On Campus in Nashville - Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson expected to greet more than 80 prospective Commodores Tuesday for the team's initial spring drill. As Johnson reached the practice field, he was greeted by his corps of quarterback prospects expected to compete for a vacant starting job.
Three hours later, after putting the Commodores through a fast-paced practice that included conditioning work, individual position instruction, offensive and defensive playbook development, and 7-on-7 drills, Johnson seemed upbeat with his squad's effort, enthusiasm and commitment.
"I liked what I saw. Everybody seemed to be working hard and trying hard," Johnson said. "I think everybody was just trying to get the rust knocked off, and getting back into the swing of things. I thought things went well for our first time out."
Johnson greeted 85 players, including 48 letterwinners from a 2007 squad that went 5-7. The team completed the practice in shell gear and helmets, and are not expected to move into full pads until later this week.
The work accomplished this spring will be key for numerous Commodores. The team enters Spring Practice with more than a dozen starting roles vacant from a year ago, and others up for grabs. No competition will get more attention than the quarterback position where senior Chris Nickson and junior Mackenzi Adams return after starting six games each last year. Two younger prospects, sophomore Jared Funk and redshirt freshman Larry Smith, are expected to get plenty of repetitions as Commodore coaches begin to search for a starter.
On Tuesday, Nickson and Adams alternated with the "A" offense, while Funk and Smith took snaps with the "B" unit. All four quarterbacks threw impressively in the initial session.
Another focus of Spring Practice will be at offensive line where the Commodores must replace all five starters, including 2007 first-team All-Southeastern Conference Chris Williams and former all-conference performer Brian Stamper. Throughout the session Tuesday, position coach Robbie Caldwell worked intensively with more than a dozen linemen, focusing his attention on proper technique, unit precision and improved fundamentals.
Trio of Commodores Miss Start of Spring Practice
Three Commodores - junior linebacker Brandon Bryant, junior tight end/fullback Matt Bubis and sophomore linebacker Michael Garcia - are expected to miss much or all of Spring Practice are they recover from offseason medical procedures. All three participated as much as possible, and took every period of fundamental position instruction.
Another Commodore, junior nickelback Darlron Spead, participated fully Tuesday, but is expected to miss full contact drills this spring.
Former Commodore Head Coach Meets the President Tuesday
While Coach Johnson directed practice, another former Commodore head coach spent the day with President Bush. Fred Pancoast, Vanderbilt head coach from 1975-78, greeted the president on the tarmac at Nashville International Airport upon his arrival for two speeches in the city.
President Bush and Pancoast spoke privately for several minutes before Bush's motorcade departed for Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the first of two locations in Nashville. Bush honored Pancoast with the prestigious President's Volunteer Service Award prior to the Opryland function.
Pancoast was recognized for his efforts at Operation Stand Down, an organization that helps veterans settle back into everyday life. A former Marine and successful businessman in Nashville, Pancoast also helped establish Room In The Room, another highly successful outreach program to the needy of Nashville.
Cutler Takes In Practice
Former Commodore standout Jay Cutler, coming off his first year as the Denver Broncos' starting quarterback, watched more than an hour of the session with several other Vanderbilt teammates. Other former players taking in practice were linebacker Jonathan Goff, Chris Williams, defensive end Curtis Gatewood, tackle Gabe Hall and linebacker Marcus Buggs, all seniors in 2007.