2007 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 30, 2007

Preview 2007 Vanderbilt Commodore Defense

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Vandy Preview | 2007 Vandy Offense Preview
2007 Vandy Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Vanderbilt Preview 

What you need to know:
Vanderbilt won't have one of the SEC's better defenses, but it'll be far better with eight returning starters and plenty of experience. Most importantly, there are plenty of all-stars to build around. Tackle Theo Horrocks, end Curtis Gatewood, safeties Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton, and linebacker Jonathan Goff and Marcus Buggs are all capable of making All-SEC teams. The cornerbacks have to shine, a second defensive tackle has to take the heat off Horrocks, and the stars have to be stars for a major overall improvement. Coming up with more turnovers would be nice, but just being better in all areas might be enough to dramatically change the record.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jonathan Goff, 63
Sacks: Chris Booker, 3
Interceptions: Reshard Langford, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jonathan Goff
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CBs Joel Caldwell and D.J. Moore
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DT Greg Billinger
Best pro prospect: Goff
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Goff, 2) SS Reshard Langford, 3) DT Theo Horrocks
Strength of the defense: Tackles, safeties
Weakness of the defense: Cornerback

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: Senior Theo Horrocks has been the team's best defensive lineman for the last two seasons moving over from end, bulking up to handle the tackle job, and becoming a top producer as both a run stopper and pass rusher. While not a huge space-eater, he's up to 295 pounds and hasn't lost his quickness with five sacks and four forced fumbles to go along with 49 tackles. Not just a flash in the pan, he's a consistent playmaker who was as strong against Georgia as he was against Temple. If he has the same season he had last year, he'll make the All-SEC team.

Next to Horrocks on the inside is the combination of senior Gabe Hall and sophomore Greg Billinger, who have to become better against the run. Hall's issues is his weight now down to 288 pounds; that's a plus. When he's in shape and healthy, he has the potential to be a strong all-around defender. The 290-pound Billinger made six tackles as a true freshman and will eventually be one of the rocks up front.

Outside, senior Curtis Gatewood turned out to be the team's top pass rusher leading the way with seven sacks and eight tackles for loss. With a tremendous combination of strength and speed, he can hold his own against the stronger tackles and can fly around the slower ones. The former linebacker should be an All-SEC star if he can be more consistent in league play.

On the other side is sophomore Broderick Stewart, who'll combine with bigger sophomore Steven Stone to try to take advantage of all the attention paid to Gatewood. Stewart is only 225 pounds, but he has the speed to be a blur off the edge making five sacks in a limited role. Stone is 6-6 and 255 pounds with a nose for getting into the backfield with 6.5 tackles for loss and 24 stops. He started to come on as the season progressed and now might demand a full-time role.

Projected Top Reserves: 225-pound sophomore Quavian Lewis is a smaller, interesting option behind Gatewood. The former linebacker was mostly a special teamer making three tackles, and now he'll play a big role if he can hold off rising redshirt freshmen Teriall Brannon and Kikko Logan. Brannon's a former tight end and top scout team performer, while Logan has good speed and quickness as an outside linebacker playing end.

Inside, 295-pound Brandon Holmes has the potential to be a key part of the rotation behind Horrocks as long as he can stay healthy. He only played in three games and didn't make a tackle, but with his size and experience in the system, he should be a factor when Horrocks wears down ... if he ever slows down. 6-3, 280-pound sophomore Derrius Dowell will end up starting some day on the inside if he can get stronger.

Watch Out For ... Gatewood and Horrocks to turn into special defenders. They just scratched the surface last season on how good they can be, and as long as they can stay healthy, Vandy will have two stars to revolve the rest of the line around. These two will end up making a lot of money playing on Sundays.
Strength: Quickness. While it's a good-sized line, it's not a massive one. All across the line are aggressive, quick playmakers who need attention on every snap. This group should spend more time in opposing backfields.
Proven talent. There's a lot of promise, but not a lot of overall experience to rely on, especially at tackle. If Hall and Billinger don't shine, everyone will double and triple team Horrocks.
Outlook: This was a decent front wall last season and it could be great with a little bit of luck. It'll never be dominant against the run, but it'll get into the backfield enough to annoy most quarterbacks if Horrocks and Gatewood do what they did last year. As good as the front four could be, it'll have problems with the more physical, bigger lines that want to pound the ball.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: The Commodores got a huge break when senior Jonathan Goff decided to put off the NFL for a year to return for one more year. One of the SEC's best linebackers, Goff led the team with 93 tackles from his spot in the middle while also making plays in the backfield, on special teams and against the pass. While his numbers opened up eyes all across the SEC, it was his play in the biggest games, coming up with a clutch interception against Florida and seven stops against Georgia, that made him an All-SEC caliber star.

Overshadowed by Goff is senior Marcus Buggs, who finished fourth on the team with 50 tackles but first in tackles for loss making 10.5 stops behind the line. A tone-setting hitter from the strongside, Buggs filled in capably for Moses Osemwegie, the star linebacker of the 2005 team, while doing a great job of cleaning up everything Goff didn't get to.

Sophomore Brandon Bryant will get the first shot at the weakside job after making 18 tackles as a reserve. At 230 pounds, he's one of the bigger options on the outside with the athleticism to be strong in pass coverage. After spending last year getting used to playing at a bulked up weight, he should be the team's breakout defender.

Projected Top Reserves: 15 pounds lighter than Bryant, 215-pound sophomore Patrick Benoist has enough quickness to challenge for the starting weakside job. He made 14 tackles as a special teamer and a reserve before getting knocked out with a foot injury. If nothing else, he'll likely be the first man off the bench in obvious passing situations.

In the middle, 230-pound sophomore Chris Johnson has the potential to be a good one behind Goff if he has his head screwed on straight. A terror on special teams, he's a good practice player who should only get better with more reps.

