NASHVILLE, Tenn. - After completing an aggressive Spring Practice that featured open competition for numerous starting roles, Bobby Johnson's Commodores move to an important offseason conditioning program aimed at preparing the squad for preseason camp this summer.
Johnson's squad finished up spring drills on Wednesday with the last of 15 sessions. Dressed in full gear, the team worked on all phases during their final spring session, which came three days after the featured Black and Gold Scrimmage.
The head coach was upbeat through Vanderbilt's spring drills, which began on March 11 with the coaching staff searching for more than a dozen new starters for the upcoming season. Two days after Spring Practice ended, Johnson remained confident that his squad made great strides during the spring.
"I thought we did about as much as we could in 15 practices. Our guys worked hard to get better. For a young squad, that's extremely important," Johnson said. "You want to see the guys' effort level real high, you want to see them extremely focused, and you want to see a great attitude. For the most part, we succeeded in all three of those areas.
"What the coaches and our players found out this spring is that we still have a lot of improvement to make. This is a pretty young team, but it's a squad with some talented players. To reach our team goals, we have to collectively take that next step, starting with Coach (John) Sisk's offseason conditioning program. I think our guys are eager to get started," the head coach added.
The team will continue conditioning through much of April under the direction of Sisk, his assistant strength coaches, and developing team leaders. After classes end in late April, most of the squad will take a break before starting its summer conditioning program in June.
"Our guys need to be productive in the weightroom between now and late July," Johnson said. "When (preseason) camp opens, we need to be ready to go to work, and get prepared for the opener."
The Commodores are expected to start preseason camp on July 31, 29 days before the team travels to Oxford, Ohio to face Miami University.
Johnson's squad will work toward preseason camp with starting assignments up for grabs, including several offensive roles. At quarterback and tailback, excellent competition between multiple candidates failed to reveal a clear-cut starter. At quarterback, 2007 co-starters Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams swapped repetitions with a pair of talented youngsters, Jared Funk and Larry Smith. All four impressed at various times during the spring, but none will enter the preseason as the definite No. 1. At tailback, Jared Hawkins and Jeff Jennings appear destined for key roles, but others, including flashy Gaston Miller and sophomore Kennard Reeves, are in the mix for playing time. The offensive staff also witnessed close competition at tight end and wide receiver where the Commodores must replace Southeastern Conference all-time leading receiver Earl Bennett. Even more competition exists for a few offensive line slots where the squad lost all five starters.
"We're not at the point of saying who will start at some positions, but it's not for a lack of competition," Johnson said. "We have multiple guys working hard at all of those positions trying to win a job. The competition is extremely heavy.
"A lot of guys have stepped forward and made a case for playing time. It's happened at virtually every position, especially on both of the lines, among our linebackers, and in the offensive backfield. We'll continue to develop them and see how things go as the season approaches," Johnson added.
OTHER COMMODORE NOTES
Though eight Commodores missed the Black and Gold Scrimmage due to various injuries, Johnson said only junior Alex Washington was in jeopardy of missing the 2008 season. Washington, a junior receiver/returner underwent knee surgery last week to repair a torn ACL, making his availability unlikely for preseason camp. He was injured in the first practice of spring... Offensive tackle Eric Hensley is expected back this summer after suffering a foot fracture in the Black & Gold Scrimmage... Freshman Jamie Graham returned for the team's last four spring sessions after contributing as a defensive specialist on the Commodore basketball squad this winter. Graham, who worked at cornerback last fall, moved to wide receiver/return specialist in the final week of spring drills... The squad's first preseason practice is tentatively scheduled for July 31 eight days after Johnson and two Vanderbilt student-athletes travel to Birmingham for the annual SEC Football Media Days activity.