2012 Vanderbilt Preview – Defense
Vanderbilt CB Trey Wilson
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defense finished 18th in the nation and allowed just 21.62 points per game, but it was inconsistent. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop did a brilliant job improving the a defense that finished last in the SEC two years ago, and he has more work to do again losing four irreplaceable stars in linebacker Chris Marve, end Tim Fugger and defensive backs Sean Richardson and Casey Hayward. The bigger problem is a schedule with better passing teams to deal with, but there’s enough experience in the defensive backfield to get by. Rob Lohr is among the nation’s best linemen, working at tackle but potentially seeing time on the outside, and there’s upside with Walker May a great-looking pass rushing option. Chase Garnham and Archibald Barnes are good-looking linebackers, but the depth is thin.
Star of the defense: Senior DT Rob Lohr
Tackles: Archibald Barnes, 59
Sacks: Rob Lohr, 5
Interceptions: Trey Wilson, 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior SS Javon Marshall
Unsung star on the rise: Junior LB Chase Garnham
Best pro prospect: Lohr
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Lohr, 2) Garnham, 3) LB Archibald Barnes
Strength of the defense: Tackles, Starting Linebackers
Weakness of the defense: Back Seven Depth, Teams With A Real Offense
The run defense did a terrific job last season mostly because the interior was sound, 6-4, 290-pound senior Rob Lohr should’ve taken off early for the NFL, but instead he’ll be a great anchor who grew into his own last year both as an interior pass rusher and a run stopper making 41 tackles with five sack and 11.5 tackles for loss. He has great size and a quick first step to go along with a non-stop motor. While he might not be big and bulky, he makes plays.
Lohr is the star up front, but 6-2, 285-pound senior Cole Nichter is coming off a good season of his own making 26 tackles with a sack. While he’s athletic and quick, he became more of a plugger in the rotation. Now the starting job is all his, even though he’ll once again move around with several tackle options getting their chances to keep the interior fresh.
Gone is top sacker Tim Fugger at one end, but junior Walker May is a dangerous prospect who went from being a scout team superstar to a solid all-around defender making 30 tackles with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. At 6-5 and 245 pounds he looks the part and is 100% back to normal after a leg problem two years ago. He has the potential to be an all-star if he turns it loose and becomes the big-time pass rusher everyone expects him to become.
6-0, 250-pound senior Johnell Thomas isn’t built like a speed end, but he’s tremendously quick making 26 tackles with two sacks and four tackles for loss as part of the rotation. He’s not going to be dominant like May could be, but he has the motor and the experience to be a steady producer. He’ll be backed up by sophomore Kyle Woestmann, a 6-3, 250-pound pass rusher who fought through injuries to show decent potential making eight tackles. Fast and athletic, he has the look and the talent to grow into a key part of the line.
There should be a nice rotation in the inside with 6-4, 300-pound sophomore Barron Dixon the biggest option with the most size of any of the tackles. He only made three tackles, but he’s going to play a bigger role working behind Nichter, while 6-2, 290-pound junior Jared Morse and 6-1, 298-pound sophomore Vince Taylor will see plenty of action depending on where Lohr plays. Taylor made 12 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in his debut while Morse made eight tackles and two tackles for loss in his limited time.
Watch Out For … Lohr seeing time at end. The Commodores are deep enough at tackle to be able to move Lohr to the outside and make him a big, tough option against the run. The line can get very big, very fast.
Strength: Tackles. Lohr and Nichter are restaurant-quality SEC defensive tackles who can hold up against anyone, while Morse, Taylor and Dixon are terrific prospects ready to work in the rotation.
Weakness: End depth. Losing Fugger will hurt, but all will be fine if May steps up his game. Thomas is okay, not elite, and it would be nice if Woestmann steps up and becomes a star.
Outlook: The line should be excellent. This is one of the team’s more experienced areas with the potential for a good rotation and lots of production against the run. With no LSU or Alabama on the schedule, the line won’t have to deal with any elite offensive fronts and should avoid getting flattened.
Unit Rating: 7
Gone is Chris Marve, the tough playmaker and leader who led the team with 91 tackles and finished his career with 397 stops. Two starters are back with junior Chase Garnham moving over from the weakside to Marve’s spot in the middle where he should be one of the team’s stars. This offseason he showed he has star potential as he took on a leadership role the back seven needs. At 6-3 and 234 pounds he has good size and excellent athleticism, moving like a defensive back, making 51 tackles with two sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss despite having a stomach injury.
With Garnham moving, 6-4, 232-pound senior Archibald Barnes should do more on the weakside after starting most of last season and finishing with 59 stops with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. Part defensive end and part outside linebacker, he has the speed and drive to become a pass rusher from either side with an uncanny knack to always be around the ball.
6-1, 210-pound junior Karl Butler is a speedy strongside defender coming in from the secondary to add more flash to the unit. While he’s better suited for the weakside, he can handle himself against the run and he should be able to hold up without a problem. After getting his feet wet last year at linebacker he should be ready to do far more after making 27 tackles.
