Commodore center Joey Bailey chats outside McGugin Athletic Center wearing a pair of sunglasses and a relaxed smile. His chill look belies the fact that he's got a tough job in front of him as Vanderbilt's sole offensive co-captain and the leader of a front five stacked with talent and beset with youth.
Like Vanderbilt Stadium behind him, the task of helping get a productive and healthy offensive line ready by the Sept. 4 opener against Northwestern looms large over the redshirt senior.
"It's kind of difficult since we have so many young guys," Bailey said. "I'm just trying to be sure I'm there for them whenever they need me, every day after workouts and practice, go over plays to help sharpen them up mentally to know what to do."
Bailey and the rest of the Commodores certainly got a hard lesson last year on the volatility of playing in the trenches.
The offensive line returned valuable contributors from the 2008 bowl team, but no open dates and a plethora of injuries plagued Vanderbilt during its lowest scoring output of Bobby Johnson's tenure.
"We know we're better than that...anything we felt like could've gone wrong last year just went wrong in terms of injuries and us as an offense just not clicking, getting everything together like we should," Bailey said. "You definitely don't want to just think about it all the time, but you do want to use it as a motivating factor to get better."
By getting better, the Commodores hope that simply means winning more football games as opposed to recovering from more injuries.
Four of the five opening day starters, none of whom are back in 2010, missed time during the season, including right tackle James Williams, who broke his ankle in the second week and was finished for the year, and left guard Ryan Custer, who couldn't start the final five games after hurting his ankle as well.
But that misfortune also meant extra playing time for the back-ups who form the crux of this season's unit.
Chris Aaron saw extended action at right guard in relief of a hampered Eric Hensley, and Ryan Seymour, who wound up being named to the SEC All-Freshman team, got his first starting experience last year at top-ranked Florida.
Bailey has started at guard for Vanderbilt but only seen back-up duty as a center. As someone also new to the starting role of his position, Bailey appreciates the responsibilities of leading his fellow linemen by example.
He's taken the additional time to work with Vanderbilt quarterbacks on snapping the ball in different formations to get their cadence right, and he hopes that extra effort inspires the rest of the line.
"Whatever they need me for, I try to be there for them any way I can, because we're going to need a lot of younger guys to step up for us this year," Bailey said.
Bailey also enters the season in the same shoes of the player he backed up in center Bradley Vierling, one of the few Commodores who made it through last season unscathed. Vierling entered the 2008 season with the team coming off a disappointing finish to the previous season, when Vanderbilt dropped its final four games to finish 5-7. Like Bailey, Vierling was a first-time starter at center and led a unit that also had limited experience.
The leadership of Vierling and his fellow captains helped the Commodores to their most successful season in decades. Bailey took note. "He led by example and if you veered off, he was going to let you know, be very vocal about it and point you in the right direction," Bailey said. "I'm just trying to be like he was."
And hopefully have as successful a debut season too.