Sept. 19, 2009
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Coming into this season, the Vanderbilt secondary was viewed as one of the team’s biggest strengths, mixing together a blend of veteran leadership (redshirt senior and captain Ryan Hamilton with senior stud Myron Lewis) and talented youngsters (sophomores Casey Hayward and Sean Richardson). With Hamilton now lost for the season, pundits have questioned whether the secondary would regress. Joel Caldwell, Hamilton’s replacement, is confident it won’t.
“I try to prepare myself every week [so that] if someone goes down, [I’ll] be ready to go in,” Caldwell, a redshirt senior, said. “You take the same type of preparation because you never know…one play could determine someone’s season, one play you’ve got to make a play.”
Caldwell has garnered significant playtime in his Vanderbilt career, making 35 career appearances that included snaps in all of the Commodores games a year ago. Based on his performance in those situations, especially in garnering the team’s Specialist of the Week honors after facing Duke last season, Vanderbilt head coach Bobby Johnson echoes Caldwell’s confidence in his preparedness.
“It’s not like Joel never played,” Johnson said. “I don't think it's going to be a big deal. Every time you lose a guy, that means your depth is thinner, and you just hope no other injuries occur at that position.
“I think he’ll step in and do a pretty good job.”
Pretty good is not good enough for Caldwell himself, who has had quite the journey back to a starting spot. After 11 starts as a redshirt freshman at corner, he was moved to safety due to depth concerns at the position. The Commodores hope adapting to that change will made this transition a cakewalk for Caldwell.
“The transition from corner to safety was a big transition, because really at corner it's man and zone coverage so I really didn't have to think that much,” Caldwell said. “At safety, I'm pretty much like the quarterback [of the defense]…
“Just going to a reserve, I had to put my trust in God knowing that He has a plan for me, just wait my time and just help my team any way I can, because it's just a blessing to be at Vanderbilt and get a good education and to play in the SEC.”
Caldwell was almost a blessing for Vanderbilt last weekend in their hard-fought loss to LSU. With the Commodores trailing 16-9 late in the fourth quarter and the Tigers driving, Caldwell picked out a Jordan Jefferson pass that would have given redshirt sophomore quarterback Larry Smith and Co. one last chance to pull out the upset. Unfortunately for Caldwell’s Commodores, the interception was called back due to a defensive holding penalty. Now, though, Caldwell feels like he’s due.
“I'm trying to get at least two to make up for that one they called back against LSU,” Caldwell said. “Hopefully I can go out there and get at least one and help the team make some plays.”