Senior Tristan Strong hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the last few years, struggling to get past a knee injury two years ago and banged up late last year after only making 16 tackles. At 6-1 and 230 pounds he brings more size to the strongside than Butler, and when he’s right he’s a solid option who can step in and be a nice tackler.
Watch Out For … Barnes. The emergence of Garnham as a leader and a star is the biggest thing to come out of the offseason, but a healthy Barnes could mean even more. He was great last year when he was healthy and put up nice stats despite only being 100% for roughly half the season.
Strength: Garnham and Barnes. The two of them should be among the SEC’s leading tacklers. They flew under the radar with a star like Marve making every play, but now they should shine and should be ready to take over with bigger roles.
Weakness: Depth. Butler had to step in from the secondary because the linebacking corps was so thin. Redshirt freshman Kellen Williams and true freshman Darreon Herring are going to have to matter, and Strong might have to step in and do more.
Outlook: The production should be fine overall, but it’s going to take a few unsung players stepping up their play to make the corps shine. Health is a huge issue for this group and it’s not a given in any way that the same lineup can last for most of the season. The numbers will be fine, but Garnham and Barnes have to be phenomenal.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The secondary came up with a tremendous season stat-wise, but it loses its two best players with safety Sean Richardson and corner Casey Hayward gone. The new star of the defensive back field should be senior Trey Wilson, a good-tackling 5-11, 192-pound corner who came up with 30 stops and three picks with eight broken up passes highlighted by a two pick-sixes in the first three games. He handled himself well with teams staying away from Hayward, but now teams are going to avoid him.
That means that junior Andre Hal has to be ready to get picked on. The 6-0, 184-pounder has good size and showed up big this offseason after making 21 tackles with a pick. Fast, he’s the team’s top kickoff returner with blazing straight-line wheels. He’ll work in a rotation with senior Eddie Foster, a former starter who made 53 tackles two years ago but came up with just seven last year in reduced role.
Replacing Richardson will be tougher than Hayward. Junior Javon Marshall packs a wallop despite being just 5-10 and 195 pounds. He came up with 42 tackles with two picks and four tackles for loss as a starter for most of last season, but now he’ll get a look at strong safety with 6-0, 200-pound senior Eric Samuels battling for the job. A former running back and corner, he has been a decent part of the secondary puzzle with 52 tackles over the last two seasons.
6-1, 200-pound junior Kenny Ladler is a smart, good-tackling free safety who made 53 tackles with a pick and three broken up passes. Great in the open field and as sure as any tackler in the secondary, he should be even better against the run, but he needs to do more when the ball is in the air.
Watch Out For … Wilson. He came up with a nice season, but he didn’t get any attention with Richardson and Hayward so good. While he might not be a premier talent and a top lock-down corner, he should be strong.
Strength: Experience. Even after losing a few key players the Vanderbilt secondary still has a veteran starting four. Samuels at the very least is a good backup, while there are enough experienced players who have gone through the SEC wars to know what they’re doing.
Weakness: Hayward and Richardson. Hayward finished his career with 15 interceptions and 198 tackles, while Richardson ended his career with 257 stops and ten broken up passes.
Outlook: Uh oh. Yes, there’s experience, and yes, there’s enough talent to get by, but after getting ripped apart two years ago, the secondary should have problems not that it has to face teams that can actually throw. Losing Richardson and Hayward will really, really hurt.
Unit Rating: 6
Senior Ryan Fowler was supposed to be the main man at placekicker last season after making 24-of-34 field goals in his first two seasons, but he only nailed 4-of-7 kicks and didn’t show any range whatsoever. Junior Carey Spear wasn’t much better also hitting 4-of-7 kicks with his deepest shot coming from just 37 yards away against Army. Neither one has a deep leg.
The punting game was terrific finishing 22nd in the nation with senior Richard Kent averaging 42.5 yards per kick putting 23 inside the 20. Fowler will get a chance or two, but it’s Kent’s job. The former walk-on has been one of the team’s unsung producers over the last three seasons.
Will Warren Norman get back his kick returning duties? He averaged 25.4 yards per pop two years ago after averaging 26.2 yards with three scores as a freshman. However, corner Andre Hal showed he could handle the work averaging 23.8 yards per try with a touchdown. Junior Jonathan Krause only averaged 4.1 yards per punt return, but he’ll get another shot at the job.
Watch Out For … the placekicking situation. The coaching staff will keep trying to find something steady from one of the two options. Can either one hit a kick from longer than 40 yards? Can either one come through in the clutch? They have a year of experience but they need to be better.
Strength: Kickoff returns. It doesn’t seem to matter who’s returning kicks, Vandy gets big production. There are plenty of good options to give it a shot.
Weakness: Punt returns. The kicking game is the biggest problem, but the punt return game isn’t far off averaging a mere 6.3 yards per try. The Commodores need field position wherever it can get it.
Outlook: The special teams should be hit or miss. The punting game should be among the SEC’s most effective, allowing just 3.9 yards per return last season and with Kent a solid veteran, and the kickoff return game should be outstanding. The punt return game needs a lot of help and the placekicking – to be kind – is mediocre.
Unit Rating: 6
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