2013 Vanderbilt Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense
Preview 2013 - 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 LB Chase Garnham
Tackles: Kenny Ladler, 90
Sacks: Chase Garnham, 7
Interceptions: Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler, 2
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Vince Taylor
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB Darreon Herring
Best pro prospect: Senior FS Kenny Ladler
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Garnham, 2) CB Andre Hal, 3) Ladler
Strength of the defense: Secondary, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Line Experience, Good Passers
The defensive front did a strong job against the run and was solid at getting into the backfield, but now there's rebuilding to do around Walker May, a 6-5, 255-pound senior captain who started every game making 41 tackles with three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. A potential all-star talent who's always working and always with the motor revved up, he's a dangerous playmaker behind the line who can make big plays in bunches on the outside. He could do more as a pass rusher, but he's excellent against the run. Behind him is promising 6-4, 255-pound sophomore Caleb Azubike, a high-rising end who came up with four sacks – the most ever for a Vandy true freshman – with 21 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. A pure pass rusher, he'll be a good specialist as a part of the rotation.
It'll take a rotation to work things out on the other side starting with junior Kyle Woestmann, a high-motor athlete who came up with 22 tackles with six sacks on the year. The 6-3, 255-pounder is more than just a pass rushing specialist and should shine as a possible all-star. While he's an effort defender, he has the athleticism, too. He'll be working with 6-4, 245-pound sophomore Jimmy Stewart and star-in-the-making redshirt freshman Stephen Weatherly. The 6-4, 248-pound Weatherly is a speedster on the outside who could work at linebacker if needed. Athletic, he saw time as a receiver in high school. Stewart was a high school sprinter who'll bring a burst off the edge, making eight tackles with 1.5 sacks and three tackles for loss in his limited time.
6-2, 312-pound junior Vince Taylor has the size to hold up in the middle and do even more as a starter after making 14 stops in the rotation. He's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis, but after doing a nice job in just five games of work, he could become an anchor to work around. He'll be backed up by redshirt freshman Adam Butler, a former offensive tackle who's needed more to add depth on the defensive front.
Junior Barron Dixon is a good-sized 6-4, 302-pound run stopper who came up with 22 tackles with a sack, and while he's not a quick pass rusher and he's not going to hit the quarterback, he's strong and holds up well against the power running teams. 6-2, 290-pound redshirt freshman Ladarius Banks is a quicker option in the interior who's ready to make a big impact after hitting the weights hard to become a factor in the rotation. He's a high-character player who'll always bring the effort.
Watch Out For … Jay Woods. Vandy doesn't get a ton of SEC recruits who could go anywhere, but Woods is one of them with the talent and upside to work in any defensive interior in America. While he still needs to beef up a bit, the 6-2, 280-pounder is explosive and tough, great against the run with a burst to get into the backfield. He's going to be the leader of the defensive interior very, very soon.
Strength: The young talent. As much as any one spot on the team, the defensive line has received the biggest all-around upgrade in overall talent. The Commodores always get the high-motor try-hard types, but they now have some real SEC-caliber players who just need a little developing.
Weakness: Starters. The line was outstanding last year at both getting into the backfield and holding up against the run, and while there might be excellent prospects and great upside, the Commodores still have to replace three starters.
Outlook: The line won't be a problem. It might take a few big replacements and a good rotation to make it happen, but the front four will be productive and should hold up well as the season goes on. It might take a little while to find the right mix, but the pass rush will come from the outside and the tackles will hold up well.
Unit Rating: 7
The linebacking corps showed it could move on without star Chris Marve, helped by the emergence of senior Chase Garnham, a 6-3, 232-pounder who stepped up his game finishing second on the team with 84 tackles to go along with a team-leading seven sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss. With defensive back athleticism and great speed, he can be used inside our out with great range and an excellent burst behind the line. Able to take games over by himself from time to time – led by a three-sack, nine-tackle day against Auburn – he'll once again be one of the team's leaders and tone-setters. He'll be backed up by rising star Jake Sealand, a 6-2, 220-pound sophomore who saw plenty of action late last season finishing with 24 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss. With excellent quickness and the head to play in the middle, he'll be one of the team's leaders next season.
6-1, 218-pound senior Karl Butler is a speedy outside defender who started out his career in the secondary before shining in the linebacking corps making 51 tackles with two sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss. Great against the pass, he broke up five passes with the quickness to stay with tight ends or running backs out of the backfield. Behind him will be 6-1, 215-pound sophomore Larry Franklin, a former safety who turned into a nice backup linebacker option making 18 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss. He's not huge, but he's tough and can move.
Sophomore Darreon Herring has the potential to be a statistical star after showing terrific promise last season with 33 tackles with a pick. A terrific prospect, he got into the mix right away as a true freshman, and now he'll be used more as a pass rusher on the outside. At 6-2 and 222 pounds, he's not bulky but he could play inside if needed. 6-1, 225-pound junior Kellen Williams will see plenty of time in the rotation. The strength and upside are there to start making an impact.
