Vanderbilt Preview 2006 - Offense
Vanderbilt Commodores
Posted Aug 8, 2006

Vanderbilt Commodores Preview 2006 - Commodore Offense

What you need to know ... Vanderbilt isn't going to be better without star quarterback Jay Cutler, but it has enough overall talent to keep last year's second best SEC offense from slipping too much. The main focus will be on the quarterback battle between Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams. They can both run and have good arms, but can they come through with half as many big plays as Cutler was able to? Earl Bennett leads a nice receiving corps, while Cassen Jackson-Garrison is a big, veteran back who'll be used more. The real strength will be the line with two tremendous tackles in Brain Stamper and Chris Williams to work around.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Chris Nickson
1-3, 13 yds
Rushing: Cassen Jackson-Garrison
97 carries, 539 yds, 8 TD
Receiving: Earl Bennett
79 catches, 876 yds, 9 TD

Star of the offense: Sophomore WR Earl Bennett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore QB Chris Nickson and/or redshirt freshman QB Mackenzi Adams
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman RB Jared Hawkins
Best pro prospect: Junior OT Brian Stamper
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Stamper, 2) Bennett, 3) OT Chris Williams
Strength of the offense: Offensive line
Weakness of the offense:
Quarterback experience, overall experienced depth

Forget about replacing the talent of a player like Jay Cutler; Vandy might never have another quarterback like him. On the plus side, new quarterbacks Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams are far more mobile and should allow the coaching staff to do some different things. The starting job is there for the taking going into this fall with the one who turns out to be the most consistent getting the gig.
The key to the unit: Don't try to be Jay Cutler. Chris Nickson and Mackenzi Adams are better athletes than the SEC Offensive Player of the Year, and they have to do what they do best and not try to press and be top-flight passers.
Quarterback Rating: 6

Projected Starter
- Chris Nickson, Soph. - 1-3, 13 yds, 15 carries, 49 yds, 3.3 ypc
Nickson spent last year operating behind Jay Cutler and saw just enough practice time to be the number one guy going into the season. A good enough athlete to see time as a receiver, he's an excellent runner with a good enough arm to make big plays. He has to prove he has the command of the offense, and the team, and he has to show that he can spread the ball around and not just lock in on one target.

Top Backups
- Richard Kovalcheck, Jr.
Arizona transfer will get every shot at starting. He has good size and a nice, accurate arm with 11 games of starting experience for the Wildcats in 2004 and 2005. While not the most mobile quarterback around, he has a good enough arm to make up for most shortcomings. Smart enough to have graduated from UA, he's in grad school at Vanderbilt.

- Mackenzi Adams, RFr.
The top scout teamer of last year is just a hair behind Chris Nickson in the quarterback derby. He has a live, accurate arm and is an excellent runner tearing off 1,063 yards in high school to go along with his big passing numbers. He acts and plays like a mature veteran, and he's sure to see time throughout the season if he doesn't take over the number one spot.

Running Backs
Cassen Jackson-Garrison went from being a decent fullback to a nice power back last season, but he has to prove he can produce from start to finish. Losing starter Jeff Jennings to a knee injury late last season proved to be a big blow to the depth coming into this year. Now it'll be up to quick redshirt freshman Jared Hawkins to prove he can occasionally carry the workload. Former quarterback Steven Bright has turned into a nice receiving fullback, but the ground game could use a sledgehammer to open up some more holes.
The key to the unit: Jeff Jennings has to return healthy from a knee injury. There has to be more production than 116 yards per game.
Running Back Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Jr. - 97 carries, 539 yds, 5.6 ypc, 8 TD, 14 catches, 139 yds, 9.9 ypc
The team's top back can do a little of everything well with good power and a little bit of speed in a 225-pound frame. While not a home run hitter by any stretch, the former fullback ripped off enough good-sized runs to be more than just a pounding, between-the-tackles runner. However, his one big game came against Richmond when he ran for 119 yards and a touchdown; his production fell off the map over the second half of the season, but he ran for a score in each of a last five games.

- Fullback Steven Bright, Sr. - 5 catches, 12 yds, 2.4 ypc, 17 catches, 198 yds, 11.6 ypc
More of a receiver than a blocker, the 6-4, 240-pound senior will see time lining up as an inside target as well as in the backfield. The former backup quarterback isn't a horrible blocker, but he's hardly an elite one. After bulking up a little bit, he should be more physical.

Top Backups
- Jared Hawkins, RFr.
A quick back who should offer up a few more moves than Cassen Jackson-Garrison, the 5-10, 190-pound redshirt freshman has gotten a bit stronger and has had time in practice to learn what he's doing. He'll be used early with Jeff Jennings still trying to get healthy.
- Jeff Jennings, Jr. - 123 carries, 448 yds, 3.6 ypc, 7 TD, 21 catches, 156 yds, 7.4 ypc, 1 TD
The starter for most of last year, the 6-1, 225-pound Jennings got knocked out for the year with a knee injury and is still questionable at very best for the start of the year. He's a powerful runner who's great around the goal line and has terrific hands. However, he's hardly a blazer and once again, he has to get healthy.
- Fullback Darnell Martemus, Jr. - 1 tackle
Mostly a special teamer last year and a backup safety in four games, the 230-pound junior will move over to the offensive side to add more of a blocking element behind Steven Bright. Don't expect too many, if any, carries.

