2007 Outlook: Offensive Line
Aug. 19, 2007
Nashville Night Sept. 1 vs. Richmond
For the first time in the Bobby Johnson era, Vanderbilt's offensive line is blessed with an abundance of talent, size and experience. Conceivably, position coach Robbie Caldwell could field a unit that features five starting seniors and two others that started multiple games one year ago.
The group is led by captain and 2006 All-SEC left tackle Chris Williams (6-6, 320, R-Sr.), a two-year starter who could go down as one of the finest Commodore blockers in modern history. Named to the Outland Trophy preseason watchlist, Williams has all the tools - massive size, excellent footwork, uncommon agility - and gets better with every snap.
The Commodores' line depth and quality are greatly enhanced if Brian Stamper (6-5, 295, R-Sr.) returns healthy following back surgery that came late in the 2006 season. A former captain, Stamper earned All-SEC honors in 2005 before missing most of last year with the back injury. Though Stamper missed most of Spring Practice with a foot injury, he has worked without pain through the team's summer conditioning program.
With a productive Stamper in uniform, the Commodores own an outstanding tandem at tackle. Without Stamper, the squad likely will look to a pair of relative newcomers to solidify the position. Former tight end Thomas Welch (6-7, 295, R-So.) enters the preseason off an outstanding effort in spring drills. Some observers think the agile Welch will compete for the starting right tackle role, regardless of Stamper's status. Eric Hensley (6-6, 320, R-So.) has steadily progressed, and appears ready to play in his third preseason camp.
In the middle, the Commodores bring back durable senior Hamilton Holliday (6-3, 290) at center. Holliday was a valuable starter in 2006, displaying sound blocking techniques and committing few mental errors while handling nearly all the team's offensive snaps.
Holliday is backed up by a potential standout in Brad Vierling (6-3, 290, R-So.), Ryan Vance (6-3, 280, R-So.) and Joey Bailey (6-4, 275, R-Fr.).
Two redshirt seniors, Merritt Kirchoffer (6-5, 320) and Josh Eames (6-5, 305), started more than half of last season at left and right guard, respectively, and entered preseason with a chance to nail down the starting roles. Kirchoffer is a physical specimen and one of the team's strongest players, but has yet to come into his own. Kirchoffer has the natural gifts to blossom into a superb player in his final year. Eames is the unit's Mr. Reliable, always knowing which defender to take on, and is arguably the best blocker on the team. Eames missed four games due to injury and enters camp needing to show he is fully healthy.
Ryan Custer (6-3, 295) and Vierling are versatile players with the ability to move into the starting lineup at guard. After spending part of Spring Practice working at defensive tackle, Custer has experience at both guard positions. Vierling is a hard-nosed player who could compete at guard or center. Several young prospects, including Drew Gardner (6-6, 300, R-So.) and Nick Forte (6-, 290, R-So.), will try to earn playing roles. The Commodores' signing class also includes two talented newcomers in Kyle Fischer (6-6, 300) and James Williams (6-6, 300).