On campus in Nashville - Summer camp got a lot more physical Sunday as the Commodores moved closer to full-gear competition with the first practice in shoulder pads.
The session, held in John Rich Practice Facility, attracted several hundred Vanderbilt followers enticed by Head Coach Robbie Caldwell's open invitation to watch the Commodores perform. It marked the first Vanderbilt preseason practice opened to the public in six years.
Commodore faithful also are invited to attend the team's fourth preseason session scheduled to start Monday at 6 p.m. It marks the final session before the competition barometer promises another leap Tuesday when full gear are worn.
Donning the shoulder pads, the Commodores' intensity level rose substantially over two previous sessions. Just two snaps into the initial 11-on-11 action, both offensive and defensive sidelines were congratulating teammates for individual plays. Defensive end Theron Kadri blew up the first play, breaking through the line for a solo tackle for loss. On the next play, two offensive coaches saluted offensive guard Jabo Burrow for a punishing block that opened a wide running lane.
Caught in the middle of the non-tackle practice was Caldwell, who worked both units and sidelines equally. One minute, Caldwell was praising a player for his efforts; the next, he was demanding that defenders keep ball carriers from hitting the ground.
"Both sides of the ball were getting after it," Caldwell said afterward. "I saw some good things out there, some guys really moving around. We've still adding a great deal both offensively and defensively, so I'm not too concerned about how one unit performed against the other. I'm looking a lot more at our energy level and how guys are grasping what's being asked of them."
Cornerback Jamie Graham made several stellar defensive plays, breaking up a deep sideline pass attempt in the team's initial 7-on-7 drills, then stepping in front of an intended receiver to intercept a pass.
Redshirt freshman Wesley Tate impressed as a receiver and rusher. Tate caught two passes, including one for a first down, then produced one of the top rushes, taking an inside handoff deep into the secondary when he blew through the tackle of a waiting safety.
Sophomore Zac Stacy broke tackles on a pair of rushes, getting both carries into the defensive secondary.
Three defensive linemen - ends Teriall Brannon and Kyle Woestmann, and tackle Josh Jelesky - stopped plays by penetrating into the offensive backfield: Brannon deflecting a Larry Smith pass attempt, while Woestmann and Jelesky earned credit for tackles for loss.
The squad was without two defensive coaches on Sunday. Rick Logo and Mike Pelton both missed the practice to mourn the loss of immediate family members.
Logo departed Nashville early Sunday to be with family members grieving the death of his mother, who had been seriously ill for several months. Pelton is expected to return to campus Monday after traveling to the funeral of his grandmother.
In their absence, Caldwell and senior defensive tackle Adam Smotherman handled the duties of directing position drills for the defensive line.