbilt.

Lots of Internet chatter about this right now. The fellows over at Vanderbilt Sports Line are leading the charge with passionate pleas to “free Danny.” We’ll be interested to see what happens.

But we’re especially interested in comments from Vandy fans who say things like, “But I thought we were already set at quarterback.”

Already set at quarterback? Are you kidding me? James Franklin has said lots of memorable things since he arrived on campus, but the most important was at last year’s signing day when he said he wanted to create “one of the most competitive environments in the country.”

“If you don’t want to be a competitor, this isn’t the place for you,” he said. “If you’re afraid of competition, don’t come to Vanderbilt. I tell these guys, next year I’m gonna recruit somebody to beat them out.”

Vandy fans have always had trouble recognizing where we need talent upgrades. One scrappy, resourceful kid separates himself from the other kids on our team, and we act like he’d be a starter on every other team in the SEC.

Take Jordan Rodgers, for example. He grabbed a place in Vandy fans’ hearts when he replaced Larry Smith against Georgia, stared down a brutal Bulldog pass rush and picked up huge chunks of yardage on the ground. Meanwhile, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. He improved as the season went on, but he also committed crucial errors late in big games, and he committed others that were overlooked because we won the game.

I’m not dissing Jordan Rodgers. Last season, we desperately needed somebody better than Larry Smith, and what we found was reminiscent of Greg Zolman, who you may remember kept us in games with his quick feet and quick thinking in the pocket, but also had a chance to win some huge games on final drives and came up short.

Some fans tried to blame the Liberty Bowl loss on Franklin giving the nod to Larry Smith down the stretch. Even Rodgers went on Twitter and expressed displeasure with the decision. But Franklin was sending a message to Rodgers: He hasn’t yet arrived as an SEC quarterback. And Vanderbilt’s looking for a legitimate SEC quarterback, not somebody who tries hard and gets compliments from opposing fans after they beat us.

Here’s our current situation: Rodgers is the returning starter, but will need to hold off a challenge from Austyn Carta-Samuels, the Wyoming transfer who’s looked great on the scout team. Redshirt freshman Josh Grady, last year’s No. 3, is psychologically preparing himself for spot duty in the wildcat. And another redshirt frosh, Kris Kentera, is a major project. Meanwhile, freshman Patton Robinette has already enrolled in school and will participate in spring practice. He’ll almost certainly redshirt.

How would Danny O’Brien change things? He’d make our starting quarterback earn the job if he didn’t win it himself. Rodgers was better than Larry Smith. We’ll find out in the spring if Carta-Samuels is better than Rodgers. But how good is either one of them? Stick them in a competition with O’Brien, and we’ll have a much better idea.

Having O’Brien on board would buy us two years to recruit some more quarterbacks. Last season, Franklin grabbed three QBs, but Grady and Thourogood were more all-purpose athletes than quarterbacks and Kris Kentera was a raw project with no other major offers.

Thourogood’s now a running back, and Grady and Kentera were playing some receiver on the scout team.

By 2014, when Carta-Samuels and O’Brien were gone, Robinette would be a redshirt sophomore and hopefully ready to run the show. He’s a quarterback all the way, and for Franklin an important piece in the foundation he’s building for the future. Either Grady or Kentera would likely have already switched to another position. And Franklin would have recruited a couple more quarterbacks of the future.

Here’s our future quarterback situation if O’Brien somehow was able to transfer to Vandy:

• Jordan Rodgers, R-SR
• Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-JR
• Danny O’Brien, R-JR
• Josh Grady, R-FR
• Kris Kentera, R-FR
• Patton Robinette, FR

• Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-SR
• Danny O’Brien, R-SR
• Josh Grady, R-SO
• Kris Kentera, R-SO
• Patton Robinette, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 1, FR

• Josh Grady, R-JR
• Kris Kentera, R-JR
• Patton Robinette, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 1, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 2, FR

• Josh Grady, R-SR
• Kris Kentera, R-SR
• Patton Robinette, R-JR
• Recruit TBA 1, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 2, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 3, FR

• Patton Robinette, R-SR
• Recruit TBA 1, R-JR
• Recruit TBA 2, R-SO
• Recruit TBA 3, R-FR
• Recruit TBA 4, FR

