2008 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense
Vanderbilt S Reshard Langford
Vanderbilt S Reshard Langford
Posted May 20, 2008

CollegeFootballNews.com 2008 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Defense

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Vanderbilt Preview | 2008 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2008 Vanderbilt Defense | 2008 Vanderbilt Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Vanderbilt Preview | 2006 CFN Vanderbilt Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense struggled at times giving up points, but it turned out to be one of the best in the nation in total yards allowed. Seven starters return led by a secondary that could be among the most productive in the nation. Corners D.J. Moore and Myron Lewis form a dangerous lock-down tandem, while safeties Reshard Langford and Ryan Hamilton hare productive, huge-hitting veterans. Even with three starters gone off the line, the pass rush should be fantastic with Broderick Stewart taking on a bigger role on the other side of Steven Stone. The linebacking corps isn't a mess, but it'll be a work in progress trying to make all the pieces fit.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: D.J. Moore, 83
Sacks: Broderick Stewart, 6
Interceptions: D.J. Moore, 6

Star of the defense: Junior CB D.J. Moore
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Patrick Benoist
Unsung star on the rise: Junior DT Greg Billinger
Best pro prospect: Moore
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Moore, 2) DE Steven Stone, 3)
SS Reshard Langford
Strength of the defense: Secondary, pass rush
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker, proven depth on the front seven

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The only returner to a strong line is Steven Stone, a 6-5, 260-pound junior who came up with a nice year on the end making 45 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for loss. With good size, he's been strong against the run for the last few seasons, but his real worth is as a pass rusher. He'll be the focal point up front job one for every opposing offensive line to keep in check, even if he isn't the team's best backfield threat.

On the other side will be junior Broderick Stewart as he takes over for Curtis Gatewood. The 6-5, 228-pound Stewart might be built more like a power forward than a true end, but he has the height to bat down passes and the speed to be a blur off the edge when he gets a step. After making five sacks in a limited role as a freshman, he became a pure third down sack artist leading the team with six to go along with 30 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. Now he has the full-time job and needs to prove he can be an every down player.

The ends will be fine, but the tackles will be an issue losing Gabe Hall and Theo Horrocks. 6-2, 290-pound junior Greg Billinger will be the biggest plugger on the inside after making six tackles as a reserve. Expected to be a top producer last year, he got pushed aside by Hall and never got much of a role to play. With the size, the talent, and the experience in the system, he's expected to become a major factor.

Sophomore Adam Smotherman is expected to take over the other inside spot, but first he has to stay healthy. The 6-4, 280-pounder was supposed to be a key part of the rotation last season, but he suffered leg injuries and was limited to just one tackle in five games. Extremely tough and very strong, he could grow into a star over the next three years.

Projected Top Reserves: While Stewart needs to shine as a starter at one end, there's still a place for 6-3, 250-pound sophomore Theron Kadri and his size. A bigger option than Stewart, and with a little bit of experience making six tackles, he also is one of the best athletes on the line. If he starts to turn into a steady pass rusher he'll be a threat to start.

6-4, 250-pound redshirt freshman Tim Fugger came to Vandy with all the talent, and now he's stronger and tougher after spending a year in the weight room. One of the fastest players on the defensive front seven, running a 10.8 100 in high school, he'll get his chance as a situational pass rusher.

Looking to see time inside in the rotation will will be redshirt freshman T.J. Greenstone, a high energy 6-2, 275-pound prospect who's expected to be more of an interior pass rusher than a run stopper. He'll start out behind Adam Smotherman, but he'll see time at both tackle spots.

Junior Derrius Dowell has been around the system for a while, but the 6-2, 285-pounder hasn't been able to grow into a job. While he has the size and he has the potential, he hasn't seen the field. The line needs him this year.

Watch Out For ... Stewart. The team's best pass rusher over the last two seasons, he needs to be a factor against the run and he can't just pin his ears back and get to the quarterback. Of course, if he's on, that'll only continue to open things up for everyone else.
Strength: Pass rush. All four spots should be able to get into the backfield, especially if Stewart and Stone are the threats they're expected to be.
Proven depth. The starting four should be fine, but the Commodores are relying on a lot of ifs among the backups. For the defense to work, there has to be a steady rotation up front and while the ends should be fine, the tackles could be a bit shaky.
Outlook: The line was a bit of a surprise last year as it turned into a brick wall against the run and was fantastic at getting into the backfield. Three starters are gone, but Stone is a strong end to build around and Stewart could be a superstar now that he has more responsibility. The tackles will be the early concern with Billinger and Smotherman needing to play up to the bar set last year by Horrocks and Hall.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters: How do you replace Jonathan Goff? He could've left early for the NFL, but he came back to make 113 tackles as the star of the defense. It'll be a work in progress all off-season to solidify Goff's former spot in the middle with veteran Patrick Benoist likely to get the first look. While he's not that big at only 6-0 and 218 pounds, the junior is tough as nails with enough experience to be a leader making 32 tackles and four sacks. Can he hold up against the run? He's already had injury problems suffering a foot injury as a freshman, and now he has to prove he can take the SEC pounding while still being able to produce.

