2011 Vanderbilt Preview – Offense
Vanderbilt TE Brandon Barden
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The new coaching staff is going to get the passing game going; that's the stated goal. New offensive coordinator John Donovan has a ton of work to do, but he has experience to work with. Vanderbilt finished last in the SEC in yards, points, and passing efficiency, and while the skill players weren't great, the biggest problems came from a young, inexperienced line that didn't find the right combination until late in the year. All five starters are back, and if the front five is better, the veteran skill players should shine. Warren Norman and Zac Stacy, if healthy, form a strong running back tandem, while the receiving corps has promise and potential if the quarterback play is better. Larry Smith is the mobile, veteran option, but Jordan Rodgers, Aaron's brother, is the one everyone is waiting to see.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Warren Norman
Passing: Larry Smith
117-247, 1,262 yds, 6 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: Warren Norman
77 carries, 459 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Brandon Barden
34 catches, 425 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior QB Jordan Rodgers
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Chris Boyd
Best pro prospect: Norman (as a returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Norman, 2) OT Wesley Johnson, 3) OG Kyle Fischer
Strength of the offense: Running Back, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Passing Efficiency, Production
State of the Unit: James Franklin made a name for himself as a quarterback coach, and while he's not running the position at Vandy, he's making a special push to get more out of the position. He might not have a Jay Cutler to work with, but he has an interesting situation with a combination of an occasionally dynamic veteran and a great-looking newcomer to combine forces. Now he needs production from a passing game that completed 47% of its throws for 1,913 yards and 11 scores with 11 interceptions.
There might be a rotation to get the right players on the field at the right time, but senior Larry Smith is the safe choice to see a bulk of the early snap with his size, mobility, and experience. He's not a thrower, completing just 47% of his passes for 1,262 yards and six touchdowns with five interceptions, but he's a runner with 248 yards and four scores. At 6-2 and 220 pounds, he's big, strong, and he tries to carry the attack by himself, but he has a hard time generating long drives and points. A winner, he led his Alabama high school team to the state title, but he needs use his smarts and his time logged in to start making the passing game go.
While Smith is a known talent, the excitement is about the potential of junior Jordan Rodgers , the brother of Green Bay Packer star, Aaron. The 6-2, 205-pounder might not be as good as his Super Bowl-winning brother, but he's a good, sound passer with a live accurate arm. Expected to be a factor right away last year, he was banged up and couldn't get past a shoulder problem which limited him throughout the offseason. The leader in Butte JC's 2008 national championship, the passing tools are there to give the offense exactly what it's desperately missing.
Sophomore Charlie Goro was clearly the third man in the mix, and the 6-2, 202-pounder had been a part of the scout team, but he chose to transfer. A great runner and a strong all-around playmaker, he led his Illinois high school team to the state title, but he didn't have a future at Vanderbilt.
Watch Out For … A possible rotation. Rodgers is the passer, Smith is the runner, and the coaching staff will use whichever one is getting the offense moving.
Strength: Options. Smith might not have the greatest stats, but he also hasn't gotten any help over the last few years. Everyone is waiting to see what Rodgers can do, and the expectations are sky-high.
Weakness: Passing efficiency. That's where Rodgers is supposed to come in. The Commodores were 119th in the nation in efficiency and 105th in the nation in passing. The offensive line didn't allow the quarterbacks any time, but the quarterbacks weren't effective.
Outlook: The passing game has been miserable over the last few years, but the new coaching staff should change that. A great molder of quarterbacks, Franklin should get the most out of the good options he has to work with, and while it's not always going to be a thing of beauty, the passing game will be more effective.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: The running backs were supposed to be a major strength last year, but there was no room to move, injuries hit, and the ground game was a disappointment. There's plenty of talent returning and the hope for a big turnaround, but it'll only come if the passing game can open things up a bit and if the offensive line can finally start to block someone.
5-10, 200-pound junior Warren Norman has decent size and tremendous potential after beating Herschel Walker's record for the most total yards as an SEC freshman. He ran for 783 yards and was a tremendous kickoff returner in his first year, but he struggled to produce last year with 459 yards and four touchdowns before missing the last month of the year with a hand injury. He ran for 111 yards against Ole Miss, and he was phenomenal on kickoffs against UConn, but the season was still a disappointment despite leading the team in rushing.