In other words, O’Brien would step up the competition and ensure that none of our guys becomes a starting SEC quarterback by default. Not sure what Jordan Rodgers thinks about all this, but we know what Carta-Samuels does. Yesterday he posted this on Twitter:

“I will compete with absolutely ANYBODY that wants to play QB at Vanderbilt. Bring EM ON it will come down to WHO performs BETTER. # ready”

I love it. Glad we’ve got him. And if O’Brien never sets foot on campus, ACS will help accomplish what we’re talking about: He’ll either be more of an SEC quarterback than Jordan Rodgers, or he’ll make Rodgers a better one. Franklin hasn't built one of the most competitive environments in college football yet, but it's a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Which Vandy redshirt juniors will - and won't - return for a fifth year

With signing day in the rear view mirror, Vandy now has 89 scholarship players on the roster. If Anthony Standifer, a cornerback prospect from Illinois who’s visiting Nashville this weekend, chooses us over Pittsburgh, then that’ll be 90 scholarship players, which means five guys will have to go.

So who will it be? As usual, we’re willing to offer our opinion, with the understanding that we can’t anticipate problems with grades or discipline. James Franklin has said he’s not going to pull a Saban and take scholarships away from guys who hold up their end of the bargain on the practice field and in the classroom, but that he reserves the right to (1) deny an additional year of eligibility to kids who’ve already been on scholarship for four years, and (2) tell kids at the bottom of the depth chart that he needs to transfer if he wants to play somewhere.

Three rising redshirt juniors have already withdrawn their names: LB DeAndre Jones, RB Micah Powell, and OL Caleb Welchans. Welchans was a versatile backup who should easily be replaced on the depth chart by one of the redshirt freshmen, and Powell won’t be particularly missed as a special teams coverage guy. But we could have used Jones, who saw meaningful action last season at middle linebacker and was seemingly being groomed to take Chris Marve’s starting job. He’s chosen to start his career as a mechanical engineer and we wish him the best.

Meanwhile, rising junior C Logan Stewart and redshirt freshman RB Mitchell Hester have been dismissed from the team. Andre Simmons vanished from the roster after his run-in with the law in November, and Blake Gowder had his recent run-in with the law long after he left the team at the start of last season.

OK, here’s our best guess as to who’s gonna stay, who’s gonna go, who’s gotta wait, and who’s got a decision to make.

• LB Archibald Barnes: The late bloomer became a starter after Tristan Strong’s season ending injury, and became a star with two huge interceptions against UT, including a 99-yard TD return. Along with Chase Garnham, he’s one of only two sure things we have right now at linebacker.
• OL Josh Jelesky: This time last year, we had him pegged to be four and done, but after an emergency switch from defensive end to offensive guard, he caught on quickly and by season’s end had beaten out starter Mylon Brown. Sure, we signed a great freshman class of O-linemen, but with only six guys returning with any experience, we need Jelesky on the roster.
• P Richard Kent: He’s our punter and we need him back. But because he’s a walk-on, he doesn’t count toward our scholarship limit.
• DT Rob Lohr: He’s a two-year starter at defensive tackle, and kicked it up a higher notch this past season. He’s a lock.
• DT Colt Nichter: Whether he can hold onto his starting job with Morse, Taylor and Dixon breathing down his neck remains to be seen, but we absolutely need Nichter in our tackle rotation.
• QB Jordan Rodgers: One of the only guys with no family members standing with him on senior day, which this year included redshirt juniors. That’s because Rodgers’ Vandy career is only just beginning.
• OL Ryan Seymour: After Rodgers, our most important redshirt senior. With the loss of Fischer to graduation and Stewart to disciplinary issues, we absolutely can’t afford to lose any veteran linemen, and Seymour is one of our best and most versatile.
• LB Tristan Strong: He’s struggled with injuries throughout his career, but the buzz is that he’s been working hard at a comeback since his mid-season knee injury. With early enrollee Darreon Herring and converted safety Karl Butler getting long looks at outside backer in the spring, Strong appears to be a possibility to inherit Marve’s job in the middle.
• DE Johnell Thomas: Mention defensive end, and Vandy fans might automatically think about Walker May, signee Caleb Azubike and even sophomore Kyle Woestmann. But expect Thomas to return and play a significant role in the rotation, which should also include Thad McHaney.