Stepping in on the weakside, while also being an option for the inside, is junior Brandon Bryant after making 30 tackles. A starter at the beginning of last year, he got hurt and ended up only playing eight games. From an arm injury to start the season to a foot problem midway through, he was never right. At 6-1 and 230 pounds, he has the size to play any of the three linebacking spots, and just enough quickness to be a factor against the pass.

On the strongside will be 6-5, 238-pound sophomore John Stokes as he takes over for Buggs and his 76 tackles. Mostly known as a long snapper so far for the punt team, he also made seven tackles on defense. With excellent quickness and good size, he should grow into a statistical machine over the next few years.

Projected Top Reserves: Pushing for the starting job on the weakside will be sophomore Nate Campbell, who made eight tackles as a key special teamer and part-time defender. At 6-3 and 228 pounds, he's a good-sized player who needs to prove he can get into the backfield and be effective against the pass on a regular basis.

Along with Benoist, junior Chris Johnson and redshirt freshman Chris Marve will battle for the middle linebacker job. Both bring more size than Benoist, who could move to a more natural outside spot if someone else steps up. The 6-1, 235-pound Johnson has been a tremendous special teamer so far, but he hasn't been able to crack the regular defensive lineup. With three years in the system and 14 tackles, he's ready to start doing more.

The 6-0, 238-pound Marve is a pure middle linebacker who dominated at times on the scout team. With great speed and excellent size, he has the potential to be the next big-time Commodore producer.

Pushing for a spot on the strongside is 6-4, 215-pound sophomore Austin Newton, while he's built like a big safety and has only seen time on special teams, he has the speed to potentially be a dangerous defender. If nothing else, he has the wheels to become a terror in opposing backfields when turned loose as a pass rusher.

Watch Out For ... a steady change in the lineup all season long. It's almost like the pieces are in the wrong spots as the coaching staff has to put Benoist in the middle because of his experience, but that's not the spot for him. Expect plenty of juggling.
Strength: Size on the outside. There might not be much in the way of experience, but the outside linebackers at least have plenty of size to hold up against the run. Everyone is around 230 or more and there's plenty of athleticism.
Proven players. Stokes, Newton, Johnson, Marve and Campbell will be getting their feet wet early on, while Bryant has to get over injuries to prove he can last a full season.
Outlook: The fantastic linebacking corps of last year loses Goff and Buggs, and now there will be a drop-off; possibly a major one. Benoist has the potential to be a major playmaker, but he's undersized if he spends any time in the middle. The outside options have size, but there's not enough experience to expect miracles right away. On the plus side, there's a lot of room to grow. It might take a year, but this could be one of the team's strengths going into next year.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters: The star of the defense, and the entire team, is junior corner D.J. Moore, a safety-like hitter, a tremendous cover-corner, and the most dangerous offensive weapon. All he did was finish second on the team in tackles with 83, to go along with six interceptions, ten broken up passes, and a sack. Only 5-10 and 182 pounds, he's a tough run stopper and plays bigger than his size against the larger receivers.  Offensively he ran six times for 78 yards, and was one of the nation's better kickoff returners averaging 25.7 yards per try. He's a next-level athlete who'll be in a year-long salary drive.

On the other side, and certain to get picked on with teams staying away from Moore, will be junior Myron Lewis, a 6-2, 202-pound veteran who beats up receivers and is solid in pass coverage with a team-leading 12 broken up passes to go along with 49 tackles and an interception. While he's not in Moore's class, he's a fantastic athlete who should be in for an All-SEC caliber season.

Big-hitting senior Reshard Langford returns to strong safety for what seems like his 14th season. A three-year starter so far, he has 170 career tackles and eight interceptions as the 6-2, 210-pound tone-setter for the strong secondary. He played through a leg injury in 2006, and while he didn't come up with a phenomenal junior campaign, making 65 tackles and two interceptions, he was hardly bad. The unquestioned leader will patrol an NFL secondary next season.

