O-line welcomes new faces
Aug. 5, 2011
After a spring practice season riddled with injuries and shorthanded drills, the Vanderbilt offensive line eagerly welcomed some much-needed depth to its ranks as five freshmen went through their first official practice as college players on Friday night.
With the obstacles of last spring fresh in their minds, the Commodores' returning starters up front understand that how quickly those five newcomers - Jose Valedon, James Lewis, Joe Townsend, Jake Bernstein and Spencer Pulley - can adjust to their new surroundings will play an important role in the offensive line's success.
"Each athlete can give more on the field, and you don't have to be fatigued from all the reps you're getting out there," said redshirt junior Ryan Seymour. "We have a lot of young guys that are going to step up this year, and some of those guys might be able to take some starting positions."
"It helps us get through practice a lot faster too, just because they're there and we can use them as opposed to just using ourselves the whole time," said redshirt sophomore Wesley Johnson, who started every game at left tackle last season and garnered postseason All-SEC Freshman Team honors.
The Commodores return all five offensive line starters from the last six games of the 2010 season, but the first preseason practice still involved plenty of switching roles and rotation of positions.
"We've worked everything, and we're just going to wait as long as we can to finalize our decision," Johnson said. "We're all doing pretty good at all the positions we're playing, so we'll just wait and see what the best combination is."
Although Head Coach James Franklin conceded that his team will wrestle with depth issues on the line all season, he pointed out several top performers who appear ready to provide some consistency in the trenches.
"If you look at the bodies, I don't know if you noticed Seymour, he looks completely different," Franklin said. "You look at Wes Johnson, he's put on some size, you look at Bridges, he's put on some size. All of them were leaner, were stronger, were more athletic, and we just have to continue to work together and grow."
"It's always tough getting back into football shape," Johnson said. "No matter how much running you do, once you put the pads on it's completely different. But I thought we did well compared to how we were doing last year, and we definitely got better from the spring."
The returning linemen have benefitted from the continuity that second-year offensive line coach Herb Hand brings from the 2010 season. Hand has retained his reputation as one of the most energetic and vocal staff members on the field since he was hired back by Franklin this winter.
"He knows what the veterans need to work on, so he can really coach us on those points and take the freshmen, and they get a fresh start obviously," Seymour said of his position coach.
"He tries to rattle us in practice to make sure we're game ready," added Johnson.
Hand's task is to get the old and new faces in his corps of linemen to gel as quickly as possible, as the rest of his coaching staff implements its new system throughout the rest of this busy August.