• WR John Cole: Cole’s not going to supplant one of our top four targets — Matthews, Boyd, Krause and Tate — but he may get a shot to replace Udom Umoh, who filled in wherever needed. On the other hand, with redshirt frosh Jacquese Kirk and signees Cory Batey and Tip McKenzie, that may not be necessary.
• WR Akeem Dunham: A longer shot because he lacks Cole’s experience and versatility, but he’s big and athletic and could do some things Cole can’t.
• PK Ryan Fowler: Was headed for the door before Carey Spear started missing important field goals. Now Fowler should return unless Spear suddenly shows coaches that he can handle the placekicking duties by himself.
• TE Austin Monahan: He’s been big, talented, at the top of the depth chart – and injured – for his five years at Vandy. Does he really have the intestinal fortitude to return for a sixth year? With talented prospects Dillon van der Wal, Darien Bryant and Steven Scheu in the fold, that may not be his decision to make.
• OLB Al Owens: This time last year, he was a lock to be four and done. But Owens filled in admirably when Tristan Strong and then Chase Garnham were felled by injuries. He lacks the talent of all five linebacker signees (if you include Weatherly as a backer) but coaches would probably like to redshirt a couple of those guys and they may give a nod to Owens’ experience, especially if Strong isn’t fully recovered.

• DE Dexter Daniels: He became quite a hit man on special teams last season, but he played sparingly on defense and can be easily replaced by one of the redshirt freshmen.
• DT Taylor Loftley: How expendable was Loftley? When Greenstone was injured last season, coaches filled his spot on the five-man rotation by burning the redshirt off freshman Barron Dixon.

• Brady Brown: One of our highest rated receiver prospects ever, Brown hasn’t played since his true freshman year (during which he was later injured and redshirted) and was criticized by Coach Franklin last season for being a possession receiver who didn’t get yards after the catch (“we don’t want any possession receivers on this team”).
• Trent Pruitt: A small, tough kid in the mold of John Cole, he played special teams early last season as a redshirt freshman and could still find a role somewhere on the team, but he doesn’t appear to be an SEC-caliber receiver.
• Grant Ramsay: Didn’t come close to seeing the field as a redshirt freshman. Lots of offensive linemen take a couple of years to develop (Mylon Brown, James Williams), but we’re not sure if big Grant is one of them.
• Thomas Ryan: A solid recruit at end who didn’t play last season as a redshirt freshman. With the arrival of Caleb Azubike and Stephen Weatherly and the development of Franklin’s boy Jimmy Stewart, it’ll be an uphill climb to see playing time, though not impossible. If Ryan does return and doesn’t play, expect him to be moved to another position.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update: Signing Day: It's official! Brian Kimbrow tops ranking of Vandy's 21 recruits

About the time Josh Dawson was flipping to Georgia as expected, Brian Kimbrow was signing with the Commodores. So let's celebrate! It's been easy to take Kimbrow for granted because he's been in the fold for so long, but if he'd just chosen us out of the blue we'd be falling all over ourselves with joy.

He's the most highly regarded and sought-after high school football player that Vanderbilt has ever signed. Ever. That's a big deal.

Oh, and have we addressed our need at linebacker and offensive line or what?

Would be nice to have gotten another couple of wide receivers.

And if you're wondering what happened to kicker Colby Cooke, it appears that he'll redshirt after all, which means he won't count toward our scholarships for this year. It also means that Ryan Fowler's probably returning for another year so he and Carey Spear can take turns giving us another suspenseful year of watching the Commodores attempt chip-shot kicks.

Here's who we've signed so far, in the order of which ones were rated the highest and had the best offers (in other words, our best recruits on paper):

1. RB BRIAN KIMBROW (5-8, 170; Memphis, Tenn.)
• The scoop: Possibly the fastest high school senior in the nation and definitely the most decorated recruit in Vanderbilt history; offers include Alabama, LSU, USC, Auburn, Arkansas, Oregon, Ohio State, Miami and many more
• Best rating: Consensus four-star recruit; Rivals’ No. 4 all-purpose back
• Where he’ll play: Anywhere he wants to; at 170 pounds, he’s not an every-down back, but you can bet Franklin will get him the ball as many times as possible, starting with kick returns
• When he’ll play: I think he just lined up in our backfield; he’ll play right away