Junior Zac Stacy is a 5-9, 210-pound quick back who came up with a great true freshman campaign with 478 yards and three touchdowns and followed it up with 331 yards and three scores last year, but he missed most of November after suffering a huge hit against Florida. A decent receiver when he gets his chances, he has 16 career catches and can be used far more to get his speed in space. A great No. 2 man, he's a perfect complementary back to Norman and will be strong in a rotation. After a great offseason, he'll get the ball more and more.
Also in the equation will be Wesley Tate , a 6-1, 225-pound sophomore who brings the power to the mix. Far more powerful than Norman or Stacy, he can fight for the hard yards between the tackles and showed off a little of his skills last year filling in for the injured backs with 140 yards and five catches. A great athlete, he's the brother of former Notre Dame star, Golden Tate, and has the talent to start handling the workload on a regular basis.
Watch Out For … Tate. He didn't exactly set the world on fire when he got his chances last year, but a finalist for Tennessee's Mr. Football a few years ago has the size, speed, and tools to be a major factor with a little blocking to pave the way.
Strength: Depth. It only seems like Norman and Stacy have been around for years, but they're only juniors and they're still just scratching the surface. The depth didn't help too much last year as the backs didn't get enough work, but Norman averaged six yards per carry and Stacy averaged five yards per pop.
Weakness: Room to move. Vandy has home run hitters who have a hard time swinging the bat. The ground game rolled for 205 yards against Eastern Michigan and 202 yards against Kentucky, but it struggled to produce against the better defensive fronts.
Outlook: If Norman, Stacy, and Tate can all stay healthy, and if they can get a decent year from the offensive front, they should be terrific. They have the talent to blow up if they get a little room to move, and if they can stay healthy, the running back rotation should be among the best in the SEC East. They need help, though, to produce.
Unit Rating: 8
State of the Unit: Was the problem the receivers or the quarterbacks? The passing game was miserable over the last few seasons, and while the quarterbacks didn't get the job done, the receivers underwhelmed and disappointed despite having several promising targets to work with. Several players got in the mix with eight players, including the running backs, going for over 100 yards or more, but that's for the year. When the leading receiver cranks out just 425 yards, there's a problem.
While the wideouts struggled to make big things happen, tight end Brandon Barden was a steady safety valve who bailed out the quarterbacks time and again. The 6-5, 245-pound senior caught 34 passes for 425 yards and three scores and has been a nice producer over his first three years catching 29 passes as a sophomore and 28 as a freshman. The former quarterback has good size, is a great route runner, and great hands.
Backing up Barden is senior Austin Monahan , a productive 6-6, 245-pound veteran who can't seem to stay healthy. He was out all of last year with a leg injury after being banged up earlier in his career with a knee problem, but when he's right he's a dangerous receiver. He only has 15 catches for 142 yards, but he has the talent to do far more if healthy.
The team's leading returning wide receiver is junior John Cole, a 5-11, 185-pound veteran who fought through injuries to catch 25 passes for 317 yards and a score, but when he's right he can be a true No. 1 target. A top recruit a few years ago after a record-setting Kentucky high school career, he overcame a knee injury that kept him out in 2008 to become a solid producer. Now he needs to be more consistent combining with 6-3, 205-pound sophomore Jordan Matthews who stepped in as a true freshman and caught 15 passes for 181 yards and four scores.
6-4, 200-pound redshirt freshman Chris Boyd has the size and the talent to become an instant top target. With good leaping ability along with his height, he has the potential to be a dangerous factor around the goal line on jump balls, and he can also block. 6-0, 180-pound senior Udom Umoh has decent size and lightning speed clocking in a 21.7 in the 200 and 48.6 in the 400 as a Georgia high school track star. While he averaged 16.2 yards per catch, he only made 12 catches for 194 yards and two scores and did his most work as a blocker.
Sophomore Jonathan Krause is a promising 5-11, 180-pound rising star with big-time home run hitting potential and a world of upside. He didn't score, but he finished his true freshman season finishing third on the team with 24 catches for 243 yards averaging 10.1 yards per play. He also got the ball in his hands on six carries for 121 yards and two scores as a dangerous option on the reverse.