Also back is junior free safety Ryan Hamilton, a 6-1, 208-pound emerging playmaker who over came a wildly inconsistent first year, even though he made 43 tackles with a foot injury, to make 68 tackles and break up five passes. While not the monster hitter like Langford, Hamilton can pop and is a major asset against the run. Now he needs to do even more against the pass.

Projected Top Reserves: Somewhere on the field will be junior Darlron Spread, a nickelback by trade and a corner worthy of more playing time. Great when the ball is in the air, he didn't make enough plays last year compared to his freshman season, mostly because of a knee injury, but he'll get plenty of chances. While he's not going to knock out Moore or Lewis from a starting spot, he'll see action on the outside.

Senior Josh Allen has been an excellent backup with just enough starting experience to step in if needed. He'll start out behind Moore again after breaking up three passes and picking off a pass in a limited role, but he'll see more playing time. Even though he only made five stops, he's a good tackler.

On the other side behind Lewis will be senior Jared Fagan, who made nine tackles as a good backup and special teamer. With phenomenal speed, he was the Maryland state high school 100-meter champion, and three years of backup experience, he's a near perfect backup corner.

6-1, 195-pound Joel Caldwell is still getting used to safety after making 14 tackles in a reserve role. He started out his career as a corner, making 42 stops as a freshman, and can move over if needed, but he's more productive, and more physical, at strong safety. While he has decent speed and quickness, he struggled against the faster receivers as a corner and is now trying to find his way behind Langford.

The top backup safety could end up being junior Brent Trice, a 6-3, 215-pound veteran who made 18 tackles. With the athleticism of a corner, he can play either safety spot and should be able to do even more in the rotation. He'll start out behind Hamilton, but he'll be in the mix for the starting strong safety gig next year.

Watch Out For ... this to be the best secondary in the SEC. Really? Well, maybe not statistically, but with all four starters returning and a slew of veteran reserves from the nation's 18th best pass defense, and with a good pass rush to help out, it's possible.
Strength: Corner. The safeties can pop, but the stars are on the outside with Moore and Lewis forming one of the nation's best tandems. Seniors Allen and Strong are good enough to step in and produce at any time.
Plays against the pass from the free safety. This is nitpicking in a big way considering Hamilton is improving and could turnout to be special, but there needs to be more picks and more broken up passes. Again, nitpicking.
Outlook: Yup, the secondary really should be that good considering all four starters are pro prospects. Moore should start to get recognition as one of the nation's best all-around corners, while Lewis is a big corner who can handle himself well. The safety tandem of Langford and Hamilton can hit like a ton of bricks and should be even more effective against the pass. The depth is there at all four spots.
Rating: 9

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Bryant Hahnfeldt is back after hitting 13 of 20 field goals and 33 of 64 for his career. Coming back from a bad sophomore season, mostly due to a knee injury, he didn't have any range. He wasn't healthy last year, either, and had another off season missing six of 11 chances from beyond 50 yards. On the plus side, he's been clutch and when everything's right, he has the leg to bomb away. Getting and staying healthy is job one. He'll also push for time as the punter.

Also returning is junior punter Brett Upson who averaged a mediocre 39.2 yards per kick. While that was an upgrade after a lousy freshman season, he still needs to get more blast on his kicks. He's gotten better with his accuracy putting 22 inside the 20 and forcing nine fair catches.

Star corner D.J. Moore is one of the nation's best kickoff returners averaging 25.7 yards per try and coming up with six returns of 40 yards or longer. WR Alex Washington has to do more on punt returns after averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt.

Watch Out For ... Hahnfeldt to be better. There's a chance for the placekicking to go mediocre to fantastic now that Hahnfeldt is healthy.
Strength: Moore. Earl Bennett was one of the nation's most dangerous punt returners, but he was too important as a receiver to be used on special teams. The same might be true for Moore as a kickoff returner. It would help if Alex Washington became more explosive.
The coverage units. A major strength in 2006 was a disaster last season allowing 14.7 yards per punt return and 24.8 yards per kickoff return.
Outlook: The kick return game was good and the punt return game was mediocre, and they were both far, far better than two years ago. Upson and Hahnfeldt are both back, but Hahnfeldt needs to get healthy and be better from any appreciable distance, and Upson, after starting the last few years, has to get the average up over 40 yards per attempt. The potential is there to be far better in all areas.
Rating: 6.5