2. LB JACOB SEALAND (6-2, 215; Tucker, Ga.)
• The scoop: A hard-nosed, athletic inside linebacker with offers from Miami, South Carolina and Arkansas
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 14 inside linebacker, with four stars
• Where he’ll play: Everybody says he’s an ideal middle linebacker, and Vandy has an opening there with the departure of Chris Marve and his backup, DeAndre Jones
• When he’ll play: We’d be shocked if he didn’t play right away as a true freshman and eventually compete for a starting position

3. OL ANDREW JELKS (6-6, 270; Paris, Tenn.)
• The scoop: Perhaps Vanderbilt’s best offensive line prospect ever, with offers from Alabama, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Missouri and Stanford
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 31 offensive tackle (four stars)
• Where he’ll play: He’s a natural at left tackle; think Wes Johnson, but taller and with a bigger frame
• When he’ll play: He’ll compete for a spot on the two-deep on the O-line, where depth is lacking; how soon he plays and whether he’ll redshirt may depend on the development of redshirt freshmen like James Lewis, Jake Bernstein and Jose Valedon

4. LB DARREON HERRING (6-1, 220; Stone Mountain, Ga.)
• The scoop: A rangy, athletic outside linebacker capable of staying on the field in nickel and dime situations; had offers from Clemson, Arkansas and Stanford
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 30 outside linebacker (four stars)
• Where he’ll play: Linebacker! An early enrollee, this guy will be a welcome sight in spring practice and will likely keep at least one safety from being converted to linebacker to shore up depth concerns
• When he’ll play: He needs to put on weight, but will be competing for a starting job the moment he steps on campus; our last early enrollee, Kenny Ladler, was starting by the third game of his first season

5. DL CALEB AZUBIKE (6-4, 250; Nashville, Tenn.)
• The scoop: A raw, freakishly athletic defensive end with offers from Miami, UCLA, Mississippi State and Kentucky
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 15 weakside defensive end (four stars)
• Where he’ll play: He’s a defensive end all the way, and is already bigger, faster and stronger than our current starters
• When he’ll play: Right away. Expect him to be competing for a starting job by the middle of the season

6. OL KEVIN MCCOY (6-5, 285; Tampa, Fla.)
• The scoop: A big agile offensive lineman and high school teammate of Josh Grady with offers from Auburn and Florida; he must be special because we kept pursuing him after locking up five other offensive linemen
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 37 offensive tackle (high three stars)
• Where he’ll play: He sure looks like a tackle, but could move inside early and play guard
• When he’ll play: Ideally would redshirt, but will compete to play right away

7. OL WILL HOLDEN (6-6, 280; Green Cove Springs, Fla.)
• The scoop: A long, athletic tackle whose stock rose after his verbal commitment to Vandy; turned down a late offer from Florida
• Best rating: Scout’s No. 49 offensive tackle (three stars); high three stars from Rivals and ESPN
• Where he’ll play: Appears to be a natural tackle, but of course will play where needed on the O-line during his career; Vandy is concentrating now on stockpiling tackles with long arms and nimble feet and putting them in any of the five positions
• When he’ll play: Is bigger than some of our starters and, along with expected signees Jelks and McCoy, could compete to play as a true freshman because of our lack of depth on the line; philosophically, the staff would like to redshirt him

8. OL ADAM BUTLER (6-4, 285; Duncanville, Texas)
• The scoop: A big athletic lineman possibly capable of making a quick transition to guard; offers from UCLA and Oklahoma State
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 41 tackle (high three stars) and ESPN’s No. 43 guard (high three stars)
• Where he’ll play: With all these tackles in the fold, Butler will likely move inside; he’s a smart kid with the ability to read defenses and react quickly, so center might be a possibility too
• When he’ll play: Conventional wisdom says he’ll redshirt, but a true freshman lineman would likely play guard, and that’s Butler’s natural position; expect him to make a strong bid to crack the two-deep though he’ll have a lot of competition and he's capable of bulking up to 300+ pounds

9. OL BLAKE FROMANG (6-7, 285; Orlando, Fla.)
• The scoop: The tallest Commodore at nearly 6-foot-8, Fromang has the athletic gifts of a dominating tackle; had offers from Cincinnati, Virginia, West Virginia and Virginia Tech, as well as SEC offers from Kentucky and Ole Miss
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 71 offensive tackle (high three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Has tackle written all over him
• When he’ll play: A good-looking prospect who’ll likely need a redshirt year to develop; after a year in the weight room and at Magic’s training table, he’ll be massive

