Preview 2008 - Offense
2008 CFN Vanderbilt Preview |
2007 CFN Vanderbilt Preview |
2006 CFN Vanderbilt
What you need to know: It's
rebuilding time with only three starters from an offense that
wasn't any good last year. Even with five senior offensive
linemen, star receiver Earl Bennett and a ton of potential in
the backfield, the attack was 103rd in the nation in total
offense and averaged a mere 22 points per game. The only way
things improve is if Mackenzi Adams and/or Chris Nickson improve
the quarterback situation. Never consistent last year, the
passing game struggled even with Bennett, and now it has to find
a new No. 1 receiver. The O line shouldn't be that bad
considering the wholesale change of starters, and the running
backs should be serviceable, but not explosive. Again, it's all
up to Adams and Nickson. They're veterans, and as they go, so
will go the season.
Passing: Mackenzi Adams
101-182, 1,043 yds, 9 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Jeff Jennings
96 carries, 346 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: George Smith
32 catches, 397 yds, 3 TD
Star of the offense: Senior QB Chris Nickson and/or
junior QB Mackenzi Adams
Player who has to step up and become a star: Nickson
Unsung star on the rise: Redshirt freshman WR Udom Umoh
Best pro prospect:
Junior OT Thomas Welch
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Welch, 2) OT Eric
Hensley, 3) RB Jeff Jennings
Strength of the offense: Backfield options, depth at
Weakness of the offense: Explosiveness, quarterback
While it'll be a battle all off-season for the starting job, the
way junior Mackenzi Adams closed out the 2007 season
likely gives him the edge. He got plenty of work early in the
year before taking over and doing a decent job, highlighted by a
three-touchdown performance in the one-point heartbreaker at
Tennessee. At 6-2 and 212 pounds, he has decent size and
terrific athleticism, but he doesn't have the biggest arm and
can be streaky. If he can show more mobility and more flash,
after running for 289 yards and three touchdowns including two
against Florida, he'll be too dangerous to keep off the field.
Projected Top Reserves: Along with Adams, senior
Chris Nickson could be considered a starter, or at least
No. 1A on the depth chart. The main man going into last year, he
didn't build on a big sophomore season and threw for 763 yards
and six touchdowns along with five interceptions, but four of
the scoring passes came in the opener against Richmond and the
other two came against Eastern Michigan. Trying to force too
many plays that weren't there, and not showing much in the way
of running ability, he lost the job midway through the season
and now has to prove he can be a good decision maker and be far
better in SEC play.
If Adams and Nickson struggle to get things moving, sophomore
Jared Funk could play a role sooner than later. He hasn't
seen the field yet after working as a scout teamer, but he was
able to show off his tremendous arm in practices and could add
more of a passing element to the mix.
Eventually, redshirt freshman Larry Smith
will play a big role. A scout teamer last year as he learned
the ropes, Smith has the combination of skills to eventually be
everything the Commodore offense needs. While he wasn't a huge
recruit, he was a two-time all-star performer in Alabama and led
his Prattville team to a state title.
Watch Out For ... Funk and Smith to see time. The
Commodores used three quarterbacks last year and never really
settled on any one to be the main man. While it'll be between
Adams and Nickson to carry the workload, the young prospects
could see more than their share of time ... and not just in
Strength: Experience. Nickson has been through the
battles for the last few years and Adams got his taste of SEC
play over the second half of last season. While neither one
stood out, the time spent playing some of the best of the best
teams will make them far more prepared this season for what
should be another brutal SEC slate.
Weakness: Consistency. The offense needs to know it can count on
its quarterback to produce game in and game out. There doesn't
need to be a slew of 300-yard passing days, but keeping the
interceptions to a minimum and keeping the chains moving is a
Outlook: Nickson wasn't able to take the
next step after a promising sophomore season and gave way to
Adams halfway through the year. Now the two will be in
a battle for the starting job all season long unless one of them
steps up and becomes more of a steady playmaker. Vandy simply
can't win being 95th in the nation in passing efficiency and
107th in total passing yards. Young prospects Funk and
Smith could see time early on if Nickson and Adams aren't
Projected Starter: It'll be a combination of backs
making up for the loss of leading rusher Cassen Jackson-Garrison
with senior Jeff Jennings likely getting the start. That
doesn't mean he'll be a workhorse, but he should be the first
option after finishing second on the team with 346 yards and two
touchdowns. At 6-1 and 215 pounds, he's a pounding runner who'll
try to get the hard yards on the inside, but don't expect any
breakaway dashes. The key will be how much work he can handle on
a regular basis now that his knee has had two years to heal
after a bad injury kept him out all of 2006. If nothing else,
he'll be used more around the goal line.
