Aug. 25, 2011
Preseason camp has come to an end with Head Coach James Franklin and the Vanderbilt football team turning their attention to the season opener against Elon on September 3. The Commodores spent the dog days of August, which included five two-a-day sessions, learning the playbook and competing for the chance to earn a starting spot on Saturdays.
To put a wrap on the preseason, VUcommodores.com polled media writers that cover the Commodores regularly to get their selections on standout performances during camp. The group surveyed includes Jeff Lockridge (The Tennessean), Jerome Boettcher (The City Paper), Jesse Johnson (VandySports.com), and Reid Harris (VandyMania.com/InsideVandy.com).
Jeff Lockridge, The Tennessean: Trey Wilson. This is a tough one because there are several right answers. But I like Wilson because we're talking about a reserve player last year who has earned a starting cornerback spot by making big plays and interceptions every day of camp. Most days he has two picks. His reads are much improved, and he is clearly stronger, quicker and surer of himself than a year ago.
Jerome Boettcher, The City Paper: Jordan Matthews. Jordan looked miles and miles ahead of the other wide receivers. His athletic ability, his length, his vertical jump.... he could put up big numbers this year if the ball gets anywhere near him.
Jesse Johnson, VandySports.com: Casey Hayward. Hayward was very steady throughout camp and definitely lived up to his billing as an All-SEC and All-American candidate. Showed excellent leadership throughout the practices, leading a unit that not only covered well but caused several turnovers during the camp.
Reid Harris, VandyMania.com/InsideVandy.com: Jordan Matthews. Jordan has been the most consistent playmaker on either side of the ball throughout camp, using his size and athleticism to make plays downfield. He forces the defense to know exactly where he is at all times.
Lockridge: Jordan Matthews. He is making the type of difficult catches that no Vandy receiver has made in recent years, and his knack for taking jump balls away from defenders is something special. While his confidence has spiked, so has his showmanship in practice - hopefully that doesn't translate to any unsportsmanlike penalties on game day.
Boettcher: Zac Stacy. Besides Matthews, he has looked very sharp, especially on cuts. Possesses an obvious burst of speed as well.
Johnson: Jordan Matthews. Matthews continued his strong end to the 2010 season and sensational spring with an equally impressive preseason. Solidified himself as the team's go-to-receiver and top overall target, scoring several touchdown passes and making a number of highlight catches.
Harris: Zac Stacy. Stacy, now completely healthy, has picked up where he left last year as a consistent, explosive back, leading Coach Franklin to dub him "Mr. Consistency" after practice on August 15.
Lockridge: Javon Marshall. I could just as easily go with tackle Colt Nichter, linebacker Chase Garnham or defensive back Andre Hal. But Marshall has come the longest way in the shortest amount of time, and now he may be in line to snag the starting free safety job from Kenny Ladler.
Boettcher: Secondary. I'm cheating here but the whole unit looked good. Might be team's biggest strength, definitely on defense. If I had to pick one I would say CB Casey Hayward or Trey Wilson.
Johnson: Andre Hal. Hal was probably the defensive standout of camp because he caused several turnovers and looked like a star in the making. The sophomore played very tight coverage and got his hands on the ball during basically ever practice session.
Harris: Colt Nichter. Nichter has taken to the new, aggressive defensive coaching philosophy and worked his way into the starting rotation at defensive tackle. His combination of power and speed allows him to break into the backfield and get pressure on the quarterback with consistency.
SPECIAL TEAMS STANDOUT
Lockridge: Carey Spear. You need to see live action (i.e. tackling) to evaluate coverage teams, and Vandy has steered clear of live action. So that narrows my options to the kickers. Spear's field goals have been longer and straighter than Ryan Fowler's and he appears to have won that job.
Boettcher: Carey Spear. The sophomore might just take Ryan Fowler's job after a strong fall.
Johnson: Carey Spear. Spear made strides in his field goal kicking during the camp, competing with two-year starter Ryan Fowler. Showed excellent form, kicking strength and accuracy and could be a strong option as a multi-phase specialist as the season opens.
Harris: Richard Kent. According to Coach Franklin, Kent has worked to lose weight and get into prime physical condition. His increased conditioning shows on the practice field, booming punts with impressive hangtime and accuracy.
Lockridge: Josh Grady. He has shown good poise, quickness and arm strength while outplaying Kris Kentera and an ailing Lafonte Thourogood for the No. 3 QB job. I would have gone with RB Jerron Seymour a week and a half ago, but he has since been slowed by an injury. It's worth noting that RB Mitchell Hester, OL Spencer Pulley and DL Barron Dixon have enjoyed great camps and put themselves in a spot where they could see the field this season.
Boettcher: Jerron Seymour and Mitchell Hester. Before he sustained an injury, Seymour looked very impressive. And Hester was no slouch either. Both could add to depth in backfield.