10. QB PATTON ROBINETTE (6-4, 220; Maryville, Tenn.)
• The scoop: A brainy dual-threat quarterback who was hours from enrolling at UNC
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 31 quarterback (high three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Quarterback and only quarterback, as opposed to last year, when we took three athletes who could play quarterback or a variety of other positions
• When he’ll play: Will almost certainly redshirt and be ready to compete for the starting job in his second year (Grady and Kentera had better be ready)

11. LB JA’KARRI THOMAS (6-1, 200; Tallahassee, Fla.)
• The scoop: A speedy, edge-rushing outside linebacker and former Arkansas commitment; other offers from Miami, Stanford, Ole Miss and Kentucky
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 66 outside linebacker (medium three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Along with Sealand, Herring and Harper, he fills a big need at linebacker
• When he’ll play: Could provide immediate special teams help and linebacker depth, but might also redshirt and put on weight; a lot depends on the development of fellow freshmen Darreon Herring and Jacob Sealand, the recovery of Tristan Strong, and the ability of safeties like Karl Butler and Larry Franklin to pick up linebacking assignments

12. LB HARDING HARPER (6-2, 215; Montgomery, Ala.)
• The scoop: A tough linebacker with a knack for the ball and a gift for rushing the passer and stopping the run; offers from Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia Tech
• Best rating: Rivals’ No. 32 middle linebacker (three stars)
• Where he’ll play: A big part of Franklin’s plan to reload the roster at linebacker; can play inside or outside linebacker
• When he’ll play: Lanky at 6-2, 215, he could stand to gain some weight; will have a shot to make the two-deep in preseason camp, but may redshirt if two or three of the other freshmen linebackers develop as expected and a few other things happen, including natural safety Karl Butler continuing to make a smooth shift to linebacker, senior Tristan Strong recovering from injury, and senior Al Owens returning for a fifth year; still, his ability to play either middle or outside might give him a nod over Thomas in his first year

13. DE/LB STEPHEN WEATHERLY (Snellville, Ga.)
• The scoop: A beanpole at 6-5, 220, but a dazzling athlete for his size with the ability to be a dangerous edge rusher from either end or outside linebacker; he’s been rated as everything from a two-star to a four-star; offers from Stanford, Kentucky and Ole Miss
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 24 defensive end (four stars)
• Where he’ll play: The fact that Vandy lost defensive end Josh Dawson on signing day and just grabbed a fourth linebacker (Harding Harper in addition to Sealand, Herring and Thomas) suggests that Dawson may be groomed at end; the last DE/OLB prospect we had who was this skinny was Walker May, and he redshirted and became a starting defensive end; we think the same thing will happen with Weatherly
• When he’ll play: He’s gained a bunch of weight in the past year, but he’ll need to continue to do so; he’ll get a shot, but Azubike appears more game-ready, which means Weatherly may redshirt

14. WR CORY BATEY (Nashville, Tenn.)
• The scoop: A savvy, talented receiver who can play slot or outside and would be a great complement to a playmaking deep threat; offers from Cincinnati and Kentucky
• Best rating: Scout’s No. 95 wide receiver (three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Though he’s also a promising defensive back, this kid will play receiver at Vandy
• When he’ll play: The Commodores have had at least three receivers defect from this signing class, and Charlie Miller didn’t pan out; even though Vandy has four good dependable receivers, they’ll need some more next season and Batey’s a likely candidate

15. DL TOREY AGEE (6-3, 250; Opelika, Ala.)
• The scoop: A big, fast defensive lineman and son of an NFL player with offers from Stanford and Louisville
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 99 defensive end (medium three-star)
• Where he’ll play: With Josh Dawson flipping to Georgia, he may stick at defensive end; but until Vandy starts recruiting true defensive tackles, we generally bulk up guys like Agee and play them at tackle
• When he’ll play: Even if he stays at end, he’ll likely redshirt because of our deep front line; expect him to redshirt, switch to tackle and start beefing up, like Conor Hart did last season

