July 31, 2013
Firepower Returns for Offense | Ticket Information
The Vanderbilt defensive line returns with six proven performers and numerous young Commodores just waiting for an opportunity to state their case for playing time.
Third-year coach Sean Spencer will mentor a unit that could qualify as Vanderbilt's most athletic defensive line corps in recent years. Spencer also expects to see more size and bulk at all four positions.
Three valuable contributors from a year ago - tackles Rob Lohr and Colt Nichter and end Johnell Thomas - have graduated, but those likely to fill their roles are quality players who enjoyed success with the Commodores in 2012.
Three upperclassmen tipping the scale at more than 300 pounds - senior Jared Morse, redshirt junior Vince Taylor and junior Barron Dixon - are expected to be in Spencer's tackle rotation. They will compete with at least four talented newcomers during preseason camp.
Morse is back for his final season after contributing nine tackles for loss and a pair of sacks among 24 tackles. Taylor might have been the team's most improved down lineman during spring drills, showing superb quickness and strength. Dixon is coming off his best year, having registered 22 tackles in 2012.
The newcomers at tackle include three intriguing redshirt freshmen - Adam Butler, Ladarius Banks and Torey Agee - and 2013 signee Jay Woods. Butler and Agee showed promise in Spring Ball after moving from offensive guard and defensive end, respectively.
The Commodore defensive end position appears deeper than it has been in years, with senior and 2012 captain Walker May, junior Kyle Woestmann and sophomore Caleb Azubike leading the unit. Collectively, May, Woestmann and Azubike totalled 13 quarterback sacks and 22.5tackles for loss in 2012. All three enter the season off a superb summer conditioning program.
Two redshirt sophomores, Darien Bryant and Jimmy Stewart, bring speed and depth to the position. Another potential playmaker at end isredshirt freshman Stephen Weatherly, a rush end who continuously impressed coaches throughout the spring. The 'Dores also signedthree more quality prospects: Landon Stokes, Mack Weaver andJonathan Wynn.
Two veteran starters and five other letterwinners from a year agoheadline Vanderbilt's linebacking corps.
The returning starters, seniors Chase Garnham and Karl Butler, are joined by a bevy of talented young prospects ready to step into increased roles for third-year coach Brent Pry.
Garnham has earned a reputation for making big plays as an outside linebacker in 2011 and middle linebacker last year. It's a short list of returning Southeastern Conference linebackers that can match Garnham's 2012 stats of 84 total tackles, seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss.
Butler came into his own as a first-year starter at outside linebacker in 2012. Arguably the team's most athletic linebacker, Butler contributed 51 total tackles and was extremely productive in passing situations.
Garnham and Butler also bring excellent leadership to the corps that only loses one key contributor to graduation, Archibald Barnes.
The staff has big plans for sophomores Darreon Herring and Jake Sealand. Both earned valuable roles as true freshmen in 2012, and exited spring drills in the mix for expanding roles and potential starting jobs.
Herring, projected as an outside linebacker, and Sealand, a classic inside linebacker, were big hitters last year. Herring had 33 tackles, forced two fumbles, and showed solid skills as a pass defender. Sealand posted 24 tackles, a forced fumble and frequently applied pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Redshirt sophomore Larry Franklin, who played in the two-deep last year with Herring and Sealand, and junior Kellen Williams should see plenty of action.
Junior Casey Hughes andredshirt freshman Ja'karri Thomas will provide added depth at outside linebacker. Another redshirt freshman, Harding Harper, could get plenty ofattention at the inside position.
A pair of walk-ons, senior Patrick Sutton and junior Hunter Bowman also will get snaps during preseason camp.
The Commodores added three impressive 2013 signees to the corps: Nigel Bowden, Oren Burks and Zach Cunningham.
The defensive secondary should be a strength of the squad this fall, with the Commodores returning three quality starters and several newcomers that impressed during spring drills.
Leading the corps is senior Andre Hal, regarded by many as one of the nation's top cornerbacks, and a pair of starters covering the deep middle of the field, free safety Kenny Ladler and strong safety Javon Marshall.
They are supported by three-year letterwinner Steve Clarke and a pair of promising redshirt freshmen cornerbacks - Paris Head and Torren McGlaster - and the top two reserve safeties from a year ago, redshirt sophomores Jahmel McIntosh and Andrew Williamson.
The Commodores must replace two-year starting corner Trey Wilson, who earned a reputation of creating touchdowns on defense. Wilson set a new team record with four interception returns for scores.
Hal's ability to cover and reaction in passing situations was on full displayin 2012, when he deflected 14 passes and picked off two others. Thepreseason Thorpe Award candidate possesses the tools to run with top SEC receivers and play physical in man-to-man coverage.
In Ladler and Marshall, Vanderbilt returns the SEC's active leadingtacklers from the safety position. Both possess years of experience in thedefensive scheme and bring a physical presence at the point of attack.
Both McIntosh and Williamson impressed during spring drills after enjoying their initial collegiate action in 2012. Junior walk-on Josh Gregory also will get preseason repetitions. The signing class includes talented Jalen Banks.
Head and McGlaster each displayed promise at cornerback during spring drills. Junior walk-ons Alex Hysong and Scot Aiello also are back. The Commodores also signed three prospects at cornerback: Taurean Ferguson, Darrius Sims and Ryan White.
The Commodores return some of the SEC's top special teams' performers in all-conference placekicker Carey Spear. They also have to replace one of the league's best in graduated punter Richard Kent.
Spear, two-year snapping specialist Andrew East, and top returners Jonathan Krause, Brian Kimbrow and Andre Hal are among the key playersback for the Commodores.
In 2012, Vanderbilt enjoyed arguably its finest season in special teams, getting superb play in virtually every area.
Spear is a preseason Lou Groza Awardcandidate coming off the best year ever achieved by a Vanderbilt kicker. Spear's 20 field goals set a new team record and his 83.3 percent accuracy is the highest by a 'Dore kicker since 1974.
Coordinator Charles Bankins must replace graduated punter Richard Kent, a three-year starter who was among the nation's best last year with a 44.9-yard average.
The punting competition appears wide open, with four prime candidates: Spear, junior walk-on Taylor Hudson, redshirtfreshman Colby Cooke and 2013 signee Tommy Openshaw.
East is expected to handle all of the team's snapping for a third straight season. East will be backed by junior Connor Morrison among others.
The Commodores' top kick returners are Hal and Kimbrow. Hal has a career average of 23.4 yards, including one return for a touchdown in 2011. Kimbrow showed plenty of talent in 2012, averaging 22.1 yards on 22 returns. Senior Steven Clarke ranks as another potential kickoff returner.
Krause is back as one of the SEC's top punt returners. In 2012, Krause averaged 11.2 yards and became the first 'Dore since 1968 to take two punts for touchdowns. Others with punt return experience are Jordan Matthews and Trent Pruitt.