Vanderbilt opens spring practice under head coach Derek Mason, who enters his fifth season leading the Commodores, with 15 practices scheduled beginning Monday, Feb. 26 and ending Friday, March 30.
The Commodores will host the team’s annual Spring Showcase on Saturday, March 24 with the event open to the public from 3-5 p.m. inside Vanderbilt Stadium. The final hour of the Showcase will be shown live on SEC Network.
The squad returns 48 lettermen - 24 offense, 22 defense, two special teams - with eight starters on offense and four on the defensive side of the ball.
Vanderbilt’s Pro Day is scheduled for Tuesday, March 13 and will also be featured on SEC Network.
JUNIOR SEASON PUSHING SHURMUR UP VU CHARTS
Kyle Shurmur’s junior season was one for the record books as he broke Whit Taylor’s single-season school record for touchdown passes with 26 and put him in position to challenge Vanderbilt legend Jay Cutler for the school’s top marks in career passing yards and touchdowns.
|VU Career Passing Yards|
|1. Jay Cutler, 2002-05||8,697|
|2. Greg Zolman, 1998-2001||7,981|
|3. Whit Taylor, 1979-82||6,307|
|4. Kurt Page, 1981-84||6,233|
|5. Kyle Shurmur, 2015-||5,735|
|VU Career Passing TDs|
|1. Jay Cutler, 2002-05||59|
|T2. Greg Zolman, 1998-2001||41|
|T2. Whit Taylor, 1979-82||41|
|4. Kyle Shurmur, 2015-||40|
|5. Kurt Page, 1981-84||35|
The rising senior enters his final season on West End needing less than 3,000 yards to become Vanderbilt’s all-tiime leader in passing yards and 20 touchdowns to move by Cutler for the school record in TD passes. Only two quarterbacks have recorded 3,000-yard seasons at VU with Cutler passing for 3,073 as a senior in 2005 and Kurt Page setting the single-season school record with 3,178 yards in 1983. Shurmur’s 2,823 yards last fall was the second-most ever by a Vanderbilt junior signal-caller and trailed only Missouri’s Drew Lock in the SEC.
Shurmur will be among a veteran group in the SEC next fall as 12 teams bring back their starting quarterbacks.
RETURN OF THE LINEMEN
Unlike a season ago, the Commodores welcome back an offensive line virtually intact.
Vanderbilt brings back the entire starting line, anchored by center Bruno Reagan who will enter the 2018 season having started 27 straight games.
Justin Skule has 27 career starts and is one of three Dores on the offensive side of the ball (Shurmur & Reagan) returning after starting all 12 games in 2017.
Devin Cochran started 10 games as a redshirt freshman and Egidio DellaRipa took over the starting right guard position for the final eight games. Saige Young made a solid debut in his first season in Nashville, making eight starts at left guard.
The experienced group adds four more bodies to the mix this spring with Bryce Bailey, John Learned, Grant Miller and Johnathan Stewart coming off redshirt seasons last fall.
For the first time in four years the Commodores will be in search of a starting running back with the departure of Vanderbilt all-time leading rusher Ralph Webb.
Four Commodores will compete during the spring with Khari Blasingame, Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Josh Crawford and Jamauri Wakefield all expected to get touches during spring practice.
THE WRIGHT RUSHING STUFF
Charles Wright was a force in 2017, recording nine sacks to lead the Commodores and rank fourth in the SEC. His nine sacks were the most by a Vandy player since James Manley recorded nine in 1994 and are the second-most by a Commodore in a single-season.
Wright will be among the SEC’s leading sack artists in the fall along with Mississippi State’s Montez Sweat and Texas A&M Landis Durham.
NEW FACES CATCHING PASSES
Vanderbilt will be looking to replace the majority of the team’s receiving corps from last fall with the graduation of CJ Duncan, Trent Sherfield and Caleb Scott - three of the team’s top five pass catchers in 2017.
The trio combined for 120 receptions, 1,424 yards and 12 touchdowns. The rest of the offense combined for 112 catches, 1,499 yards and 15 scores.
Kalija Lipscomb is the top returning target after catching a team-best eight touchdown passes last fall. The rising junior snagged 37 passes for 610 yards. Jared Pinkney led all VU tight ends with 22 receptions for 279 yards and three TDs.
Along with Lipscomb, six other Commodores who caught at least one pass last season return - Donaven Tennyson and Sam Dobbs caught eight passes each, Khari Blasingame six, Trey Ellis five, Jamauri Wakefield three and Jackson Winrow one.
Chris Pierce played as a true freshman in 2017 but fellow wideouts James Bostic and Keithian Starling are coming off redshirt seasons. They will be joined by CJ Bolar, who signed with VU during the early signing period in December.
New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead will lead the group for the first time this spring after joining the Dores from Texas A&M.
OPPORTUNITIES ON DEFENSE
With the departure of eight starters on defense, this spring presents the first opportunity to begin to fill those roles.
The defense returns 22 letterwinners and adds 11 more student-athletes to the mix, who redshirted during the fall.
For the first time in three years, the defense will be under the direction of someone other than head coach Derek Mason. Jason Tarver joins the staff as the Dores’ new defensive coordinator after spending time with the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. Tarver and Mason teamed up as co-defensive coordinators at Stanford in 2011.
2018 SCHEDULE = CHALLENGING
The Commodores’ 2018 schedule will offer plenty of challenges with six of the 12 teams coming off bowl berths, including Georgia who finished national runner-up.
The Dores play three nonconference games early in the season with home dates against Middle Tennessee and Nevada before a trip to Notre Dame in mid-September. The Dores and Irish are set to meet for the third time in history, first time since 1996 and first time in South Bend since 1995.
Date - Opponent
Sept. 1 Middle Tennessee
Sept. 8 Nevada
Sept. 15 at Notre Dame
Sept. 22 South Carolina*
Sept. 29 Tennessee State
Oct. 7 at Georgia*
Oct. 13 Florida
Oct. 20 at Kentucky*
Oct. 27 at Arkansas*
Nov. 10 at Missouri*
Nov. 17 Ole Miss*
Nov. 24 Tennessee*