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.
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
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
- Chris Nickson, Soph. - 1-3, 13 yds, 15 carries, 49 yds,
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.
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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
- Earl Bennett, Soph. - 79 catches, 876 yds, 11.1 ypc, 9
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,
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
- 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.
- Bryant Anderson, Soph. - 3 catches, 49 yds, 16.3
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
- 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.
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
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
- 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.
- 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.
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