2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Offense
Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith
Vanderbilt QB Larry Smith
Posted Jul 16, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Vanderbilt Commodore Offense

Vanderbilt Commodores

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN Vanderbilt Preview | 2009 Vanderbilt Offense
- 2009 Vanderbilt Defense | 2009 Vanderbilt Depth Chart
- 2008 Vandy Preview | 2007 Vandy Preview | 2006 Vandy Preview 

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.

Returning Leaders
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

Star of the offense: Senior OT Thomas Welch
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 Bradley Vierling
Strength of the offense: Receiver Potential, Line Experience
Weakness of the offense: Production, Passing


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 time.
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.
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.
Rating: 6

Running Backs

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.
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 Hawkins.
Rating: 6


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 upgrade.

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 again.

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 major factors.
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 pass.
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.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

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.

Kyle Fisher 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 role.

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.
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 strength.
Rating: 7


Related Stories
2009 Vanderbilt Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009
2009 CFN Vanderbilt Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009
2009 Vanderbilt Preview – Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 16, 2009

Add Topics to My HotList
Get free email alerts with news about your favorite topics. Click link to add to My HotList.
Football > Vanderbilt
[View My HotList]