By Zac Ellis
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Spring practice is just around the corner for Vanderbilt football.
Head coach Derek Mason and the Commodores kick off spring ball on Monday, Feb. 26. Vanderbilt is set to return seven starters on offense and four on defense following its 5-7 campaign in 2017.
Mason met the media on Thursday to preview the Dores’ spring. Here’s what he had to say:
• On senior quarterback Kyle Shurmur, who returns with 30 career starts under his belt: “Our quarterback situation is fantastic. I like to see a veteran quarterback back there at the helm in Kyle Shurmur. Kyle’s had a great offseason. He’s worked extremely hard to be better than he was in 2017.”
• On adding four new coaches to his staff, including defensive coordinator Jason Tarver: “It just feels like, to me, this is the best staff I’ve had since I’ve been here. I know these guys, I understand who they are, they’ve meshed well with the staff that was already here. It’s all about getting better and that’s exactly what we’ve tried to do.”
• On Tarver: “Me and JT are very much alike… Us being together the last couple of weeks, man, it’s been fun. It’s been like two chemists in a lab, and all we’ve been doing is concocting defenses… It’s easy for us to communicate real fast. We look at each other and we know exactly what we need to know.”
• On stepping out of role as defensive coordinator. “I’m everywhere [now]. That’s been fun, I haven’t been able to do that since 2014. Even then it was a whirlwind. I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like Neo in The Matrix.”
• On whether Mason or Tarver will call plays on defense: “That’s on him. He’s going to make those decisions. Now, will I weigh in on game plan? Absolutely. I’m going to weigh in on offensive game plan and special teams game plans.”
PODCAST: New DC Tarver on his move to Vanderbilt
• On replacing Ralph Webb at running back: “We’ve got dudes that can go… Now Khari [Blasingame]’s older, he’s physical, he’s down weight-wise, probably 226-227, he’s moving extremely well. We’ve got the Mamba [Ke’Shawn Vaughn], everybody’s waiting to see exactly what he does, and let me tell you, he will impress. He’s really as good as advertised… Jamauri Wakefield, [Josh] Crawford, those guys are talented in their own right.”
• On the wide receivers: “Kalija [Lipscomb] is a proven commodity in this conference… You’re looking at Chris Pierce, James Bostic, [Ohio State transfer] Alex Stump, and hopefully a couple of other guys who will step up.”
• On defensive struggles in 2017: “We didn’t have any trouble tackling people in the first three games… As this team got worn down, this team became a thin football team at certain positions. Playing time was at a premium. What you saw was some young guys that hadn’t played as much having to do things that were maybe above their pay grade at that point in time.”
• On defensive leadership: “[Senior linebacker Charles Wright’s] leadership has to lead that group. Him and Josh Smith are guys who have played a lot of ball in this conference… Joejuan Williams is going to be a feature guy. LaDarius Wiley is one of the best tacklers and DBs in this conference.”
• On spring expectations: “I don’t have to oversell this team because we’ve done nothing. You pull it apart and start to put it back together, and in August we’ll find out exactly who this team is.”
Zac Ellis is the Writer and Digital Media Editor for Vanderbilt Athletics.