Redshirt freshman Nate Campbell spent last year as a scout teamer and will now be groomed for the strongside job behind Buggs. He'll likely make the biggest impact on special teams for the at least the first half of the year.

Watch Out For ... Goff to be even better. He returned to the team in tremendous shape, is stronger, and should be even quicker. He'll hit the triple-digit mark in tackles while cranking out at least five sacks.
Strength: The 1-2 combination of Goff and Buggs. These two work extremely well together and should start to make more big plays in the backfield and against the pass. If someone starts to shine on the weakside, the two stars will have even more room to roam.
Proven reserves. Johnson, Campbell and Benoist all have potential, but they haven't done much yet. Goff is a heart-and-soul type of player. If he goes down, the corps, even with Buggs, won't be able to recover. It would be nice if the group made more plays against the pass.
Outlook: It'll be a shock if Goff and Buggs don't earn All-SEC honors. Even though the line is better, the corps will have plenty of chances to make plays against the run and put up big numbers. The better the job the front four does, the more tackles for loss and sacks the linebackers will come up with. If Bryant or Benoist grows into a star on the weakside, this will be a devastating unit.
Rating: 7

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: While Vandy might not have stars at corner, it has several options to find the right combination. Sophomore Joel Caldwell had problems getting thrown to the wolves as a redshirt freshman, but he came up with 42 tackles and two broken up passes despite suffering an elbow injury. At 6-1 and 185 pounds, he has the size and he can handle himself well one-on-one in the open field, but it remains to be seen if he can cover speed receivers on a consistent basis.

One the other side will likely be sophomore D.J. Moore, who saw plenty of action making 37 tackles and an interception while also getting a little work as a punt returner. He dominated against Georgia making eight tackles along with a fumble recovery. Now he has to be consistent.

The safeties, at least the starters, are stronger than the corners led by big-hitting junior Reshard Langford. The 6-2, 215-pound junior made 51 tackles with three interceptions to go along with four broken up passes all while playing through a leg injury. While linebacker Jonathan Goff will get the most attention from the NFL scouts, don't be shocked if Langford ends up being the better pro with his size, leadership and nose for the ball.

Sophomore free safety Ryan Hamilton had major problems early on being out of position too many times, and then he started to be more consistent. Despite suffering a foot injury, he finished with 43 tackles and got the starting nod over the last seven games. At 6-2 and 205 pounds, he packs a wallop when he gets an open shot, but he has to start picking off some passes and making more plays when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: The corner spots might be up for grabs it junior Josh Allen and sophomore Myron Lewis start to shine. Lewis is 6-2 with good speed and decent skills making four tackles in a limited role. He'll get every chance to beat out Caldwell for one of the jobs, or at least will push for time throughout the season, along with his work on special teams. Allen got a start against Kentucky and saw time each week on special teams finishing with 19 tackles and three broken up passes. He has enough experience, and is a good enough tackler, to fill in for D.J. Moore, or take over the job, but he's not elite by any stretch in pass coverage.

Also in the mix is sophomore Darlron Spread, who lead the team with five broken up passes to go along with three interceptions from his nickelback spot. He's coming off a knee injury, which is keeping him from battling for a starting spot.

Backup safety is a question mark with sophomores Brent Trice and Roger Herndon each needing more work. Herndon is more of a corner being worked at free safety, while Trice was decent in a reserve strong safety role making eight tackles.

Watch Out For ... the coaching staff trying to find the right combination at corner all season long. There are several options, but there's not a whole bunch of obvious talent. Even the tinkering might not mean production.
Strength: Hitting safeties. Langford and Hamilton should grow into an intimidating twosome with the ability to pop as well as any safeties in the SEC. They have the size to tackle like linebackers to go along with the experience to be in the right position to come up with some highlight-reel shots.
Playmaking corners. Can anyone pick off a pass? The corners can all tackle, but they can't cover. As good as the safeties are, they need to start doing more when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: The starting safeties are great, but the reserves are a concern. On the flip side, the backup corners, whoever they turn out to be, will be solid, but the starters will be, arguably, the worst in the SEC. Holding good teams to under 250 passing yards a game would be a plus. While covering is a problem, tackling isn't; everyone can stick.
Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Bryant Hahnfeldt was never right last season trying to gut it out after a knee injury. He nailed 12 of 17 field goal attempts in 2005, but only made eight of 17 last year having a major problem from all distances missing a 19-yarder and four from inside the 37. He has the leg to hit from 50 yards, with a 51-yard bomb against Temple, but he needs to get his consistency back. He'll be in the hunt for the punting job he held in 2005 when he averaged 41.1 yards per kick, but he'll have to beat out sophomore Brett Upson, who averaged 37.4 yards per boot last year with 12 put inside the 20. While his production tailed off at the end of the year, he showed decent hang time forcing 15 fair catches. Star receiver Earl Bennett will try to inject some life into awful return game.

Watch Out For ... better overall production. Hahnfeldt is over his knee injury, Bennett will be better, and the return game can't be any worse.
Strength: The coverage units. The only bright spot on the special teams last season was the return units that allowed 5.9 yards per punt and 19.8 yards per kickoff return. The return game will be better if Bennett holds the full-time role.
Big legs. Hahnfeldt and Upson don't have consistent deep legs. If the return game is anywhere near as bad as last season, it'll cost Vandy at least one game.
Outlook: Everything has to be better after averaging 4.73 yards per punt return, 17.85 yards per kickoff return, and getting next to nothing from the kicking game. There's plenty of experience at each spot, and now it has to translate into production.
Rating: 5.5


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2007 Vanderbilt Preview - Offense
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2007 Vanderbilt Preview - Depth Chart
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