Earl Bennett blew up into one of the league's top receivers last season with a few unbelievable performances. Now he'll have to be even better with the defensive focus sure to be all on him. Marlon White is a nice number two receiver to help make defenses pay for doubling up on Bennett. The rest of the receivers are big, but inexperienced. Tight end could be an issue early on with Brad Allen and redshirt freshmen Thomas Welch and Jake Bradford needing to combine to replace the sure-handed Dustin Dunning.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to be sharper. Jay Cutler isn't under center anymore, so this corps has to make the new starting quarterback look great.
Receiver Rating: 6.5

Projected Starters
- Earl Bennett, Soph. - 79 catches, 876 yds, 11.1 ypc, 9 TD
Where did that come from? No one knew Bennett was going to explode into an All-SEC caliber player, even the coaching staff. While his overall numbers might dip now that Jay Cutler isn't at quarterback, the 6-1, 202-pound sophomore should still be one of the league's best receivers with his combination of size and hands. Most noted for tearing apart Kentucky for 13 catches and five scores before closing out the year with 14 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee, Bennett will be the main man in the attack from game one seeing time as a runner and a punt returner along with his receiver duties.

- George Smith, Soph. - 23 catches, 287 yds, 12.5 ypc, 2 TD
Smith was sick all of 2004, but made a phenomenal comeback to be a decent reserve. After not doing much all year, he became a starter late in the year and ripped apart Kentucky for 110 yards on seven catches. At 6-3 and 196 pounds, he's one of the team's bigger receivers.

- Marlon White, Sr. - 34 catches, 350 yds, 10.3 ypc, 6 TD
He's not fast and he's not flashy, but he's effective working on the other side of Earl Bennett. The 6-4, 205-pound senior caught two touchdown passes against Tennessee and was a steady target all season long. He always finds a way to get open.

- Tight end Brad Allen, Soph.
It'll be asking a lot for Allen to replace the solid Dustin Dunning. He played in every game last year, mostly on special teams, and should be a decent blocker. He has to prove he can be a reliable receiver.

Top Backups
- Bryant Anderson, Soph. - 3 catches, 49 yds, 16.3 ypc
Mostly a special teamer so far, the 6-3, 200-pound sophomore is a physical receiver who started to see a little time at the end of the year. He's a good blocker and a big option behind Earl Bennett.
- Alex Washington, RFr.
With a nice combination of speed and toughness, the 5-10, 185-pound Washington will quickly find time in the rotation behind George Smith. He should add a big play capability once he sees a little bit of time.
- Sean Walker, Soph.
A knee problem kept him down last year forcing him to mostly just be a special teamer. As one of the team's best athletes, he should grow into a factor behind Marlon White.
- Tight end Thomas Welch, RFr.
The former high school quarterback spent one year at tight end and continued to learn on the fly last season. He's a physical 6-6 and 255 pounds who has to grow into a reliable receiver.

Offensive Linemen
Somewhat quietly, this group could be really, really good. The starting five should grow into something special if Mac Pyle is finally able to return healthy and see time on the inside. Tackles Brian Stamper and Chris Williams are as good as any in the SEC and should keep the new starting quarterback clean as a whistle. However, things could fall apart if injuries strike early on with little to no experienced depth.
The key to the unit: Stay healthy until everyone gets their feet wet, and get more push in the ground game. The interior has to use it's good overall strength to be more physical.
Offensive Line Rating: 7

Projected Starters
- OT Chris Williams, Jr.
Williams turned into a bit of a surprise last season growing into a reliable, occasionally dominant blocker. He saw most of his time at left guard, and now will move outside to tackle where he should be in the hunt for All-SEC honors. At 6-6 and 315 pounds, he has the size, and while he won't be Brian Stamper as a pass protector, he won't be bad.

- OG Josh Eames, Jr.
Eames got better and better as last season went on seeing time at both guard positions. The 6-5, 310-pound junior turned into a strong run blocker and should be grow into an even more reliable all-around player with more experience; he's a good technician.

- C Hamilton Holliday, Jr.
Hurt for most of last season, Holliday showed what he was able to do by the end of the year finishing with a flourish. Moving to the middle after seeing most of last year at guard, the 290-pound junior should move around a little bit over the course of the season.

- OG Merritt Kirchoffer, Jr.
At 6-5 and 320 pounds, Kirchoffer is the team's biggest and strongest offensive lineman; he has to bring more of a physical presence up front. He saw most of his time on special teams and should be a key blocker on the right side.

- OT Brian Stamper, Sr. 
One of the league's better tackles last season earning Second Team All-SEC honors, Stamper is expected to be one of the team's stars after improving his strength to an NFL level this off-season. He's surprisingly quick for a 6-5, 305-pound player and should be one of the nation's best pass blockers.

Top Backups
- OG Mac Pyle, Sr.
Will he be back? The 6-4, 315-pound Pyle hasn't been able to stay healthy over the last two seasons missing most of last year with a knee injury. When he's right, he's one of the team's most talented and versatile linemen with 18 career starts.
- OT Ryan Hood, Jr.
One of the team's only experienced backup linemen, the 6-5, 300-pound Hood saw time in almost every game at both tackle and guard. He's a better tackle and will see time on the right side behind Brian Stamper.
- OG
Ryan Custer, RFr.
The 290-pound redshirt freshman is a pure guard who should see plenty of time in the rotation throughout the season. He's not nearly as big as starter Merritt Kirchoffer on the right side, but he's tough.
- OG Drew Gardner, RFr.
The big Gardner is a great prospect at left guard playing behind Josh Eames. He has the feet to play tackle if needed, but he'll be used more on the inside.
- OT Eric Hensley, RFr.
The 6-6, 300-pound Hensley saw a little bit of practice time at guard last season, but he's a better fit at tackle. He was a good high school defensive tackle bringing that toughness to the left side behind Chris Williams.

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