16. OL BARRETT GOUGER (6-4, 280; Soddy Daisy, Tenn.)
• The scoop: One of Vandy's first commitments, the Chattanooga product hasn't garnered the flashy offers of the other O-linemen in this class, but he's a tough, talented prospect; had offers from Wake Forest and Memphis
• Best rating: ESPN's No. 61 offensive tackle (high three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Listed as a tackle, but the more you look at guys like Jelks, Fromang and Holden, the more he looks like a guard; we'll see
• When he’ll play: Of all the O-line prospects, he and Fromang look the most likely to redshirt, but we said the same thing last year about Pulley and Townsend

17. DB PARIS HEAD (5-11, 175; Lawrenceville, Ga.)
• The scoop: A fine defensive back with decent speed and great ball skills from a powerhouse Georgia high school; offers include Tennessee and Louisville
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 50 cornerback (medium three-star)
• Where he’ll play: Right now, he’s not big enough to play safety and maybe not fast enough for corner; he’s got room to grow so expect to see him bulk up and eventually play safety
• When he’ll play: Will likely redshirt

18. DB BRANDON BANKS (5-10, 170; Brandywine, Md.)
• The scoop: A speedy athlete who’s mostly listed as a cornerback but could play receiver; his best offer was from Cincinnati
• Best rating: Scout’s No. 52 cornerback (three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Depends on whether we sign more than one pure receiver to this class and how our other receivers develop; we have a solid first four (Matthews, Boyd, Krause, Tate) but need more WR depth; last year, Jacquese Kirk appeared to be a better prospect at corner but practiced at receiver and eventually redshirted
• When he’ll play: A likely redshirt; if Kirk and especially Derek King redshirted last season then Banks should definitely do the same

19. DB TORREN MCGASTER (6-0, 185; Daphne, Ala.)
• The scoop: A big, natural cornerback who appears physically ready for the SEC; flew under the radar until his commitment to Vandy but also had offers from Missouri and Kentucky
• Best rating: Rivals No. 64 cornerback (medium three stars)
• Where he’ll play: This kid’s a cornerback
• When he’ll play: He’s physically more ready to play cornerback than fellow recruits Banks or Head, so he’ll definitely get a shot to show his stuff in preseason practice; but again, if King redshirted last year then don’t be surprised if McGaster does the same this year

20. DL LADARIUS BANKS (6-2, 275; Dallas, Ga.)
• The scoop: The closest thing Vandy got to a defensive tackle in this recruiting class; offers from Cincinnati and Illinois
• Best rating: ESPN’s No. 156 defensive end (low three stars)
• Where he’ll play: With three upperclassmen in the rotation at tackle, we’re going to need some beef in the middle in the next couple of years; Joe Townsend, who played offense last year, is one possibility, and Banks is an even better one
• When he’ll play: With a rotation of Lohr, Nichter, Morse, Taylor and Dixon, expect Banks to take a redshirt year to add 30 pounds and learn the ropes

21. WR JABORIAN "TIP" MCKENZIE (5-8, 175; Natchez, Miss.)
• The scoop: A poor man’s Brian Kimbrow with the same Lilliputian size without the blazing speed, but still quick, shifty and versatile with great hands; had offers from Kansas State and Memphis
• Best rating: Scout’s No. 110 running back (low three stars)
• Where he’ll play: Like Kimbrow, he doesn’t look like an every-down back right now, and is being listed by Vanderbilt as a wide receiver; he could definitely contribute in the slot because of his quick feet, great receiving skills and ability to operate in open space, and Vandy has a big need at receiver after failing to close on verbal commitment Andre McDonald and other true receivers like Ian Thomas and Charlie Miller
• When he’ll play: If Mitchell Hester, the since-departed RB and returner who had a dazzling preseason camp, and other athletes like Jacquese Kirk redshirted last year then you’d expect McKenzie to do the same, especially with Warren Norman returning from injury and Wesley Tate establishing himself in the slot

Sealand gets things rolling for Commodores

Still no word on official letters of intent. They should start rolling in at any minute. Last year, the unheralded guys signed first, followed by the hot-shot guys like Josh Grady who were holding press conferences and shuffling hats, then the guys on the West Coast, then a guy who was plugging the spot of another guy who didn’t qualify.

Wait, 4-star linebacker Jake Sealand just announced. He’s the first one. Maybe that will help sway his teammate, Josh Dawson, who everybody seems to think will flip to Georgia.

Stop by MV! today for updates and analysis. Happy signing day!