Johnson: Jerron Seymour. No newcomer caught the eyes of the media and observers as much as Seymour. Despite a strong Commodore backfield, Seymour showed the kind of elusiveness and sudden explosive running that could be an asset to the team in 2011.
Harris: Jerron Seymour. When asked about freshmen performers, every player I've talked to has said Seymour. His quick feet and elusiveness allow him to turn the corner and cut upfield as fast as anyone in the backfield.
Lockridge: Defensive line. Too easy to say the defensive backs, where much of the talent on this team resides. I like what Sean Spencer has done with the D-line. The development of several young ends like Kyle Woestmann, combined with the intensity we're seeing from Colt Nichter, Rob Lohr, Vince Taylor and others at the tackle position, leads me to think we'll see respectable sack totals and tackles for loss.
Boettcher: Defense. A lot of experience is back and a lot of the team's - offense or defense - playmakers.
Johnson: Defensive Backs. The secondary was considered the strength of the team heading into camp and they didn't disappoint. Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson led a group that was both quick and physical against the run and had a real nose for the ball in the passing game. The defensive backs showed excellent potential for not only strong play but solid overall depth.
Harris: Secondary. Led by seniors Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson, the secondary has given the offense fits throughout preseason camp. With the lack of depth at linebacker, the secondary has stepped up to anchor the defense.
Lockridge: Mylon Brown. No question here. If you attended one practice - any practice - last season, then you heard Brown being criticized for being slow and lazy, physically and mentally. But in the offseason, something clicked. Brown has shed fat, bulked up on muscle, improved his focus and commitment tenfold, and is in position to start at offensive guard.
Boettcher: Karl Butler, Javon Marshall, Tristan Strong, Chase Garnham, Jonathan Krause, and Wesley Tate moving to WR.
Johnson: Javon Marshall, Barron Dixon, and Josh Jelesky. Marshall surprised with his physical style and quickness to the ball. He probably made the biggest hits of the camp and played at top speed. Dixon surprised as a freshman with his size and quickness. He could be a future star along the defensive line. Jelesky surprised as a first-time offensive lineman after moving from defensive tackle. The redshirt junior may still need some lower body size but he had surprising hand technique and seems like a quick study.
Harris: Kyle Woestmann and Tristan Strong. Woestmann has stepped into the place of Walker May and become an explosive force coming from the defensive end. He seems to have leapfrogged a few more experienced ends on the depth chart to get snaps with the first team defense in just his redshirt freshman year. Strong has stepped up at what Franklin called a "position of concern" to bring some stability and quality play to the linebacking corps.
Lockridge: Micah Powell. I'll offer a bit of a surprise here. Powell, a fourth-year junior who came to Vanderbilt as a DB, has worked as the No. 2 tailback for a decent portion of camp with Warren Norman nursing an injury. He is clearly a more powerful runner than in 2010. He has gone from an emergency option to a solid option, and someone who will find his way into the rotation.
Boettcher: Wesley Johnson, Kyle Woestmann, and Vince Taylor. Johnson appears to be the starting center and he isn't having any trouble adjusting to his new position. Woestmann looks explosive coming around the edge. Should start with first team. Taylor has turned up the intensity a lot, will be part of rotating interior.
Johnson: Kyle Fischer. Fischer looked improved in the spring but looks like a totally new player this fall. Playing at mostly right tackle, his improved physical shape allowed him to show off the kind of athleticism he was once known for as a recruit. His strength and experience has made him steady as a bookend blocker.
Harris: Josh Jelesky. Jelesky has made the transition from defensive tackle to the offensive line very smoothly, going as far as competing for a starting job by the end of camp.
Lockridge: Coach James Franklin laying out Andre Hal while Archibald Barnes was returning the coach's intercepted pass for a score. There is no way Hal thought Franklin, who was directing the offense, would put two hands into him as he raced down the sideline next to Barnes. When it happened, the sophomore went flying like he had bounced off a trampoline. It was hilarious.
Boettcher: On a pass underthrown by Jordan Rodgers, Jordan Matthews leaped over two defenders and snagged what looked like a sure interception. He provided many highlight-reel plays during camp.
Johnson: Jordan Matthews leaping, take-away catch against two Commodore defenders, where he also tumbled over and maintained the catch. It was a play that would remind Commodore fans of SEC record breaker and current Chicago Bear Earl Bennett. The kind of "plus" play that makes a receiver a true playmaker, someone with the ability to take nothing and make it into something. It was one of the better individual plays I've seen a Vanderbilt player make in the seven years that I've been attending Commodore practices for VandySports.com.
Harris: Coach Franklin delivering a hit to safety Andre Hal after being intercepted by Archibald Barnes on August 16.