Projected Top Reserves: Jennings might start, but
he'll split time with 5-10, 200-pound junior Jared Hawkins,
a patient back who's great at bursting into the open once he
gets a little room to move. He wasn't used as much as a receiver
as he should've been, making just seven catches for 73 yards,
but that should change this season now that he'll get more work.
He ran for 267 yards without a touchdown and had one game with
double-digit carries, a ten-carry, 61-yard day against Miami
Jennings and Hawkins are expected to form a decent 1-2 punch,
but the excitement could come from 5-11, 200-pound sophomore
Kennard Reeves. A potential No. 3 back in the mix with the
ability to run inside or out, he'll do more than get six yards
on three carries like he did last year, and he'll be far more
than just a special teamer.
Ready to be thrown into the mix are sophomore Gaston Miller
and redshirt freshmen Ryan van Rensburg and
Jermaine Doster. Miller isn't big at only 5-7 and 170
pounds, but he's the potential home-run hitter the backfield
doesn't have. He's the speed while the 215-pound van Rensburg is
the power. Doster, the brother of former VU back, Kwane, will
likely be a special teamer.
Watch Out For ... Hawkins. The junior showed just
enough last year to earn more of a look this season, and while
Jennings will likely be the main main for key stretches, there
will be an even split throughout the year.
Strength: Variety. The quarterbacks help carry a
bit of the rushing load, but in a perfect world the Commodore
backfield uses three or for backs in the mix to offer a variety
Weakness: Big plays. Unless Miller can turn into a producer
early on, there isn't any threat for a big dash. The longest run
by a back last season was 26 yards.
Outlook: While there isn't any top-flight SEC
talent for defenses to worry about, there are enough good
players and enough good options to revolve the offense around
the ground game and be effective. Jennings and Hawkins should combine for over 1,000 yards, but the key will be
the development of the youngsters like Miller, van Rensburg and Doster. The quarterbacks will help make
the rushing stats look decent, but it'll be the combination of
the five backs that has to carry the team.
Projected Starters: The loss of Earl Bennett early
to the NFL is a killer, but the Commodores still have experience
returning. The key will be for senior George Smith to go
from a nice number two to a go-to target after finishing second
on the team with 32 catches for 397 yards and three touchdowns.
At 6-3 and 202 pounds, he's a big, physical receiver who was
steady throughout the year before closing out with a seven catch
performance against Wake Forest. After missing all of 2004 with
a near-death illness, he returned to be a good, functional
receiver with 76 career grabs with five touchdowns, but if he
doesn't shine, the passing game won't improve.
Needing to make more of an impact is senior Sean Walker
after making 20 catches for 270 yards and three touchdowns. Now
that he's well past the knee injury that kept him out a few
years ago, his deep speed should be utilized more on a regular
basis. He can also be used as a kick returner and a runner at
times; he ran for a 15-yard score against Georgia.
Junior Justin Wheeler caught ten passes for 87 yards and
a score last season, and now he'll get the third slot in the
starting rotation ... at least for the time being. The six-foot,
175-pounder was mostly a special teamer before getting more work
late in the season with five catches in his final two games.
He'll have a ton of work to do to keep a starting job, but at
least he'll be part of the mix.
Junior Jake Bradford split time last season with Brad
Allen, who was a decent blocker and caught five passes, but now
the job should be his. He's not a prime receiver, catching four
passes for 80 yards on the season with a 30-yard score against
Kentucky, but at 6-6 and 270 pounds, he's a big-time run
Projected Top Reserves: While the receiving corps
already has some established veterans, the new prospects are
generating the buzz, particularly redshirt freshman Udom Umoh,
who's expected to take a starting spot sooner than later. While
he's not huge at 5-11 and 170 pounds, he has tremendous speed
and the type of next-level wheels the offense needs. A Georgia
state high school track star, Umoh ran a 21.7 in the 200 meters
and a 48.6 in the 400.
On the way is one of the team's top recruits, John Cole,
who could be the immediate replacement for Bennett. The
record-setting Kentucky high school star has the speed and
ability to quickly become a No. 1 target. Very smart and very
athletic, he caught 28 touchdown passes last year and 69 on 237
grabs for his high school career.
Junior Alex Washington was the team's top punt returner
averaging a pedestrian 6.6 yards per try, and was decent as a
kickoff returner, and he was supposed to grow into a big
receiver after catching nine passes for 120 yards in a
limited role. That'll have to wait until next year, at the
earliest, after tearing his ACL on the first day of spring ball.
An interesting prospect in the rotation could be senior
Andrew Diomande, a 6-1, 195-pound transfer from Clemson who
made for catches for 70 yards for the Tigers. While he's not
going to start, he could be the type of player who makes a big
play from out of nowhere when he gets his chance.
