Several young Commodores made positive impressions Saturday as the team staged its first scrimmage of Spring Practice in Vanderbilt Stadium.
Making their first spring appearance in the stadium, the Commodores were put through an energetic, two-hour session by Head Coach James Franklin. More than half of the session involved full-contact scrimmage and extra work in third-down situations.
"We're light years ahead of where we were last year, just because we're so much more confident with what we're doing from an installation stand point, but we've still got a long ways to go," Franklin said. "We still have major depth issues that effect how we practice. But I'm pleased, I see some guys stepping up right now."
Two redshirt freshmen seeing time at new offensive positions, tight end/H-back Kris Kentera and wide receiver Josh Grady, provided highlight plays for the offense. On defense, sophomore tackle Barron Dixon and redshirt freshman linebacker Kellen Williams helped conclude drives with impressive third-down tackles.
Kentera continued to show talent after recently moving to H-back. He produced two big-plays: a 24-yard catch from Carta-Samuels and a 48-yard reception from Rodgers. Grady, concluding his first week as a wide receiver, hauled in just one catch, but it was a sensational diving reception in heavy traffic that resulted in a first down.
Dixon dominated the last scrimmage possession, contributing a pair of quarterback sacks that forced a punting situation. Williams produced a pair of tackles for loss from the middle linebacker position.
"I think we've grown dramatically on offense, defense and special teams," Franklin added. "I think that's why it was so important that we were able to keep our coaching staff intact because we're going to have our schemes that we're going to run and build on every single year. Just like the fans and media expectations have changed, our expectations have changed. I have a very, very high goals and aspirations of who and what we can be."
In other full-contact action... • Junior running back Wesley Tate punished a pair of would-be tacklers on a draw play that gained 34 yards. • Sophomore defensive tackle Vince Taylor contributed a physical tackle for loss. • Sophomore wide receiver Chris Boyd connected twice with Rodgers, one resulting in a first down, during the first drive of the scrimmage. • Carta-Samuels and sophomore receiver Trey Wilkins hooked up on a 10-yard pass. • With Franklin yelling in his ear, senior placekicker Ryan Fowler was perfect on five goal attempts, including one beyond 40 yards.
Senior Class Recognized Friday
Franklin praised the 21-member 2011 senior class during a private banquet Friday at the Vanderbilt Marriott.
"We are so appreciative of what you did and I can't thank you enough," Franklin told the players and family members assembled. "You should be very, very proud of what you accomplished."
Saying the senior class laid a strong foundation for Franklin's work to build the Commodores into a championship program, the coach presented all of the players with a framed game jersey and a symbolic brick from the McGugin Center renovation.
Several seniors were recognized during the ceremony. All-America defensive back Casey Hayward earned the Star V Award given to the team MVP. Three-time All-Southeastern Conference linebacker Chris Marve received the Defensive MVP Award and Black & Gold Award given to the player who made the greatest career contribution to the program. Tim Fugger walked away with the team's top defensive lineman award.
The senior class provided tremendous leadership as the Commodores made the program's fifth all-time postseason appearance in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. Nine of the 21 players also became the first Commodores to ever participate in multiple bowl games.