Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vanderbilt spring football preview: A pair of quarterbacks become receivers, Mylon and Brady say goodbye — and everything's open to the public

Here are some headlines as Vandy enters spring practice tomorrow. You won’t find these in the Tennessean, because the only reporter apparently allowed to think about the Commodores is in New Mexico right now covering our SEC championship basketball team.

You may remember that we had a whopping five scholarship quarterbacks on the roster last season, including three true freshmen – Lafonte Thourogood, Josh Grady and Kris Kentera. At the end of the season, during Liberty Bowl practice, coach James Franklin announced that Thourogood was moving to running back. Yesterday, he announced that Grady’s moving to slot receiver and Kentera’s moving to H-back/tight end. Recent signee Patton Robinette will likely redshirt while Jordan Rodgers and Austyn Carta-Samuels duke it out for the starting QB job, which means Grady would be the emergency No. 3 QB and will probably see some wildcat duty too. Franklin said Thourogood’s a big athlete who’s still looking for the right position, and that both Grady and Kentera needed to get on the field right away and would be competing for starting positions.

Zac Stacy was a workhorse last season, and he could be doing it again in his senior season. That’s because both Warren Norman and Jerron Seymour are expected to miss most or all of spring practice with injuries. Norman, the 2009 SEC Freshman of the Year, sat out last season with injury and redshirted, while Seymour played injured and spelled Stacy. The other running backs on the spring depth chart are Thourogood, who may or may not be a running back, and somebody named Hasan Clayton, a walk-on listed on the roster as a cornerback. Of course, true freshman Brian Kimbrow, the highest Vandy recruit ever, will arrive in the summer but at last glance weighed 165 pounds and will not be an every down back.

Sure, six fine-looking recruits will report for spring practice, but pickings are slim in the meantime. Rising junior Mylon Brown, a 300-pounder who started part-time last season, has been dismissed from the team. To make matters worse, stalwart guard Ryan Seymour and part-time starter Chase White will also miss spring while rehabbing injuries. Franklin hopes Wesley Johnson can play at his natural position, left tackle, this season, but that depends on whether Spencer Pulley can become the new center. (Starting center Logan Stewart, you may remember, was dismissed from the team at the end of last season.) Franklin said Pulley has never played center, but that he’s a solid kid and good leader and the kind of player and person, at least on paper, that you’d like to have at center. We’ll see. We’re betting this experiment is a success.

Receiver Brady Brown, to our knowledge the highest rated receiver that Vandy’s ever recruited (yes, even higher than Earl), has left the team for personal reasons, Franklin said. We’re guessing that one of those “personal reasons” might be that he was never going to see the field. From the moment he set foot on campus, Franklin was saying he didn’t want possession receivers, and used Brown as an example of the kind of receiver he didn’t want. Ouch.

Meanwhile, some other players who’ve received limited or no playing time early in their careers – and who we’ve speculated might transfer elsewhere if they want to see some playing time – are still on the roster. That includes offensive lineman Grant Ramsay, slot receiver Trent Pruitt, and defensive end Thomas Ryan.

We won’t be seeing Mason Johnston on the field for the Commodores for a long time, if ever. The rising redshirt junior, who we’ve speculated is finished playing because of serious and persistent leg injuries, is listed on the roster as a non-participant and medical redshirt. We’re guessing he’s done, but the terminology leaves hope that he might have a six-year career like fellow tight end Austin Monahan is having.

By my count, Vandy is two scholarships under the limit, even if Johnston does remain on scholarship. Take him away, and the Commodores have room for those three guys transferring from Maryland – all-star quarterback Danny O’Brien, offensive tackle Max Garcia and linebacker Mario Rowson. Just saying. We think O’Brien would immediately step into the starting job, and Garcia would start in 2013 when he became eligible to play and would give our bumper crop of linemen more time to develop. And five of our linebackers in 2013 will be starting their second year as either sophomores or redshirt freshmen, so we could use some experience there too. We don’t think all those guys will end up as Commodores, but O’Brien’s still a strong possibility. Franklin can’t talk about prospects, but he repeatedly said that he was always trying to improve the talent level. In fact, he used that tone of voice he uses when he’s speaking in code. Like when he said, “I have great respect for COACH RICHT,” meaning that he hates Todd Grantham’s guts, or “I was really impressed with the enthusiasm and support from the fans at TENNESSEE,” meaning that our fans suck.

Grant Ramsay’s our starting left guard? Walk-on John Townsley has moved from quarterback to wide receiver and is starting ahead of Jordan Matthews? Walk-on Hasan Clayton is listed ahead of superstar recruit Lafonte Thourogood at tailback. WTF? Actually, Franklin ranks players on the spring depth chart according to seniority. You know, so players will get the message that every position is truly up for grabs.

As expected, the following players have graduated and left school with one year of eligibility remaining: Receivers John Cole and Akeem Dunham, defensive end Dexter Daniels, defensive tackle Taylor Loftley, linebackers DeAndre Jones and Al Owens, running back Micah Powell, offensive lineman Caleb Welchans and walk-on receiver Jamison Sackey.

The following players are listed as having already graduated but are returning for a final year of eligibility: DT Cole Nichter, QB Jordan Rodgers and LB Tristan Strong. The following players are returning for a fifth year and will give graduation the old college try: LB Archibald Barnes, OG Josh Jelesky, DT Rob Lohr, TE Austin Monahan and DE Johnell Thomas. Austin Monahan hasn't graduated yet? We figured he'd be a doctor by now.