Pushing Bradford for time at tight end are sophomores
Justin Green and Austin Monahan. They're not the
blockers Bradford is, but they're each promising receivers. The
6-6, 235-pound Green caught four passes for 38 yards and the
6-6, 248-pound Monahan caught a five-yard pass. Each will be
much more involved this season.
Watch Out For ... the youngsters. Umoh and Cole are far more talented than Smith and Walker.
It's just a question of how quickly they can be ready for a big
Strength: Veteran starters and promising
newcomers. The corps would've been something special had
Bennett stuck around, but as is there are decent veterans to
rely on until the new guns are ready.
Weakness: No. 1 receiver. At the moment, Vandy doesn't have one.
While that could quickly change depending on the emergence of a
few players, it'll be next to impossible to replace Bennett's 75
catches, 830 yards and five touchdowns from one guy.
Outlook: Even with Earl Bennett being Earl
Bennett, the passing game was mediocre. The quarterbacks had a
lot to do with that, but the other receivers weren't exactly
explosive. Now it's up to Smith and Walker to come
up with huge senior seasons, while Umoh and Cole have
to show that the future is now. Anything out of the tight end, a
weakness in the passing game for a few years, would be a nice
Good luck trying to replace Chris Williams
and Brian Stamper at tackle. Stamper was a four-year starter, while
Williams might have been the best lineman in the school's history. Ready
to try to step in and take over will be juniors Thomas Welch and
Eric Hensley, with the 6-6, 310-pound Hensley playing for Stamper
on the right side and the 6-6, 300-pound Welch playing for Williams on
Welch spent last year as
Williams' understudy and should be ready after seeing a little
bit of playing time in almost every game and on special teams.
Originally a quarterback, he started out at Vandy as a huge
tight end before moving to tackle. He's not the athlete Williams
is, but he can move.
Hensley is a terrific prospect and could be every bit the
producer Stamper was, but he missed half of last year after
getting suspended and now has to establish himself as a steady
and consistent blocker. Tough and versatile enough to play guard
if needed, he's a tackle who could be a fringe All-SEC performer
with a little more playing time.
6-3, 292-pound junior Bradley Vierling will take over for
long-time starter Hamilton Holliday in the middle. Vierling saw
as much time as any Commodore backup lineman and won't be coming
in cold; he was effective when thrown to the wolves as a
freshman when injuries struck. While his future is at center, he
could move to either guard spot if needed.
The guards also have to be replaced, but the left side should be
set as 6-4, 295-pound junior Ryan Custer should be more
than ready to take over. After seeing three games of starting
time as a freshman thanks to injuries, he ended up playing a key
backup role in every game last year. Ultra-physical, the
one-time defensive tackle prospect should be great for the
The right side needs 6-5, 305-pound junior Drew Gardner
to be ready. While all five starters have to be replaced up
front, Gardner could be the X factor as he's the one with the
least amount of experience. It'll help playing next to Eric
Projected Top Reserves: The tackle situation
should be set, but a couple of young prospects could make the
rotation extremely interesting. 6-6, 305-pound redshirt freshman
Kyle Fisher is a terrific athlete with the versatility to
play any guard or tackle spot. A potentially dominant run
blocker, he might be too athletic outside to move inside. He'll
likely start out behind Welch at left tackle.
6-6, 305-pound redshirt freshman James Williams might not
be the prospect Fisher is, but he's a big, hard-working prospect
who could become a key starter in a year or two. He'll have time
to groom and grow behind Hensley at right tackle and could
also play on the other side if needed.
One of the other key prospects will be 6-3, 285-pound sophomore
Ryan Vance, who isn't as big as Gardner, but is
athletic enough and just good enough to push for the starting
right guard job. He'll likely be the top backup early on.
Watch Out For ... the tackles. It hurts to lose two
of the best tackles in recent team history, but Williams
and Stamper won't be missed as much as many will believe
if Welch and Hensley play as well as hoped.
Strength: Youth. While this might not seem like a
plus, that there isn't a senior anywhere on the depth chart
could turn into a positive as the season goes on. This is a
group that should jell over the season and come out roaring in
2009. For this year, there's a surprising amount of experience
Weakness: The new starters. Last year's line wasn't anything
special for the running game, but it wasn't bad, and it was
phenomenal in pass protection. It was among the league's most
cohesive lines and one of the most productive, and while there's
good potential on this year's front five, last year's group was
Outlook: Not only do all five starters need to be
replaced, all five starters played every game last year. Even
so, there's just enough experience among the newcomers, like
tackles Welch and Hensley along with center Vierling and guard Custer, to grow into their new roles.
It'll be next to impossible to replace the pass protection
production of last year, but this is a big enough group to be
decent for the running game early on. The depth isn't seasoned,
but there's good talent, especially at tackle.