2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Offense
Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith
CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Offense
Preview 2009 - Offense
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What you need to know:
The offense was an unmitigated disaster finishing 117th in the
nation in total offense and averaged just 19.15 points per game.
The biggest offender was the passing game, but that should
change in a hurry if the young, promising receiving corps plays
up to its potential and if the good tight end pair of Brandon
Barden and Austin Monahan improve. The quarterback play has to
be better with Mackenzi Adams, Larry Smith, and Jared Funk all
battling to provide more of a spark. The ground game will be
average, even with several quick backs, meaning the offense will
need rushing production out of the quarterback again. On the
plus side, along with the receivers, the line should be a major
area of improvement with all five starters returning along with
a slew of versatile backups.
Star of the offense:
Senior OT Thomas Welch
Passing: Mackenzi Adams
77-156, 882 yds, 5 TD, 8 IN INT
Rushing: Jared Hawkins
139 carries, 593 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Brandon Barden
28 catches, 209 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and become a star:
Senior RB Jared Hawkins
Unsung star on the rise:
Junior WR Terence Jeffers
Best pro prospect: Welch
Top three all-star candidates:
1) Welch, 2) TE Brandon Barden, 3) C
Strength of the offense:
Receiver Potential, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense:
Projected Starter: In an
on-again, off-again quarterback battle last season, senior
Mackenzi Adams ended
up rotating with Chris Nickson and Larry Smith, getting the
start in three straight games over the second half of the
season. With good mobility, he ran for 136 yards taking off when
needed, but he had major problems throwing the ball completing
49% of his passes for 882 yards and five touchdowns with eight
interceptions. At 6-3 and 212 pounds, he has good size to go
along with his athleticism, but he doesn’t have the biggest arm
and he can be streaky. The experience will give him the edge in
the race for this year’s starting quarterback job, and then
he’ll have to be consistent to keep it.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-2, 216-pound sophomore
Larry Smith got the
start in the Music City Bowl against Boston College and did a
nice job completing 10-of-17 passes for 121 yards, and he ran
for 25 yards. While those numbers are hardly good enough to hand
the starting job over to him, he was conservative, mistake-free,
and he got the win. While he’s not quite the runner that Adams
is, he’s mobile enough to be used as a regular runner. His key
is his calm and cool play when he drops back, and he’s also a
winner leading his high school to an Alabama state title.
The third man in the mix will be junior
Jared Funk, who’s
mostly been used as a scout teamer. At 6-2 and 202 pounds, he
has decent size to go along with plenty of practice experience,
this is his third year in the program, but he hasn’t done
anything on the field. He has a live arm that could get a
woebegone passing game going, and he’ll be given every shot to
make a push for the starting gig.
Watch Out For ... Yet another rotation of
quarterbacks. Adams was way too inconsistent and struggled once
he had the full-time job for the taking. Smith was just poised
enough and just good enough in the bowl game to see time if
Adams hiccups, and Frank is overdue to get some serious playing
Strength: Experience. Nickson has been around long
enough, and has produced enough, to be counted on to blossom
into a team leader, but Smith, thanks to the start at the end of
last year, should be able to make a push after passing his test.
Even Funk knows what he’s doing in the system.
Weakness: Throwing the forward pass. There isn’t a Jay
Cutler in the group, at least not yet. To be fair, it’s not like
the Commodore quarterbacks have Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan
Boldin to throw to, but the passing game was a disaster last
season averaging just 123 yards per game while finishing 110th
in passing efficiency. Even by SEC standards the Vandy passing
game was lousy.
Outlook: There isn’t anything special to get
excited about with this group, but there’s plenty of experience
and three decent options to work with. Someone has to be ready
to take the job by the horns, and while Mackenzi Adams is the
most likely opening day starter, it won’t be long before Larry
Smith gets meaningful playing time. Jared Funk might be an
emergency option but if the passing game is as bad as it was
last year, with the quarterbacks completing fewer than half of
their passes for just 1,594 yards and 14 touchdowns with 12
interceptions, there will be some panic sirens going off.
Projected Starter: If he can stay healthy,
Jared Hawkins should be in for a good season. The 5-10, 195-pound
speedster led the team with 593 yards with four touchdowns,
highlighted by a 107-yard, one score day in the win over Rice.
But he has a foot injury that kept him under wraps late last
year and limited him this spring. He has a good burst once he
gets a little room to move, but he didn’t hit many home runs.
While he was used a little more as a receiver, catching 16
passes for 121 yards and a score, he could do a lot more as an
outlet target and more as a power runner. Pound for pound, he’s
one of the team’s strongest players.
Projected Top Reserves: While Hawkins will be the
main man when he’s 100%, he’ll have to split a few carries with
several backs led by 6-0, 202-pound junior
Kennard Reeves. Used
mostly on special teams last season, he saw a little bit of work
in the backfield with 35 carries, with almost all of them coming
against Wake Forest.