These players are listed as having already graduated, though they haven't completed their third year of college yet: RB Zac Stacy, CB Trey Wilson and S Eric Samuels.

Franklin announced that, “upon further notice,” all Vandy practices will be open to the public, at least until reporters start writing about the new schemes and trick plays he’s installing. Franklin’s doing a masterful job so far of changing the story of Vandy football, and he’s also doing a masterful job of dictating this story to the media. Here’s Vandy’s practice schedule:
• Opening practice at 4:15 on Friday.
• Saturday practices at 10 a.m. through April 17.
• Tuesday practices at 4:15 through April 10.
• Thursday practices at 4:15 through April 12.
• Black & Gold Spring Game at 6 p.m. on April 14.

Go Dores! Beat Harvard!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Vandy uses up its last scholarship — at least for now

Our recent reconnaissance of the signing day war room depth chart revealed that Vanderbilt had filled 84 scholarships, with one left to give.

There were two candidates:
• Cornerback Anthony Standifer, who didn’t commit anywhere on signing day and was scheduled for a campus visit to Vandy, Pittsburgh and Ole Miss.
• Maryland quarterback Danny O’Brien, a James Franklin protégé, whom everybody assumed would transfer to Vandy if Randy Edsall would grant him permission to do so.

Since then, Standifer committed to Ole Miss and Edsall graciously reconsidered – or did damage control after getting blasted by every media outlet known to man – and allowed O’Brien to transfer to Vandy after all.

But the other day the Commodores offered the remaining scholarship to kicker/punter Colby Cooke, who was going to grayshirt but who will now enroll in school in the fall. That means Vandy now has four kickers on scholarship, placekickers Carey Spear and Ryan Fowler and punter Richard Kent. Sure, that’s a boatload of kickers, and Cooke may still redshirt, but considering last year’s performances by Spear and Fowler, we need him available.

So what about O’Brien? Don’t worry, if O’Brien and Franklin both want the transfer to happen, we’ll find scholarship room. This time last year, in Franklin’s first spring, three rising sophomores – Charlie Goro, Blake Southerland and Blake Gowder – were cleared from the roster for the usual variety of reasons, including injury.

Here’s a look at how our 85 scholarships are currently allotted:

1. Jordan Rodgers, R-SR
2. Austyn Carta-Samuels, R-JR
3. Josh Grady, R-FR
4. Kris Kentera, R-FR
5. Patton Robinette, FR

1. Zac Stacy, SR
2. Warren Norman, R-JR
3. Jerron Seymour, SO
4. Lafonte Thourogood, R-FR
5. Brian Kimbrow, FR

1. Brady Brown, R-JR
2. Wesley Tate, R-JR
3. Jonathan Krause, JR
4. Jordan Matthews, JR
5. Chris Boyd, R-SO
6. Trent Pruitt, R-SO
7. Jacquese Kirk, R-FR
8. Cory Batey, FR
9. Tip McKenzie, FR

1. Austin Monahan, R-SR
2. Fitz Lassing, JR (also fullback)
3. Dillon van der Wal, SO
4. Darien Bryant, R-FR
5. Steven Scheu, R-FR

1. Josh Jelesky, R-SR
2. Ryan Seymour, R-SR
3. Mylon Brown, R-JR
4. Wesley Johnson, R-JR
5. Andrew Bridges, R-SO
6. Grant Ramsay, R-SO
7. Spencer Pulley, SO
8. Chase White, R-SO
9. Joe Townsend, SO
10. Jake Bernstein, R-FR
11. James Lewis, R-FR
12. Jose Valedon, R-FR
13. Adam Butler, FR
14. Blake Fromang, FR
15. Barrett Gouger, FR
16. Will Holden, FR
17. Andrew Jelks, FR
18. Kevin McCoy, FR

1. Rob Lohr, R-SR
2. Colt Nichter, R-SR
3. Jared Morse, JR
4. Vince Taylor, R-SO
5. Barron Dixon, SO
6. Conor Hart, R-FR (also offensive lineman)
7. Torey Agee, FR
8. Ladarius Banks, FR

1. Johnell Thomas, R-SR
2. Walker May, R-JR
3. Thad McHaney, R-JR
4. Thomas Ryan, R-SO
5. Kyle Woestmann, R-SO
6. Jimmy Stewart, R-FR
7. Caleb Azubike, FR
8. Stephen Weatherly, FR (also linebacker)

1. Archibald Barnes, R-SR
2. Tristan Strong, R-SR
3. Chase Garnham, JR
4. Karl Butler, JR (also safety)
5. Larry Franklin, R-FR (also safety)
6. Harding Harper, FR
7. Darreon Herring, FR
8. Jacob Sealand, FR
9. Ja’Karri Thomas, FR

1. Eddie Foster, SR
2. Trey Wilson, SR
3. Steven Clarke, JR
4. Andre Hal, JR
5. Derek King, R-FR
6. Brandon Banks, FR
7. Paris Head, FR
8. Torren McGaster, FR

1. Eric Samuels, SR
2. Javon Marshall, R-JR
3. Kenny Ladler, JR
4. Jahmel McIntosh, R-FR
5. Andrew Williamson, R-FR

1. Ryan Fowler, R-SR (placekicker/punter)
2. Richard Kent, R-SR (punter)
3. Carey Spear, JR (placekicker)
4. Colby Cooke, FR (placekicker/punter)

1. Andrew East, R-SO (also linebacker)