Sophomore Brady Brown has 6-4, 205-pound size and the raw talent to be a big part of the rotation, but he has to get healthy. He suffered a leg injury as a true freshman and didn't get back last year. When he's right, he'll be a matchup problem with the quickness to go along with his bulk to make things happen if he can get back on the field.
Watch Out For … the receivers to hope Jordan Rodgers is healthy … again. It's the same hope there was last year at this time since Larry Smith simply isn't a passer, and the passing game showed it. If Rodgers is under center, the receivers will look good.
Strength: Veterans. It might not be a plus when the tight end is the leading receiver, but Barden is a steady, reliable go-to target to take the heat off the wide outs. Cole and Udoh know what they're doing, and Matthews and Krause showed their upside last year. Now they just need someone to throw to them.
Weakness: The quarterbacks. Again, if Rodgers is playing, the passing game and the receivers take on a whole other look. The Commodore targets are fine, but they're not good enough to make a mediocre passer look good.
Outlook: It's been hard to make too much of a splash over the last few seasons for the Vandy receivers, but there's size, experience, and enough decent options to hope for some production … finally. It's all up to the quarterback play, though, and the coaching staff is going to make sure there's more chances down the field.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The offensive front was expected to rebuild in a hurry after losing a ton of talent, but the results weren't there. The pass protection was non-existent allowing 36 sacks, while the ground game never got on track. Depth is a problem, but just getting more out of the front five is a must.
Junior Ryan Seymour is the team's best offensive lineman holding down the starting job at right tackle and was one of the best pass protectors. At 6-5 and 310 pounds, he has great size and moves extremely well. He got past a shoulder problem to be a rock over the second half of the year, and now he'll be the one the line works around. 6-5, 300-pound junior Caleb Welchans will get in the mix in the rotation with Seymour but can work at left guard if needed. He started the first two games at right tackles and then moved over to guard, and while he can start, he's a far better backup.
Working on the left side will be 6-5, 275-pound Wesley Johnson, who might not be all that huge, but moves well and went from being a good, athletic backup to a steady starter who got the call in all 12 games. An All-Freshman performer, he needs more time to become better against the stronger SEC pass rushers, but he's a good one to count on for the next three years. 6-6, 265-pound redshirt freshman Andrew Bridges needs to get bulkier, and has the frame to do it. Smart and quick for his size, he'll play a role somewhere on the outside.
The big concern is at center with little depth to count on. Sophomore Logan Stewart is more of a guard than center, but at 6-4 and 285 pounds he has decent size for the interior and wasn't too bad when thrown into the mix over the second half of last year. A true freshman last year, he struggled a bit, but now he knows what he's doing and should be the quarterback up front for the next three years.
Back at left guard is junior Jabo Burrow, a 6-4, 290-pound veteran who showed good mobility and decent toughness. He saw time in every game, but he didn't cement himself in the starting spot until the second half of the years. After starting out his career on the defensive line at tackle, he should be past his mistakes and should be steadier 6-5, 305-pound sophomore Mylon Brown brings more size to the mix, and while he didn't see a whole bunch of time last year, he's ready to start being a factor for the running game.
6-6, 310-pound right guard Kyle Fischer is the team's best interior blocker, and with his size and experience he should be more of a factor for the ground game. He started every game last year and has gotten the call for 17 straight. While he's versatile enough to play either guard spot, or even move to tackle if needed, the senior has found a home.
Watch Out For … A better line. While there are concerns, and there's a lot of patching to do to make the line far, far better in all areas, things should be more settled. The only assistant who's back, Herb Hand, knows what he has to work with.
Strength: Experience. Last year there was only one returning starter, but now all five starters are back from the group that closed out the year. Vandy not only has a slew of returning veterans, but it's still a young enough line to keep working on and get excited about for the next few years.
Weakness: Depth. Bridges needs to be the key reserve in several ways, but there's no one at center to count on if Stewart struggles or gets hurt.
Outlook: The Commodores didn't rebuild like it needed to and took its lumps, but now it should all pay off. With all five starters back, this should be a more cohesive, more consistent unit that should be stronger in pass protection after finishing 11th in the SEC in sacks allowed and struggling with the 11th ranked rushing attack. Both will change.
Unit Rating: 6.5
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