Looking to make an impact will be
Jermaine Doster, the
5-10, 204-pound brother of the late Commodore back, Kwame.
Doster didn’t play last season after being suspended, and now
he’ll likely spend most of his time on special teams if he’s not
able to show flashes in the backfield early on.
Also looking to bring some flash and quickness to the running
game is Gaston Miller,
a 5-7, 175-pound sophomore who ran for 52 yards last season but
averaged a mere 2.2 yards per carry. While he saw limited work
in the backfield, he got the call as a kickoff returner
averaging 18.9 yards per try. He has the speed to be a home run
hitter as long as he has a little room to move.
In a group of smallish, quick runners, sophomore
Ryan van Rensburg brings the power. The 6-1, 228-pounder didn’t
carry the ball last season and has spent most of his time on
special teams. He’ll be needed at some point as a fullback and
in short yardage situations.
Watch Out For ... everyone to be used a little
more. There was supposed to be a good rotation of young backs
throughout last season, but it didn’t happen with Hawkins and
the quarterbacks getting most of the work. The team needs
Hawkins to be the main man, and they need him to be healthy,
meaning that several other backs will get their turn at back.
Strength: Quickness. There might not be a whole
bunch of power, and the backs might need to have holes and space
created for them, but there’s plenty of quickness and speed in
the corps. Hawkins can move, while Miller, Reeves, and Roster
can all potentially bust off a few big plays here and there.
Weakness: Production. The quarterbacks have been needed
too often to keep the running game going. Hawkins leading the
team with a mere 593 yards isn’t a plus, while the second most
productive back only gained 80 yards on the season.
Outlook: The potential is there for a good
combination and a good rotation to form to generate a decent
ground game. Jared Hawkins isn’t a workhorse and he’ll need
support, but there will be a game or two when he’ll be a
world-beater. For the Commodore offense to function, a second
back, possibly a third or a fourth, has to emerge. There will be
plenty of chances for a back to turn into a major factor behind
Projected Starters: Bringing in more size is 6-2,
225-pound junior Terence
Jeffers, a transfer from Connecticut who sat out last season
after leading the Huskies with 44 catches for 582 yards and five
touchdowns. He’s fast enough to work on the outside, and big
enough to see time on the inside. His addition gives the
Commodores an instant impact player to help provide an immediate
Taking over at the X position on the outside will be
Udom Umoh, a 6-0, 172-pound sophomore with some of the best wheels
on the team and the potential to be the home run hitter the
offense so desperately needs. He only caught three passes for 29
yards spending most of his time on special teams as a star on
the coverage units. However, those three catches came in the
bowl win over Boston College. A Georgia state high school track
star, Umoh ran a 21.7 in the 200 meters and a 48.6 in the 400.
Working at the S spot will be 5-10, 182-pound senior
Alex Washington, who struggled to come back from a bad knee injury
and only made one catch. He’s far healthier now and will be used
occasionally as a punt returner to go along with his receiving
duties. It’s not a stretch to call his potential emergence as a
regular contributor could be the key to the passing game.
As part of a rotation, 6-5, 245-pound sophomore
Brandon Barden is an athletic target who finished second on the team
with 28 catches for 209 yards and a team-leading four scores.
The former quarterback is a great route runner with good hands
and the potential to be the type of go-to receiver who gets the
first look on every key third down play.
Projected Top Reserves: Senior
Justin Wheeler isn’t just the team’s new No. 1 target; he’s one of
the team’s only reliable receivers. At least he was before
tearing his knee in spring ball to put him out indefinitely.
More of a blocker than a receiver, he caught 16 passes for 145
yards and a touchdown with his only game with over two grabs
coming in a five-catch, 52-yard, one touchdown performance in
the win over Auburn. The 6-1, 180-pounder will work at the Z
position where he’ll have to show he can move the chains as well
as stretch the field … next year.
If John Cole doesn’t
win one of the starting jobs, he’ll be the first man in the
rotation as a key backup for all three spots. One of the team’s
top recruits last year, he spent the season on the sidelines
after suffering a knee injury in the opener against Miami
University, and now he’s ready to grow into a special receiver
who could blossom as the breakout star of the offense. The
record-setting Kentucky high school star has great speed and
athleticism in a 5-11, 170-pound frame.
Redshirt freshman Akeem
Dunham is an interesting prospect with 6-3, 198-pound size
and tremendous leaping ability. A superstar defensive back in
high school, he’ll push for time at the Z position behind Justin
Wheeler. At the very least, he should be a great scout teamer
Joining the team after transferring from Minnesota will be
Tray Herndon, a 5-10, 182-pound sophomore who made 22 catches for
235 yards and a touchdown in one year for the Gophers. His
departure was a huge blow for the UM passing game, and now he’ll
be in the rotation at the Z.
Austin Monahan was a
part-time receiver, catching four passes for 45 yards in four
games, but he was a strong blocker and a good special teamer.
Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury in the fourth game
of the season and was knocked out for the year. He’s back, and
at 6-7 and 250 pounds, he’ll be an interesting option on the
other side of Brandon Barden in two tight end formations.
Watch Out For ... the transfers. Vandy already had
an interesting young group of receivers that appears ready to
make some noise, and the addition of Jeffers from UConn and
Herndon from Minnesota will be a huge help.
Strength: Potential. If his knee is 100%, Cole
could be a star. Umoh is a dangerous speedster, Dunham as
excellent size, and Jeffers and Herndon are almost certain to be
Weakness: The quarterbacks. It’s a chicken-and-egg
situation. Were the receivers lousy because the quarterbacks
stunk, or did the quarterbacks stink because the receivers were
lousy? It was a little of both, but this year’s corps should be
better. Now a quarterback has to emerge who can throw a forward
Outlook: A complete and utter disaster last
season, the receiving corps failed to scare any defense with a
pulse. That could change in a big hurry if all the good young
targets live up to their potential right away. The tight ends,
Barden and Monahan, could grow into a special tandem if someone
can get them the ball, but the wide receivers have to show up.
Washington is a good stopgap until the youngsters are ready.
Projected Starters: All five starters return
to the line led by senior center
Bradley Vierling, a
good backup for the first part of his career who was a natural
when he took over the full-time job in the middle. With good
size and 6-3 and 294 pounds, and with enough experience to grow
into a potential all-star, he’ll be the main man for the offense
as well as the line. An unquestioned leader, he was named a
co-captain as a junior even though he had never started a game.
While Vierling is the leader,
Thomas Welch is the
star. The 6-7, 310-pound senior had the unenviable task of
stepping in to replace Chris Williams as the team’s top tackle,
and he came through with a strong season. He uses his size
extremely well as a rock of a starter on the right side with
good athleticism and excellent strength. Originally a
quarterback, he started out at Vandy as a huge tight end before
moving to tackle.
Getting the start on the left side will be
Reilly Lauer, a 6-6,
275-pound junior who got the call on opening day and was an
emerging producer as the season went on. He missed three games
in the middle of the season banged up, but the former defensive
end was a natural when he was on the field. He’s still growing
into the job, and with excellent athleticism and big-time
upside, he should be a star in pass protection.
6-6, 315-pound senior
Eric Hensley missed half of 2007 season after getting
suspended and he missed the first half of last season with a leg
injury. When he was ready, he became the starter at right guard
for the second half of the season and was decent. The former
tackle was more natural on the inside, but at 6-6 and 315
pounds, he has the frame to move to tackle if needed.
stepped in for a three-game stretch when
Reilly Lauer went down and started at left tackle. While he’ll
be a key backup at left tackle again he’ll get the start at left
guard where he started over the final four games. At 6-6 and 308
pounds, he has the size to play either spot equally well and
he’s just getting started. Only a sophomore, he’s advanced for
his age with room to improve.
Projected Top Reserves: If Kyle Fischer has to
move to tackle for any length of time, it’ll be up to 6-3,
295-pound senior Ryan Custer to step in at left guard. He saw a little bit of
starting time as a freshman and got the starting nod for the
first nine games last year. Extremely physical, the one-time
defensive tackle has to use his strength and his experience to
play a big role again, but this year he’ll do it in a backup
One of the team’s most versatile players, junior
Joey Bailey will see time at right guard and could move to center if
needed. The 6-4, 290 pounder was the starter for the first five
games before getting hurt and was a backup at times the rest of
the way. If he’s healthy, he can push for starting time on the
inside and could even move out to tackle in a pinch.
As the understudy behind Thomas Welch at right tackle, sophomore
James Williams will
spend the year getting ready to possibly be the starter next
season. Good enough to play either tackle spot, and with 6-6,
310-pound size, he’s an excellent prospect who’ll work mostly on
special teams until he’s needed on the line.
Watch Out For ... the line to grow into a major
strength. This wasn’t a good front five last year with all five
starters needing to be replaced. This year, there’s depth,
options, versatility, and unlike last year, experience. This
group hasn’t reached its peak yet.
Strength: Versatility. The starters have a few
players who can move around seamlessly, and unlike most teams,
there are backups who can fill in at several spots. The coaching
staff should be able to put the five best blockers on the field
at all times.
Weakness: Overall production. This is still a growing
line, but it needs to show early on that it can do one thing
well. It didn’t do much for the running game and the pass
protection was mediocre. The Commodores should be fine here, but
they have to prove it.
Outlook: Considering the line had to undergo a
wholesale change after losing all five starters, things weren’t
all that bad. It wasn’t a great line with injuries and
inconsistencies leading to only two starters playing in all 13
games in their assigned spots. This year, the production should
be far better with all five starters returning and a few good
backups who could step in and start without a problem. There are
some emerging stars, like tackle Thomas Welch and center Bradley
Vierling, and there are some good young prospects to fold in.
This isn’t a finished product, but the line should grow into a