Watch Out For … Zach Cunningham, the best of a decent trio of incoming linebackers. Oren Burks could be a safety and Nigel Bowden is destined to start in the middle someday, but it's Cunningham who was the real prize. A four-star talent, he's a rangy 6-4 and 205 pounds with terrific tackling skills, and if he adds 20 pounds of good muscle, he could turn into a whale of a pass rusher.
Strength: Playmakers. The Commodore linebackers are aggressive both to the ball and behind the line with the ability to straight-line their way to running backs. With a big-time pass rusher like Garnham able to make big things happen, this group will be dangerous.
Weakness: Size. It would be nice if there were a few thumpers. Speed and athleticism is a plus in the SEC, but it's also a must to have a big pounder who can hold up well against the power teams. Garnham is more of a runner than a blaster, but at around 230 pounds, he'll have to do.
Outlook: A concern going into last year, the linebackers turned into a major possible with aggressiveness and toughness. There's a great rotation that should keep everyone fresh, and there are a few nice stars to build around in Garnham and Butler.
Unit Rating: 7
The Commodore secondary came up with a whale of a season, and it could be even stronger with three starters returning led by free safety Kenny Ladler, a 6-0, 205-pound senior who went from being a nice part of the puzzle to a fantastic hitter who should've received post-season accolades for his team-leading 90 tackles with two picks and 3.5 tackles for loss. While he's a great tackler, he needs to do more when the ball is in the air. Even so, he's one of the SEC's best defensive backs.
Senior Jamal Marshall is a huge-hitting strong safety for his 5-10, 195-pound size, and last year it showed with 83 stops with two tackles for loss and two broken up passes. While he's not a huge performer against the pass, the team leader is like another linebacker against the run and he doesn't miss a stop. He'll be backed up by sophomore Andrew Williamson, a great-looking backup who came up with 20 tackles as both a good defender and special teamer.
6-0, 194-pound senior Andre Hal came up with an All-SEC season at one corner making 48 tackles with two picks and a whopping 14 broken up passes. Extremely fast, he can be used as a kickoff returner when needed, but he's at his best staying with everyone's No. 1 receiver. He has the size, athleticism and ability to matchup with anyone. On the other side will be senior Steven Clarke, a good special teamer as well as a defender making 18 tackles with a broken up pass. One of the team's fastest players, the 5-10, 195-pounder has the burst and cutting ability to come up with a big season with teams staying away from Hal.
Watch Out For … Ryan White. The Commodores came up with a great haul of defensive backs, but it's the 5-10, 178-pound White who has the biggest upside and most overall talent. A pure shut-down corner with outstanding physical skills, he's a ball-hawk who can pop – he'll fit in perfectly.
Strength: The safeties. Ladler and Marshall are as good and as sound as any safety tandem in the SEC. They might not be household names, and they'll always be glossed over by defensive backs at the superstar schools, but these two can play.
Weakness: Reality. Yeah, the stats were great, but it's not like the Commodores played a slew of great passing teams. Georgia and Aaron Murray threw for 265 yards, Mike Glennon pitched for 383 yards for NC State in the bowl game, and Ole Miss chucked it around for 403 yards. The numbers are a bit misleading, but …
Outlook: No matter how it happened, it's still impressive to give up just seven touchdown passes on the season. With a great core of starters returning, the secondary that finished sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense and 14th in yards allowed should be even stronger if the pass rush provides a little bit of help. The depth might need a little developing, but overall the production will be solid no matter what.
Unit Rating: 8
Vandy got a surprisingly terrific season out of senior placekicker Carey Spear, who hit 4-of-7 field goals two years ago but showed off a deep leg last year canning 20-of-24 shots including a 52-yarder against Wake Forest on his way to Second Team All-SEC honors. Of the four misses, one was blocked and all were from 44 yards and beyond.
Punter Richard Kent is gone after an outstanding season averaging 44.9 yards per kick putting 22 inside the 20. Redshirt freshman Colby Cooke could see time as a placekicker if absolutely needed, but he has the leg to grow into a solid punter. It's asking a lot to replace Kent, but he has the upside to do it.
Brian Kimbrow came up with a nice year returning kicks averaging 22.1 yards per try, while corner Andre Hal did a nice job averaging 22.9 yards per try. Receiver Jonathan Krause turned into an elite punt returner after averaging just 4.1 yards per try two years ago. All he did was average 11.2 yards per try with two scores showing off a great burst and an innate ability to make his man miss.
Watch Out For … Tommy Openshaw, the likely kicker next season after Spear is done. A good all-around kicker who can punt, work on kickoffs or see time on big deep kicks, he can do a little of everything with 50+ range and the upside to be a 45-yard punter.
Strength: Spear and Krause. The Commodores have two of the SEC's best weapons in their kicker and punt returner. Spear can be counted on from anywhere, while Krause has to be avoided by opposing punter.
Weakness: Proven punter. Cooke needs to be fantastic to replace Kent. A blaster, Kent got the team out of jams time and again and was a key part of the defensive puzzle. Cooke, at the very least, has to be consistent.
Outlook: This was one of the team's biggest wild-cards last season, and everything worked out in a big way. Spear was special and Krause and all the returners were fantastic. The punt coverage team needs to be stronger, and Cooke is an X factor, but overall this should be a major plus.
Unit Rating: 7.5
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